“Love and survival are all I want.”
“You’re not exclusive in that notion.”
In Damsel, the Zellner Brothers play with some typical movie genres. As a result, viewers are asked to wrap their minds around things that seem to not quite fit together, but in reality make for a quirky, yet enjoyable experience.
As an example of how things don’t quite fit, we see scenes in desert, in forests, and a seashore, that all seem to exist in the same vicinity. It doesn’t really matter how odd this is, it provides a bit of discontinuity meant to keep us slightly off balance. The same is true with some of the language used in the film. It seems too modern for the setting of a western probably sometime in the 1800s.
As the film opens, two men are waiting for a stagecoach in the middle of a red rock wilderness. One (David Zellner) is heading west in search of a new start after catastrophe in his life. The other, a minister (Robert Forster), is headed east after failing to bring salvation to Indians. The wisdom the minister provided the other man is that “Things are going to be shitty in new and fascinating ways.” He then takes off his clothes, giving them to the other man and heads out into the desert to die. The other man takes the clothes and partial Bible and assumes the persona of Parson Henry.
Then, there is the main story as Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson) comes ashore with a crate in which there is a miniature horse. He comes into a typical western town where he enlists Parson Henry to accompany him to marry his fiancée Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), who has been kidnapped. The plan is to rescue her, propose, give her the miniature horse as a gift, and have Parson Henry do the ceremony. But this hero/damsel-in-distress trope is quickly turned on its head. The story has so taken us in that we can’t help but follow it through even more twists along the way of this odd odyssey. It is hard even to classify this as a comedy or tragedy because the humor and pathos are so intertwined.
But the thread that runs through all the characters and their journeys is a desire to find happiness in a world filled with disappointment. But instead of happiness, the words of the old preacher about “new and fascinating ways” for things to go bad play out over and over. But while pessimism pervades the story, the characters seem to rely on a thin hope of optimism to survive. They may never have any evidence that things will get better, but they never give up on that possibility. Just as many of the laments within the Psalms may think that God does not see or care, the psalmists persist in calling on God to restore and renew them. While these characters do not operate with the idea that God will give them happiness, that hope of newness leads them on.
Phots courtesy of Magnolia Pictures