“At least she was loved. Some people don’t get that.”
The excellent Scottish thriller Red Road from director Andrea Arnold is set in modern Glasgow. The protagonist is a solitary, self-contained woman named Jackie (Kate Dickie). She works as a CCTV operator in the ‘City Eye’ centre where she stares at dozens of cameras positioned throughout Glasgow. While ostensibly the cameras are there to monitor (and stop) crime, they also allow the watcher (Jackie, in this case) to slip into the lives of other people. From her surveillance position, she watches the routines of those in her assigned surveillance district. For example, one man routinely walks his dog, and over time Jackie becomes aware that the dog is elderly and ill. While a workmate and fellow watcher wants to call in the police when the dog defecates on the pavement, Jackie realizes that there’s a reason for the dog’s incontinence.
The first few scenes establish that Jackie leads a sterile life. While during her shift, she intently watches the hub of Glasgow life, when it comes to her own life it’s a bare bones existence. She has bi-weekly emotionless, bleak encounters with a fellow employee in the front seat of his van. The vacuity of these awkward encounters (which are short and efficient) strikes the viewer. Jackie seems not to notice that much is missing from these robotic moments, and her lover (and I use the term loosely here), is too self-focused to notice her lack of involvement.
Over time, it becomes apparent that Jackie’s sex life is emblematic of her entire existence. There’s something horribly wrong in her life, but we don’t know what it is. The film begins to take on a sinister aspect as it continues. One night, Jackie is watching a couple copulate in a deserted lot, and she identifies the man in the grainy picture. Recently released from prison, Clyde (Tony Curran) is responsible for ruining Jackie’s life. She becomes obsessed with him, and using her position as a surveillance operator, she begins tracking his movements, following him to the slums of Red Road.
This hypnotic film with its emphasis on the unemotional, bleak isolation of the voyeur, is fascinating. The use of camera, grainy surveillance shots, and close up of the eyes of those who watch all serve to bolster the film’s mood. To give away any more of this plot would be a crime. Suffice to say this is one of the most suspenseful films I’ve seen in a long, long time.
When the film concluded, the dimensions of this clever plot sink in. Jackie relies on the evidence before her–stuff she see with her eyes, and we see and interpret through her eyes. As an audience we engage in surveillance too. We make judgments, just as she makes judgments. But are those judgments always accurate? Does Jackie jump to the wrong conclusions? Do we?
is part of the Advance Party project–one of three films (all with different directors but featuring the same actors). Can’t wait to see the others….