Greg and Zanna consider the power of a movie to make change in the world.
Likeability of movie's unremitting bleakness: 0
Goodness of movie's unremitting bleakness: 5
The bleakness of The Justice of Bunny King was so difficult for Greg to face that we couldn't have even a glimmer of a decent conversation afterwards. I was sobbing for the last 15 minutes or so of the film and the whole thing - both the devastating subject matter and my reaction to it - made Greg so uncomfortable that he started making some wildly inappropriate jokes to avoid having to deal with his own feelings about it.
The movie is written by Sophie Henderson, directed by Gaysorn Thavat, shot by Ginny Loane and stars Essie Davis and Thomasin McKenzie. The female excellence dominating every element of this film is a massive win for women in cinema - albeit through a painful story of womanhood. Australian actress Davis delivers a truly heartbreaking performance as a tenacious, self-reliant but destitute mother desperate to get her two children back following a prison sentence. Washing windscreens at intersections, Bunny needs to find a permanent home before the state will consider releasing her children back to her, but with no money, no real employment, a criminal record and a housing shortage, she needs a miracle for that to happen. I won't spoil the film but let's just say this isn't a cinematic universe where miracles happen.
It's clear why Hollywood has been gaga over McKenzie, who plays Bunny's teenage niece Tonya. Her character doesn't say much, but there's one line she delivers with such vulnerability and truth that it broke me - twice - and even recalling it now has me welling up a third time.
The film opens and closes with the song What's Up by Four Non-Blondes. The closing version is a downbeat wistful rendition by 17-year-old Willa Amai and I have never felt the lyrics to that song so deeply - especially as they relate to Bunny and Tonya's plight. It provides perfect bookends to this heavy-hearted tale of female strength, bravery and the boundlessness of motherly love.
Afterwards, Greg asked me whether I liked it and we got into a petty argument over whether there's a difference between liking a film and thinking it's good. The Justice of Bunny King is an excellent, important, emotionally transfixing story - a beautifully executed film that everyone should watch. After watching it, the agonising reality of the daily struggle against poverty, faced by so many New Zealanders, has been imprinted on to my soul. Did I like it? No, it was so harrowing I literally couldn't sit still. But was it good? It was very, very good.
Half an hour or 40 minutes into the movie's unremitting bleakness - inescapable poverty, child abuse, urination through a car sunroof, the loss of one's children, the torture imposed by a system which insists it has everyone's best interests at heart, despite clear evidence to the contrary - Zanna turned to me and said, "This better have a happy ending."
At the end of the movie, after another hour or so of unremitting bleakness, I asked if she had liked it. She looked at me with unremitting contempt and said, "Of course I didn't like it. It's not the type of movie you like."
Because she also said she thought it was a good movie, I engaged her in a long and pathetic argument about whether it's possible to think of something as good but not like it. She said she likes a lot of things that are not good, and I had just begun telling her that was an incoherent point when we heard Casper (4) wake up and begin tottering through the bathroom that separates our bedroom from his. By the time I made it to our bedroom, he was wandering around, eyes half-closed, tightly cuddling the enormous stuffed caterpillar he inexplicably calls, "Meatball". I picked him up and deposited him on Zanna's side of the bed and lay next to him. He snuggled into me and held my face between his hands.
My heart swollen with love and conciliation, I sent Zanna the following text: "What I wanted to say was that it excavated and exposed to the atmosphere an entire substrata of humanity we would rather stay buried, so we didn't have to deal with the moral obligations their suffering imposes on those of us lucky enough to otherwise never see it. This is why movies like this are more important than any reports or statistics."
She replied: "Mmmm so why do you think you find it so hard to deal with? Why do you need to deflect?"
At that point, I came out of the bedroom and said to her that I deflected because I found it so hard to talk about all this darkness. She disagreed.
"Women are used to doing unpaid labour. Men aren't. You don't want to think too deeply about the movie because it will make you think you should be doing something about it."
I said the problems presented in the movie weren't something that could be fixed by individuals, that it was a system-level issue.
She said, "So what are you doing to fix the system?"
I didn't have a good answer for that.
The Justice of Bunny King is in cinemas now.