The Big Ship
King Michôd: Animal Kingdom / The Rover
With the release of The King we take a look back at two of the director's previous, homegrown efforts.
David Michôd is not a household name. With the release of The King on Netflix, we look back at his equally Shakespearean backyard epics. Firmly placed in the canon of modern classics, Animal Kingdom and The Rover both seem to flow with the same blood as his newest effort: parentless children finding their way in a brutal and lawless hierarchy. There is a long lineage of great Australian filmmakers from Miller to Lurhman, and while Michôd may not be a household name, he's the dark horse for the throne: the monarch of Michôd is here.
"Let him know who’s king."
The sweltering heat-stroked streets of the Australian suburbs; behind the overgrown lawns and the scolding, sweating paved driveways, behind the fly-screen doors and through the thick, bleak haze of cigarette smoke and bug spray, you realise you should’ve stopped and turned around about twenty steps ago, heeding that sun-faded "BEWARE THE DOG" sign nailed hastily to the front fence. This isn't our world. Behind this fragile façade of this quiet little home tucked away in this quiet little cul-de-sac, this feels like our world. This is a homegrown crime story... and that's what makes it so much scarier: when putting "family first" means pulling the trigger of a gun, and as normal as the sun sets and rises, you should shiver. This isn't our world. But this is the world we've been thrown into. And this is world the recently orphaned Josh is stuck in, wandering sun-scorched streets like a stray dog:
"And I dunno… all this seemed strange to me, but not strange either, you know what I mean? Kids just are wherever they are, and they just do whatever they're doin', you know?
This is where I was, and this is what I was doin'."
Filtered through a heartbreaking naivety and innocence, Josh has a unique point of view. When the crimes committed go from a simple way to make some dough to the desperate acts of "crooks coming undone," he quickly learns the lessons of surviving in this lion-eat-lion environment, immersed in merciless retaliations of brutal and sudden violence. It's not survival of the fittest, but of the hungriest, and it's this constant, unacknowledged air of tragedy that scores the mundanity of what could be an otherwise ordinary coming-of-age story. This is not our world, but it is still closer to home than the hyperbolic worlds of the Corleone's and Montanna's. And you get to watch this all unfold behind the glass screen of your television. The all-too-casual, business-as-usual nature of these lions, these beasts, these primal men in their natural habitat. On first watch, it is hard to see exactly what Michôd is saying here: that life is lonely, poor, nasty, brutish, and short? No: that it just is what it is.
"It's a crazy fuckin' world."
Do you believe in ghosts?
Because if you stare hard enough into the sun-dust you can see it: a clock struck twelve and stuttering, hanging on to yesterday with broken fingers and look there falls your green paper soiled with blood. Michôd casts "Australia, 10 years after the collapse" in a state of spectral recognition, one more revolution of these cracking tectonics and they'll be there - booking it 80, 90 mph down the highway to this new epoch, barren of consequence. At the side of this millipede road: crucifixions ("this rock should have stopped spinning a long time ago", he said, and passes over to the Next in martyrdom).
Guy Pearce wants his car back, eyes shark-black-determined and sweat-yellowed skin like leather. He's the soulless enigma that holds the sparse minimalism of The Rover together and that jet gaze and manifest twisted destiny is fascinating. He breathes too fast, his weathered shell cannot contain his psyche and is bursting at the seams of old rope holding together patchwork, fraying skin. Like Michôd's other efforts, there is a brutal, intriguing opacity: characters only speak when they want to and when they do, they don't reveal much. And here in The Rover, especially, there is no time to spend sleuthing around in the webs of existence... "why" will get you rotting and picked by vultures and to lean into Pearce's is to open a cavern too dark to keep looking within – he has extinguished all light and he will do it again. One of Pattinson's first post-Twilight efforts as the half-witted Ray is this nameless wanderer's burden. They stumble ball and chain across white entropy like George is Lennie's God and Lennie is a necessary encumbrance. The pure weight of human meat has a price now and every day you become cheaper and cheaper to your loved ones. 50 dollars and make it U.S.
...Leave these parched souls...
You had best believe in ghosts these days, those phantoms you've shed from your steaming skull. You had best believe in ghosts, it means that you're still out there somewhere.