The Florida Project – 2017
Director Sean Baker
Screenplay by Baker and Chris Bergoch
Starring Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones
When sociologists look back on the former empire that was the United States and they want to show how it was the United States of America’s free fall into oblivion began, they might start by absorbing this film.
The story, following a six-year-old girl named Moonie through the adventures of her life is made to appear ironically whimsical. The events are remarkably free of consequences for her. This is because, luckily, she’s avoided seeing consequences that she can decipher as such. For the adults in this tale, the consequences alternate from horrible, to regrettable, to just doing what one needs to get by while avoiding detection.
For Bobby, played with honorable earnestness by Dafoe, it’s a form of horror as he manages the motel where Moonie and her mother Halley live, but can’t officially call a residence. He acts as defacto caretaker for the kids who play in and around the grounds. This works only when he can see them though. We see Moonie and her equally young friends run for miles around the place, just outside of Walt Disney World.
It is regrettable for Ashley, the mother of one of Moonie’s friends. She has been using Halley as a caretaker for her child while she works at a local restaurant. This changes when she discovers in a very frightening way that her child has not been watched much at all.
Halley, on the other hand, is an opportunist, a thief and a liar. She does many things we would not want any child to be exposed to, yet her interactions with tourists and others in the area make it clear that she’s never going to be without a demand for her services.
Which brings us back to Moonie, an adorable girl, even if she thinks nothing of flipping someone the bird or spitting on a car below where she and her friends decided to perch. She’s learning what it takes to survive in a manner reminiscent of how Tarzan or Mowgli did, if not with such civilized teachers.
My wife asked me why I bothered watching this film as she stopped what she was doing and continued to watch herself.
“I have never seen anything so horrible,” I said. “I can’t believe people can live this way.”
“I see this every day,” she replied.
She works at a public library.
The amazing creation of this movie is that it hits many notes that I have seen through disconnected images. I have been solicited by people who use their kid as bait, and been offered things that look too good to be true.
Similarly, this girl, Moonie, her life is a fragile bubble that could pop at any time. Or she could learn to live like this, relying on the good will, mercy or silence of others to subsist in a life that is dishonest to us but just plain life to her.
This is the way our society continues to erode. Or maybe it always has been eroding. The spotlight hasn’t illuminated so truthfully for me before this. Though I couldn’t stop watching, I abhorred every frame of this movie. It felt so tragically real, yet I couldn’t look away.
Baker masterfully shapes a story out of this with no preconceptions and no political slant. How his lens can tell such truth without judgement is remarkable.
See this if you want to understand more about life than you likely have before. It will not be an easy lesson, but it is an important one.
(***** out of *****)