The Tribe was one of the most thought-provoking movies I watched in a long time, and especially in this our hellacious year of 2016. Putting those thoughts into context has been difficult. But the new Star Wars film, Rogue One, helped immensely.
It all comes down to this line:
The line might seem a little forced, as Rogue One leads directly into the very first Star Wars film, A New Hope, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth to it.
Most of the effort we put into life is based on a desired outcome and the hope our effort will make that outcome a reality. The reason I watch a movie is because I hope when it ends I’ll feel good about the experience. The reason I eat ice cream is because I damn well know I’ll feel good about the experience. The reason I go to the gym is because I hope it will let me eat more ice cream. Remove the hope from any situation and the motivation to take action dwindles.
And that’s what we see in Rogue One, right? The rule of the Empire has made for a bleak outlook on the future. Most people are crushed into inaction by what they perceive to be a hopeless situation. But a few people have hope that they can overcome the Empire, and that is enough to ignite those others who had been defeated. Rebellion commences!
Rogue One reminds us of the tremendous ability people have to not only survive but to hold on to very best characteristics of humanity even in dark times that should be all rights leave us with nothing but negativity.
And that’s nice. It’s motivating. It’s hopeful. We often tend to become romantic and sentimental about the idea of overcoming 99.99% odds and seeing that .01% success.
But The Tribe sends us to the other end of the spectrum.
A communicable disease has ravaged a majority of the population. Civilized society is gone. The main characters are three sisters who live on a tattered ranch.
The landscape around them is dry and inhospitable. This means they don’t have a lot of people coming by, which is good. But that means it’s tense whenever someone does pass by. The girls have survived this long because they avoid, threaten, or shoot whoever tries to interact with them. Two of the girls are in their early twenties, while one is a child.
The sickness took their parents, but their dad had been a survivalist and made sure the ranch had supplies to last years. When a 20-something guy shows up, things become complicated.
Rogue One had the Jyn Erso character be the constant trumpet of hope in dark times. And that meant that in situations that could go wrong we always had a character fighting for the “we can do this” outlook. The Tribe has someone similar—the middle sister, Sarah (Anne Winters). Except she’s an agent of mistrust and fear.
Without Sarah, The Tribe would have been very different. We’d watch the oldest sister, Jenny (Jessica Rothe), and little Danika (Chloe Beth Jones) doing their best to survive. Then Ryan (Michael Nardelli) shows up. He’s attractive and kind. Jenny’s attractive and kind. He has no where to go. Jenny and Danika have a lot of supplies… It would be easy to see them falling in love. Then doing their best to have some kids, survive, and work with whoever else to give humanity a chance to re-establish itself slowly and over generations.
In that situation, The Tribe would have been such a positive movie about how we might be able to rebuild in the event of an extinction-level calamity. But The Tribe isn’t that because Sarah’s cynicism is overwhelming. First, she’s adamant about shooting Ryan. When she doesn’t get her way there, she’s disgusted with the growing relationship between Jenny and Ryan. When more people show up at the ranch, there’s a tense moment of Game Theory potential. If both sides trust one another, then both sides win. If both sides don’t trust one another, then both sides die. If one side trust while the other side doesn’t, the non-trusting side kills the trusting side and gets the supplies but ultimately has no future.
In the Star Wars universe, we know what would happen. We’d have a Jyn Erso step up and quell the tension, unite the two sides, and save humanity. But this isn’t a fantasy world that promotes dreams over nightmares. In The Tribe, we have Sarah.
And that’s what sort of terrified me about The Tribe. It frightens me to think that in reality there are more Sarah’s than Jyn Erso’s. And as much as we like to think that one Jyn could overcome the negativity of 1,000,000 Sarah’s…that might not be true.
The Tribe ends up being very symbolic in terms of how crisis is dealt with, with it’s few individuals representing magnitudes of much greater order—cities, states, countries, economies, governments. What plays out here is no different, really, to what plays out with the nuclear missile crisis between America and Russia in Dr. Strangelove.
Since the screening at Other Worlds Austin, Jenny and Sarah jump into my head every time I read about politics or hear a friend talking about a conflict they’re having at work or in a relationship. I think to myself, “Does this situation have a Sarah?” Or “Oh no, they’re dealing with a Sarah.” And yet…Sarah’s probably not the most haunting part of The Tribe. The film’s final moments are something that probably deserve a semester-long sociology class in order to discuss the implications they have about humanity and humanity’s future. It’s such a wonky and game-changing last scene that I had to stop myself from applauding before the credits rolled. Nice job Roxy Shih and writers Ian Paxton and Chris Manask.