On Hate Watching Stuff You Hately Hate Hatingly

hate watching

Some people call it ‘hate watching’, but I think this mostly refers to the enjoyment of critique.

Separately from that, I sometimes find genuine enjoyment even while consuming something I can see is hugely problematic. Humans are able to hold discordant views in our brains at the same time. That is our great evolutionary advantage; it may also kill us all.

The standout example of ‘hate watching’ for me is Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan blamed his audience for dumping on Skyler all the while championing Walt, failing to see that Walt — not Skyler — was an increasingly despicable character. We weren’t meant to root for Walt, according to his creator, and if we did, that’s on us, the misogynistic audience.

Not true. Vince Gilligan did such an overly good job of creating empathy for Walt that he failed to turn the majority of his audience later. Perhaps it was a simple writing failure — audiences are like ducklings — we fall in love with the first character we see. Perhaps Gilligan’s failure wasn’t in the telling of the story, but in underestimating the amount of misogyny out there.

And I know darn well how it worked, because around the time the story wrapped up on Australian TV I happened to be sitting in a doctor’s waiting room alongside some older guy. We got to talking about TV reception, which led to a discussion about TV. Turns out this guy loves Breaking Bad.

“Oh, me too, what else do you recommend?” I ask him.

He recommends True Detective (of course). He’s not interested in my suggestions. He also tells me he’s grumpy about Breaking Bad because Walt should’ve killed the wife in the first season so we didn’t have to keep being annoyed by her.

We.

Him. Many, many hims in this world.

He disappeared into the doctor’s surgery. Meanwhile, I was privately shocked. Turns out I was one of the few avid viewers who liked Skyler as a person.

Sure, Vince Gilligan can blame his misogynistic audience for hating on Skyler, but his writing room went out of its way to create empathetic characters in Walt and Hank, and unsympathetic characters in Skyler and Marie. That will always annoy me.

I’ll still watch Breaking Bad again one day. I still admire it. But all the while, simultaneously, I’ll be seeing the ideological problems baked into it.

Natalie Wynn is especially articulate on this facet of human nature, in which we can understand something but remain somewhat spellbound.

In this video she expounds upon her full understanding of beauty ideals while at the same time wanting to conform to oppressive beauty standards.

I think her tongue-in-cheek phrase ‘Problematize, critique, cancel’ is especially meme-able.

As Natalie says very well:

Critiquing things doesn’t change our desires. But! It can motivate us to change society and this, in turn, can change our desires.

Critique first; changed desire comes later.

So… keep ‘hate watching’? More importantly, keep thinking. If you feel luke warm fuzzies about every single thing that you consume, it’s probably because you’re not thinking all that deeply about it.

WHERE IS THE HATE WATCHING LINE?

Why can I consume some ideologically problematic media but can’t stand others? Where’s the line?

For me, Breaking Bad gets a pass because the misogynistic reading of Skyler is, as Vince Gilligan intended, partly on the viewer. Sure, he overestimated his audience, but a woke, egalitarian audience isn’t going to read Skyler as terrible. They’re going to see a woman doing her best in a tough situation. If Gilligan got his audience wrong, perhaps that’s because he himself is less misogynistic than most people. (I’ll believe that until he turns into a milkshake duck, which he hasn’t yet.)

In contrast, a film like Nocturnal Animals is way past my line of ‘watchable’, for all of these reasons, and because the creators appear to be showcasing an unchecked misogyny that is all their own.

Masks In Storytelling

Arthur Hughes - The Property Room

We love stories about tricksters who get away with stuff. But we don’t want them to get away with stuff forever. We want them to be found out.

For instance, when Emerson Moser retired from Crayola and revealed that he is colour blind, he made sure that this one little detail of his career would eclipse all others. I’m not sure if this is what he intended, but that is his Internet legacy.

Audiences love masks. More specifically, we love the slipping of the mask. Our love for the mask may explain the wide appeal of celebrity gossip:

I’ve come to realize that my main attraction to celebrity gossip comes from a fascination with slipping facades. I don’t care what celebrities eat for breakfast or what they buy at Whole Foods, but I like it when they lose their shit: the Britney Spears breakdown, Lindsay Lohan’s downward spiral, Paris Hilton going to jail, etc. I’m sure part of it is just base, ugly schadenfreude on my part, but there’s something else too. Their public images are so carefully micromanaged and manipulated and wrapped in Teflon, and there’s something exhilarating about seeing the mask slip once they stop giving a shit. 

Suzanne Riveca at The Short Form

When creating characters for fiction, storytellers sometimes draw a distinction between what Michael Hauge refers to as ‘identity’ (masks) and ‘essence’.

  • Identity refers to the faces people present to the world, also known as masks.
  • Essence is the (one) true self.

This distinction is more clear in some non-Western cultures, for example in Japan. Japanese culture draws a clear distinction between ‘omote’ and ‘ura’ (public face and private face). The words literally mean ‘front’ and ‘behind’.

We may not have widely understood words to describe this in English, but the distinction is clear in our history of storytelling. The underlying message of most stories is the same no matter the genre: It’s only when a mask (false identity) comes off that true happiness can be found.

(Interestingly, this is not how Japanese culture sees it. In Japan, the ‘omote’ face is a necessary ‘mask’ for a harmonious society.)

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.

Oscar Wilde

Genre And Masks

The Love Genre

This omote/ura distinction is important in the love genre. The audience is clued in about who is right for each other because even if the romantic pair start off fighting (fight fight, kiss kiss trope), they eventually get to know the other’s essence. All other romantic rivals never get past the ‘identity’ stage of knowing.

Comedies

The transgression comedy is all about masks. A character tries to get away with something by posing as somebody else. The audience is in superior position, waiting with glee for the mask to come off. When it does, this big scene is full of comedy. We’ve been anticipating it, so it’s especially satisfying.

Tootsie is the tentpole example of a transgression comedy. A man dresses as a woman because he’s ruined his reputation in Hollywood and needs work. (If he dresses as a woman he assumes a whole new identity.)

A lot of The I.T. Crowd episodes are transgression comedy. Jen Barber is the biggest fraud, having secured the job as head of I.T. by bluffing. It is soon revealed that this is part of her character in general, to the last detail. In a later episode she buys shoes that are too small because she wants people to believe she has dainty little feet. Roy is a little duplicitous but not smart about it. Jen’s duplicitous nature contrasts with the personality of Moss, who says exactly what’s on his mind and takes everything literally.

In the “Kicking Up A Stink” episode of Kath and Kim, Sharon has found a job as a bootcamp leader, but the mask comes off when she invites Kim along. Kim isn’t one bit scared of her and walks off, prompting a mass exodus, ruining Sharon’s session.

Thrillers

Mask iconography – original source unknown

The transgression thriller — surprisingly, perhaps — has the same structure as a transgression comedy. It’s just the entire tone and plot details that are different.

By the way, the structure looks like this, courtesy of The Narrative Breakdown podcast:

Discontent – someone is unhappy about something

Transgression with a mask – peculiar to comedy and thrillers

Transgression without a mask – midpoint disaster when the mask is ripped off

Dealing with consequences

Spiritual Crisis – happens in almost every story

Growth Without a Mask

Another name for the transgression thriller is ‘the wrong man thriller’. Hitchcock was a big fan. He would set up a falsely accused innocent. Over the course of the story the truth is revealed.

Examples Of Wrong Man Thrillers:

Horror Stories

It is said that horror stories exist to define what is normal by showing us what isn’t. There’s a long tradition of horror monsters who act because ‘the devil made them do it’. Equally lazy but more modern: The horror monster is ‘psychotic’.

The horror genre is beginning to move more solidly into a phase where the audience discovers the ‘true identity’ of the monster and finds that in fact we are looking at the darkest parts of ourselves. This is widely known as The Shadow In The Hero.

A stand-out example of a vampire horror story is “The Mask” by Richard Marsh, which appeared in Marvels and Mysteries in 1900. A homicidal madwoman adept in the art of mask-making transforms herself into a raving beauty and threatens to suck the blood of the hero. 

W. T. Benda, Cover of LIFE, March 8, 1923

Types Of Masks In Storytelling

Actual Masks

Masks are used in all cultures around the world, especially in rituals and ceremonies. Masks play an important social function.

The masks used in ancient Greek theatre are based on the culture of the ancient Dionysian cult. Thespis was the first writer to use a mask in stage writing. Members of the chorus wore masks to distinguish them from the main actors. There was a good logistical reason for this: The same actors were able to play a variety of roles in the same play. Also, the actors were men. Masks allowed them to play women, starting a tradition which is still utilised today (problematically).

Another logistical reason for stage masks: A bland-featured mask utilised over and over again distracts from the individual character and forces the audience to focus on that character’s actions.

Posing As Someone You’re Not

These characters are based on the ancient trickster archetype.

Behaviours include:
  • Bluffing to secure social or economic advantage (Jen Barber in The IT Crowd).
  • Dressing in disguise to get away with a crime (the pigeon in the pilot episode of We Bare Bears)
  • Acting as someone with a different personality (Nom Nom the YouTube sensation Koala in We Bare Bears acts loveable but is actually evil.)

Walter White makes out he’s a nerdy, science teacher type (which works because he was), when in fact he’s the local drug lord.

The 2003 movie Thirteen by Catherine Hardwicke is a coming-of-age drama about two girls who pretend to be what they’re not. The structure involves the coming off of a mask. For much of the movie Tracy Freeland is acting as a pseudo-adult, ditching her mother who she still needs very much in favour of a girl who has not been so well protected from the world. How does Hardwicke wrap up this story? It’s a story chock full of conflict — arguments with Tracy’s mother, father, brother, teacher and former best friends. Therefore the ‘big struggle sequence’ needs something extra. In this case it’s the coming off of the mask. After rejection from Tracy’s mother, Evie Zamora outs Tracy to everyone as a thief, self-harmer, drug abuser and all-round evil person. While this portrait of her is not quite right either, it is in this scene that Tracy’s mother finally gets the full picture regarding what’s been going on with her daughter. The mask is finally off. In the outtake scene we see Tracy on a roundabout (a regression to childhood), emitting a primal scream. The torment of keeping up this facade of rebel has passed.

American Beauty involves two big masks: The teenage beauty who pretends sexual experience to disguise her complete inexperience, and the military neighbour with internalised homophobia. This contrasts with Kevin Spacey’s character, who takes off his mask at the beginning of the film and lives as his true, lazy, hedonistic self.

In some ways, Office Space is the comedy version of American Beauty. After hypnosis gone wrong, the hedonistic, don’t-give-a-damn side of Peter Gibbons is left. Comedy comes from the fact that this works to his advantage. Peter is now seen to have ‘leadership qualities’. Nerdy office workers pretend to be money launderers, knowing nothing at all about money laundering. This is a film with masks at every level — even the guy selling homeless magazines door-to-door is a well-spoken college student.

In both American Beauty and in Office Space, the double-identity characters are set up in contrast with people living as their true selves. Peter Gibbons meets a waitress who is so true to herself that she quits her horrible waitressing job by giving her boss the  middle finger over an argument about not showing enough ‘flair’. Joanna is literally  unable to pretend to be who she is not. Joanna in turn contrasts with her hyper-enthusiastic (but fake) boss. Michael Bolton is another character unable to fake anything with conviction, which is why it’s so funny to watch him try to pretend (in an important job interview) that he likes the singer Michael Bolton. Another character living his true life is Peter’s redneck labourer neighbour, whose basic urges make him crass but also relatable. Office Space has a happy ending because every character is living life as their true selves, ditching fake identities. American Beauty is a tragedy because characters are punished for their false presentations. In both films the message is identical: Faking who you are cannot possibly lead to happiness.

Makeovers

In the “Hello Nails!” episode of Kath and Kim, Kim gives Sharon a makeover. In a comedy, a makeover is a sure sign that the story will have the structure of transgression comedy.

Makeovers in non-comedies are often supposed to ‘reveal’ one’s true attractiveness, matching the attractive personality underneath. This is a fairytale view of humanity — that ideally, good people should look beautiful otherwise there’s an uncomfortable dissonance.

In comedies the real self is the unadorned version, which is why things don’t work out when the awkward, gawky Sharon Strezlecki tries to dress elegantly.

Cross dressing

There is one type of mask often used in comedy, and it is used in almost every major children’s film. At some point a male character dresses as a female character to achieve some goal.

I feel Tootsie becomes more problematic as time goes on, with transgender feminists pointing out for us the downsides of equating feminine presentation with duplicity. In Tootsie, at least, Dustin Hoffman’s character dresses as Dorothy not with the main intention of exploiting femininity by bewitching men with fake feminine wiles, but in order to apply for jobs otherwise not open to him, and to disguise his own well-known male identity.

But in many stories for children, the male characters dressing as femme characters are using a mask of femininity to get away with behaviours which are manipulative in a sexualised way. A terrible example of that is the Australian middle grade book The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey. Yet this is a very popular book and few question its ideology.

This storyline is highly problematic. The message is that femininity equals duplicity >> women are manipulative liars >> “Lock her up”.

I’ve said more about that here: Liars in Storytelling.

Masked Settings

The lovely setting later revealed to be hiding misery and crime is the setting equivalent of peeling a mask off a person. The masked setting is known as a snail under the leaf setting.

This is why mystery stories often work well thematically in tranquil little towns. The crime peels back the mask of civility to reveal the more troubling reality beneath the surface.

See also: How Can Setting Be A Character?

Guillaume Seignac - Pierrot’s Embrace 1900
Guillaume Seignac – Pierrot’s Embrace 1900

Are Western Storytellers Correct?

A few years ago I read a book called The People You Are by Rita Carter, which presents quite a different thesis of human behaviour.

Carter’s main argument is that there is no ‘one true self’. She argues that humans have the ability to change according to circumstance, and that we are rewarded for doing so. We are one way with our colleagues, another way with our families, and neither one of these ‘people’ takes precedence over the other.

The dominant idea in modern storytelling contrasts with this psychological view. No matter the genre, we are told time and again that that there is ’one true self’. This version of the self must make its way to the surface and be somehow ‘exposed’ before happiness can be found.

This view of human nature may age contemporary stories in the way that ‘one true love’ romance stories now seem old-fashioned to us, in the era of serial monogamy. Some pushback on that:

My problem is that people always say ‘don’t be afraid to just be yourself!’ and like…it’s not that I’m afraid, I just don’t know how to do that? Because I want to get super jacked and tattooed and never wear make-up and have plaid shirts and shave off my hair, and I also want to wear pretty dresses and high heels and learn how to do eyeliner properly and grow my hair out real long, and I want to be intimidating and confident and Speak My Mind and Take No Shit but I also want to be soft and kind and for people to think I’m cute, and I want to be seen as smart and well-read and respected but I also want to be seen as down to earth and approachable and fun…and I have no idea which if any of those people are actually ‘myself’ or if they’re all just a variety of exciting disguises.

Blog of Impossible Things

Since culture prioritises the view of the personality as a ‘singlet’ (hence the popularity of astrology, as explained in Carter’s book), readers generally have little time for a fictional character who does one thing in one context, then seems to be completely different in another. Multiple selves in a single character may be one of those things which doesn’t work too well in fiction even if it would reflect real life. Certainly, if not written well, the reader may blame the author for failing to create an authentic and consistent personality, even though none of us is one hundred percent consistent in real life.

I believe moving past this idea of ‘one true self’, which includes all stories in which someone ‘finds’ their ‘true self’ needs a bit more pushback. It might be closely related to moving past the gender binary, and has particular impact on those who live in a more gender expansive manner, which is hopefully all of us.

SEE ALSO

Twins, arch-nemeses, imagined selves, ‘Sliding Doors plots‘… all of these are used in fiction to convey the idea of multiple selves without actually writing multiple selves.

Header painting: Arthur Hughes – The Property Room

New Zealand As Depicted In Fiction

How is your country generally depicted in fiction, by writers outside your country? New Zealand in fiction, not surprisingly, is the stock country for ‘a place really, really far away.’

Will grayson New Zealand

Now, I am not generally given over to excitement, but Neutral Milk Hotel sort of changed my life. They released this absolutely fantastic album called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in 1998 and haven’t been heard from since, purportedly because their lead singer lives in a cave in New Zealand.

– from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

In the English light-hearted drama Last Tango In Halifax, a relative who came from New Zealand to England had made a REALLY big effort to be at a wedding celebration, and therefore his very presence was amazing.

In Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (or Perfect Snogging, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on), the main character’s father is sent away to New Zealand to work, which is a plot device to keep him really far away.

Angus-Thongs-and-Perfect-Snogging-2008-Hollywood-Movie-Watch-Online

New Zealand sometimes even gets a mention in American fiction. Even in Breaking Bad! In this case, New Zealand is the stock country that ‘no one knows anything about’ and is the perfect place for Americans to go if they want a new start. Forget that in order for an American to enter New Zealand with intent to live you actually need a visa. (Works both ways!)

Jane Margolis: Do you know what this is? [refers to a bag full of money]
Jesse Pinkman: It’s a whole lot of cheddar.
Jane Margolis: This is freedom. This is saying, “I can go anywhere I want. I can be anybody.” What do you want to be? Where do you want to go? South America? Europe? Australia?
Jesse Pinkman: Is New Zealand part of Australia?
Jane Margolis: New Zealand is New Zealand.
Jesse Pinkman: Right on. New Zealand. That’s where they made “Lord of the Rings”. I say we just move there, yo. I mean, you can do your art. Right? Like, you can paint the local castles and shit. And I can be a bush pilot.

– from Breaking Bad, penultimate episode of season 2

Sometimes, though, ‘distance’ equals ‘stupidity’ or ‘naivety’. Which makes me wonder what Americans think New Zealand teens do with their time. Because New Zealanders are watching the same shows, listening to the same music, wearing the same fashions, more or less. I’m pretty sure Kiwis know more about American culture than the other way around.

Wit from Riverdale actress. Riverdale is an American TV show.

That’s because America has a long history of exporting its culture, while admitting very little in.

What is New Zealand really like?

Here’s an article from a European whose version of New Zealand — from books introduced by his Kiwi girlfriend— turned out to be quite different from the New Zealand he met when he eventually visited the country.

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore

Here’s what happens in the 2017 indie American film I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore:

When a depressed woman is burgled, she finds a new sense of purpose by tracking down the thieves alongside her obnoxious neighbour. But they soon find themselves dangerously out of their depth against a pack of degenerate criminals.

CHARACTER LINE: a depressed woman finds a new sense of purpose

ACTION LINE: by tracking down the thieves alongside her obnoxious neighbour

SOME SENSE OF THE OUTCOME: They are either going to win or lose their big struggle against the pack of degenerate criminals. It may well be a pyrrhic victory since Ruth is well out of her depth.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore film poster

DESIGNING PRINCIPLE OF I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

A middle-aged woman gets through her middle-aged disappointment with the world after the insulated life she has created for herself is invaded by exactly the ‘assholes’ she tries to keep at arm’s length.

GENRE BLEND OF I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

Comedy, crime, drama

This is a black comedy with some horror gore elements but with the drama element it is also about the awakening of a middle aged woman — a coming-of-age story.

Note that this is not a thriller. A thriller has a villain-driven plot who presents obstacles that the hero must overcome. In a thriller, a devastating crime is about to be committed, or has been committed with the threat of an even worse one in the wings. The perpetrator is known, but their guilt is not absolutely certain—or the hero wishes not to accept the truth of the villain’s guilt. (The uncertainty enhances the suspense.) The hero is under constant attack as she tries to definitively prove the perpetrator’s guilt and/or stop the next atrocity.

That’s why this is a mystery rather than a thriller. (Crime is a subtype of mystery.) In a mystery the villain typically remains hidden, at least for a while.

Similar to a thriller, though, this story features a (darkly) happy ending in which the villains are killed or arrested. Also similar to a thriller, both villain and main character share an element of crazy. The actor who plays Chrissie has an excellent joker’s grin. The set up for Ruth’s ‘crazy’ is that her antidepressants have been stolen, or perhaps she is just sufficiently angry after suppressing her frustrations with the world for so long. 

Also similar to a noir thriller — but typical for the comedy that this is — at one point our main characters are going to pose as something they’re not. Then, with excellent comic timing, the mask will come off. Only after the mask comes off will they have to deal with a number of consequences in a transgression-consequence loop, and then Ruth will be able to grow without a mask.

Another example of this is Breaking Bad, in which Walter White wears the mask of a family man, or perhaps he really is a family man wearing the mask of a sociopath. (The genius part of that story is that the audience never really know which is Walt’s true self and which is the mask. We are in fact forced to conclude that one man can be multifaceted.)

The tone of this film is similar to something out of a Coen Brothers film. It’s also similar to the Australian film Two Hands with its spoofy, comedic crime plot.

STORYWORLD OF I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

Filmed in Portland, Oregon, this isn’t the usual backdrop we see when Portland is depicted on film. Our main character Ruth lives in suburbia but this is not the manicured suburbia. This is a mostly black neighbourhood, as we find out when she goes door-knocking, and this generally poor area will soon be seen in contrast to the most ostentatiously rich part of Portland when our main characters visit the lawyer’s mansion with its unnecessary, expensive and slightly grotesque yard art.

This setting is an outworking of Ruth — her house and clothes are drab, and her personality is featureless. Even her car is beige. This is very similar to the set up of the character of Walter White in Breaking Bad who you may remember wears a beige jacket, colourless trousers and beige shoes. Like Walter White, Ruth lives on the edge of economic security in a nurse’s aide job which pays her just enough to get by in 2017 America.

Who would Ruth have voted for? My guess is that she wouldn’t have voted for either candidate last year. She was probably working that day. She would feel repulsed by Trump and alienated from Hilary Clinton.

The neighbourhood/town arena is small enough for the characters to consistently run into each other.

STORY STRUCTURE

This is what I’ll call a ‘suburban mythological structure’. The main character doesn’t leave the suburbs but goes from place to place within that arena finding herself in a series of escalating and comical big struggles until she comes close to actual death. This story manages to avoid feeling fragmented because they keep happening upon the same set of baddies (an expanding set of them).

The pattern in which something missing is found halfway through a story endlessly recurs. Even if the protagonists don’t literally have to slay a dragon or steal fire from the gods, they always have to leave their home to solve the problem they find there, then bring tha tsolution back home. Journey there; journey back.

— John Yorke, Into The Woods

SHORTCOMING IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

The story opens at night time. That’s quite unusual. We’re usually afforded a fully-lit view of a landscape to help orientate ourselves in a film.

Ruth looks up through leafy trees into the sky. You can probably guess from this that she’s going to be having an existential crisis soon.

We see a long shot of Ruth drinking alone and in the background we hear laughter. Ruth is not a part of this laughter — the darkness is a shortcut to depression. Later, when we find out her drugs have been stolen we’ll read ‘depression’ literally. (Lexapro and Clonazepam are both used to treat anxiety/depression and the clonazepam is also attractive to recreational users.)

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore looking for meaning in the night sky

This kind of character is pretty common in coming-of-age stories — or perhaps it’s partly what makes for a coming-of-age story — she has no motivation to do anything. She is going through the motions of her day-to-day life, seeing injustice everywhere, avoiding confrontation. She has come to the pessimistic worldview that everyone is an asshole. This is quite a 2017 worldview, I would say. When the camera cuts to the TV news I can very much identify with Ruth’s sense that the world is all wrong.

This shot of the news is also foreshadowing the adventure to come, which will also involve stand offs and guns and police, but in a slightly different form.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore TV news

I like that we don’t get a ghost/backstory for the character of Ruth. A less original writer would have her grieving after a miscarriage or a relationship break up. I appreciate that this director has avoided the typical gendered tropes. Instead, it seems Ruth is depressed simply because of the way the world is. When we see her in the bar reading and she strikes up a conversation with a man (a cameo for the actor/director), we see that she isn’t even really romantically motivated. Not desperate, not wounded from past lovers, just okay the way she is. That’s refreshing.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore pub scene

Ruth needs to find some hope in a horrible world.

She basically treats others well, but we see a shortcoming in her when she sits on the bed of her best friend’s daughter — a five year old — and talks to her as if she’s an adult. This shows the audience that in some ways Ruth has the emotional maturity of a much younger person. She shouldn’t be off-loading on a five-year-old. It smacks of desperation. She is gently chided by her friend.

INCITING INCIDENT IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

Ruth is burgled. She feels invaded and, as she tells her best female friend, this has plunged her into an existential crisis in which it feels the whole world is populated by assholes.

People are disgusting. The fucking taking, you know what I mean? … Everyone’s an asshole … Sometimes I feel like I’m underneath a whirlpool and I can’t even breathe.

DESIRE IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

Ruth would like to be left alone to exist in her own house without invasion. She would ideally like to live in a better world. This is a disappointed idealist we’re talking about. It’s significant that Ruth is closer to 40 than to 20 — she’s seen enough of the world to have become disappointed by it.

More concretely, Ruth loses her laptop and sentimental heirloom silverware and she would like those back.

FAKE-OPPONENT ALLY IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

Angered by the invasion to her home space, Ruth is galvanised to confront the man whose dog is leaving turds on her grass verge. Comically, the turd is half on the grass, half on the pavement — foreshadowing a dog-owner whose transgression can’t even really be achieved properly. As it turns out, this guy (Tony) is going to become Ruth’s biggest ally but for now, in a dark inversion of ‘meet cute’ in a rom-com, they have a low level argument.

OPPONENT IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

The opponent, unknown and unseen at this point, is the person or people who burgled her house.

MYSTERY IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

And that’s the mystery, of course. Whodunnit? Who took the silverware? This is about to turn into a Grail Plot, in which our main character will go after some treasure as a quest.

FAKE-ALLY OPPONENT IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

The police. It is revealed in a hasty denouement that the cop who stands most in her way has been going through relationship problems, which partly explains his response to her.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore Melanie Lynskey

CHANGED DESIRE AND MOTIVE IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

Whereas before Ruth didn’t really care about the stuff, just the invasion, she is annoyed by the dismissive attitude of the police officer and decides she really does want her stuff back.

FIRST REVELATION AND DECISION IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

There’s a footprint in her backyard which the police officer didn’t see. She decides to become a vigilante detective and buys plaster-of-Paris to make a cast of it. When this happens we know Ruth will follow this to its natural conclusion. We want to see her get her stuff back. Basically, she has decided to take the law into her own hands.

Like a good detective, she visits all her neighbours to find out if they saw anything. She happens upon the guy whose dog dropped a “BM”.

We’re not sure where she’s going to go with her investigation as she comes to a dead end, but as she is dancing in her living room when her phone beeps as it has located her laptop. It has been turned on and she can see it’s at 129 Grove Street.

She calls the cops but they won’t send any cars out.

APPARENT DEFEAT IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

When the police aren’t interested in her beeping laptop it seems she is done.

PLAN IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

She plans to get her laptop back herself.

Pulling up outside, the people are in the front yard and look scary.

So she will ask the weird dog poop guy she met twice by accident lately, because he was working out and seems to be some kind of ninja fanatic.

OPPONENT’S PLAN AND MAIN COUNTERATTACK IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

She gets her laptop back in a comical ninja showdown in which one of them hits himself in the nose with a nunchuck, but these aren’t the main baddies. They purchased the laptop at a second-hand place. They give her the address.

AUDIENCE REVELATION IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

When the story cuts to the track of the opponents we are shown who these people are. At first, due to the forest setting and the music and the drug-taking, these people are presented as truly evil. We later find out how hapless they are. There is a series of revelations in which the audience is given information the main characters do not: We are shown them buying a gun. They plan to commit a murder or something.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore blonde villain

DRIVE IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

Now she and Tony are fully invested in the mission. Weedy, big-eyed Tony has been training for just such a mission his whole life. They go to the second-hand place with the intention of finding the silverware. The second-hand place is the mythical equivalent of a labyrinth with many parts to it — dark overstuffed rooms, packed yards — disorganised chaos. Their mission is twofold: To find the silverware and to get out of there, like some sort of ancient test.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore second hand store

Like in any good myth story, the old man who owns the place is another good opponent — he’s not interested in listening to Ruth, he just wants to sell her some music. So she doubles down and decides to steal it back.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore cafe scene

She happens to be at this place at the exact same time as a guy wearing shoes she recognises from the footprint. This is impressive if you think about it. The audience likes a smart (vigilante) detective.

OBSESSIVE DRIVE, CHANGED DRIVE, AND MOTIVE IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

It’s interesting that, in this story, Ruth actually achieves her goal at the midway point. She wanted her laptop back. She got it. She wanted her silverware back. She got that, too. But now she’s seen the guy who stole her stuff, her drive has changed and galvanised.

Her motive is changed: She knows who the thief is, now she just has to convince the police.

Back to the useless police.

SECOND REVELATION AND DECISION IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore playing cops

Not only is the policeman at the station unhelpful; he is downright condescending. I do appreciate the gender flip though, in which the policeman cries. Usually it’s the female character who cries out of frustration.

Now Ruth decides to track down the thief herself. She’s seen him get away so has his licence plate number. With the Internet and a credit card she finds out the owner of the silver van.

confront the offender to show him it’s no good being an asshole. She has the opportunity to express this while sitting in the father’s mansion. Chris elder asks what she wants with him, if not money.

This comes back to Ruth’s deeper psychological need: To make a bad person good. That way, one person at a time, the world will be a better place. She’s already shown us this tendency by confronting Tony about his dog shit.

There is another big struggle scene in here which takes place at what is slowly revealed to be the thief’s father’s house. They are talking to the step-mother. This is the part where they put on their comedic ‘masks’ and try to pass themselves off as officers. It is revealed in the mansion scene that the step-mother knew all along they weren’t cops — she let them in because she was just bored. This scene is a masterclass in comedic revelations.

A story is almost always improved when rich and poor people are presented side by side. The horrible lawyer father with questionable morals scoffs at their old car.

ATTACK BY ALLY IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

Upon being chucked out of the house, Ruth is enraged and destroys yard art.

It’s significant that Tony is Christian — along with some other unlikely personality quirks — because it makes sense that he disapproves of Ruth stealing a piece of yard art. He has her on about that in the car, because they are not the criminal — they are simply the (step-) parents. This leads to an argument and a brief separation. This argument asks the audience to consider the rights and wrongs of stealing, and what is acceptable by way of retribution.

THIRD REVELATION AND DECISION IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

Now that Ruth has met the horrible father she sees there’s no changing horrible people and there’s no wonder Chrissie turned out the way he did. The world is a horrible place and there’s nothing she can do about it. Another apparent defeat.

Back at his own house eating cheese, Tony looks at his dog and has a revelation (that he needs to go apologise) and makes a decision (to go to her house). But once he gets there he realises she’s been kidnapped (he finds the plaster of Paris foot caste smashed on the floor and he puts two and two together, rushing to the mansion.

GATE. GAUNTLET, VISIT TO DEATH IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

Ruth is forced into a heist after Chrissie is comically killed by a bus.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore knife and mask

A lot of masks come off. These awful people are revealed to be simpletons.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore monster villain

This all leads to a Red Wedding type farcical showdown in which only Ruth gets out largely unharmed. (Except for a red hand.)

The Red Right Hand [sometimes a left] is a form of Glamour Failure where the right hand of a supernatural character is blood-stained or marked with some other variation of red coloring. The red right hand could be seen as the spiritual equivalent of bright patterns on venomous animals – a warning sign that something wrathful this way comes.

Arcana

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore forest warrior

The setting is symbolic for the final chase sequence — Tony is slumped over in the dinghy it’s as if he’s crossing the River Styx. The final big struggle takes place in The Forest, or a suburban equivalent. The snake in the pond is a great touch. As in Kings of Summer, the snake is used as an aggressive opponent of nature within a forest setting, even though in reality snakes wouldn’t really cling onto someone’s face without significant and sustained provocation.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore boat

This is the worst thing for Ruth. She is at her absolute lowest point here.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore pyrrhic victory

BIG STRUGGLE IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

When Ruth hits the king of the baddies with the rock even as he stands before her with his weapon (though out of bullets) this is the classic David/Goliath story playing out. The little woman wins. She gets away, helped along by that snake.

It’s dangerous to be the hero’s best friend. Tony gets it in the end.

ANAGNORISIS IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

She realises Tony is reading the exact same book as she is — planted in the bar at the beginning of the film. She realises Tony and her mightn’t make such a bad match.

MORAL DECISION IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

At the beginning of the film, in the bit where we see Ruth’s life before the inciting incident, we are shown her watch on passively as someone in front of her at the supermarket puts an entire cartload of groceries onto the conveyer belt in the Express line. Now we see her again at the same supermarket but this time she is aggressive in the queue and pushes her way in front. After her brush with death she has decided the small big struggles aren’t quite as scary. In general though, we see that she is going on with her life pretty much as before. For instance, she sees the same big white utility vehicle with the pillars of black smoke billowing out and we wonder if she’s going to do anything about it. She doesn’t — she’s going to pick her big struggles, as before but more so.

Notice now the truck is the mirror image of the original one at the beginning of the film. This story makes use of the technique of mirroring — going back to the same places, showing the same people and the same situations only slightly modified. This creates a strong sense of closure in the audience and clues us in to the character arc and morality of the main character, and of the story as a whole. The ideology of this story: Stand up for yourself but pick your big struggles. Have faith that there are good people out there and you will find them. Don’t let the evil in.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore dirty truck

NEW SITUATION IN I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE

It is not clear to me why Meredith wouldn’t identify Ruth as one of the criminals when asked by police. It’s clear she remembers Ruth’s face because she remembered her when she came back. Perhaps she feels some sort of sisterly solidarity.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore documentation

She goes back to work.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore back to work as a nurse

Ruth is at a backyard BBQ with her best friend and husband. It hasn’t been clear for the denouement whether Tony survived or if he really is dead. We’re not sure if we just saw Ruth sitting in church as perhaps a born-again, or if she was attending his funeral. When we see the camera cut to a view of Tony BBQing alongside her friend’s husband, Dan, it is not 100 per cent clear whether this is in-world reality or if this is Ruth’s imagination. After several hallucinatory episodes in which she sees her elderly dead relative motivating her through her big struggles, we know that Ruth is capable of imagining this, and we know it’s a trick the director is capable of using. It’s therefore quite possible that she is imagining what might have been had Tony not been killed.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore ambiguous bbq

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore ghost

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore possibly ghost

Either way, Ruth is imagining/seeing a future for herself, which is a big step up from where she was at the beginning of the film.

This mindset will set her up for finding more people in her life in future.