04/03/17, Trespass Against Us
It's an issue worth considering: in modern Britain's paradigm of high rents and the elusive property ladder, is there another way to live? Like the Travellers, for example, with their caravans and open-air and camp fires?
It's a grim alternative that's depicted in Trespass Against Us, it has to be said. The film shows Michael Fassbender's protagonist – a charismatic 'Billy-the-Kid' traveller – torn between making a safer life for his kids and wife, and sticking with the community dominated by his patriarch, crime-organizing father. The casting does so much to undermine the ambiguity of the situation: on the periphery, for example, is Sean Harris playing one of his staple of obnoxious characters – (see Prometheus; Harry Brown) – in this case a backward traveller of random violence. More importantly, Brendan Gleeson conforms to type as a bullying patriarch who believes the world is flat – literally, as pronounced in a series of monologues – while also being a hypocrite. He warns his community against the outsiders (including police) trespassing on their world, while he and the travellers trespass on the property of others, stealing for both the money and the high.
This latter issue is part of a bigger one that emerges when the young children of the protagonist go missing, having failed to turn up at school. Fassbender's character, along with his wife, go to the very police they despise and distrust, asking for help in finding their kids. They turn to the very system they oppose and contribute nothing to, in other words, when they really need it.
This travelling community, then, has a sickness about it, with its poverty and malevolence and intellectually stunted figures. The funniest moment in the film is also calculatingly grotesque: Gleeson's patriarch is in church with his extended family, sermonizing the importance of their community, while the dangerous idiot-son by played by Harris – covered in blue paint from a previous altercation – holds up a framed picture of Jesus. I laughed, and then I didn't like that I'd laughed at something so deliberately ridiculous. These are flat-earth people and of course the protagonist should take his family away from them. It has all the subtlety of Fassbender driving a 4x4 into a country mansion, which of course he does in this film. Their crimes, like their outlook, are primitive.This is neither a film of subtlety, therefore, nor one that shows travellers in any kind of flattering light. Perhaps travellers really are this repulsive and threatening, but as I reflect on the film now, I also feel sad that an alternative to 'the norm' is revealed in so negative a light.