Summary: Despite some flaws in the telling, ‘Get Low’ is a well-acted, thoughtful parable.
Review: Fade in on a farmhouse ablaze in the night. A burning man dives out of the window and flees the scene. From the first frame, ‘Get Low’ is a film about hell. Jean-Paul Sartre famously said that “Hell is other people”, but the filmmakers behind ‘Get Low’ obviously disagree. Robert Duvall’s character, Felix Bush, is a hermit harboring a secret guilt and resenting company. He’s got a nasty reputation, but that’s not why he insists on isolation. He wants his pain, and other people would constantly threaten to distract him from it. With his mortal life coming to an end, however, he’s starting to have second thoughts. Maybe it’s not best to die in his private hell. He decides to throw himself a living funeral.
The driving question — What is the secret behind Felix’s hermitage? — never becomes uninteresting. The story kind of meanders, but the scenes most critical to the story, the ones that tease us with small revelations, are well-played. ‘Get Low’ is staunchly old-school. Whereas films of the postmodern era typically pack in as much content as possible, older films would draw strong images and make them last. In contrast, consider the hyperactive cinematography and editing of today’s blockbusters and the ultra fast repartee of dramas like ‘The Social Network’. ‘Get Low’ is thoughtful, down-to-earth and slow, much like the way of life it depicts. It’s a fairly cheerful film, too, despite the emotional trauma at its heart.
The screenplay makes much ado of the legends built up around Felix Bush, but because of the narrative’s intimacy with his character, we don’t get the sense that he’s larger than life. In fact, that’s probably the point; life is actually a lot larger than he is. It’s immediately clear that the outside community has created a fictional version of the hermit that they find more interesting and easier to digest. Why reach out to him when he’s a human devil, a monstrous killer who’s so much fun to throw stones at? It’s possible that the screenwriters flirted with the idea of telling the traditional hermit story where the interest depends on distance, because some artifacts of those clichés are present, but they apparently thought better of it.
‘Get Low’ isn’t a perfect film, but it is a pleasurable experience and an interesting parable on the guilty soul’s self-imposed isolation.