“Night Moves”
“For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by Him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.” (I Peter 2: 13-16)
Well, there are anarchists, and then there are anarchists. There are the type of anarchists who hide in the wilderness with big caches of weapons, take target practice every day, and hope some hapless government representatives stumble on to them so they can start shooting. There are anarchists who feel the government is so omnipresent and oppressive that it would be better to have a small and weak one, and flee to some refuge like Belize, where English is spoken and taxes are much less. There are anarchists like Timothy McVeigh, the infamous Oklahoma City bomber, who felt there needed to be a civil uprising against a tyrannical federal government. Then there are the tree-hugging anarchists, who are kind of a strange combination of old-school hippie and co-op farmers, who believe that all civilization violates the Earth’s ecosystem, and we need to stop the industrial machine and return to a simpler era, which sounds like a peaceful kind of protest, except there’s a certain “fringe” among them that are so frustrated about nobody listening to them that they want to stage a dramatic protest, like, blowing up a dam.
Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) and Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) play two isolated loners who have somehow devised a partnership to blow up a dam in Oregon . In a way, it’s a futile gesture, because there are many dams in Oregon , even on that particular river, but it’s the principle of the thing. Jesse’s friend Dena (Dakota Fanning), who works in a trendy massage and spa, also wants to be part of this, but Harmon, a live-out-in-the-woods-in-a-trailer kind of guy, is suspicious of her. And she doesn’t trust Harmon, either, especially when she finds out he is an ex-con. (He says it was so long ago he’d forgotten about it, and doesn’t affect anything, anyway.)
Josh is one of those brooding, unsmiling types who doesn’t seem to have any real friends, other than Harmon, even though Josh works in a co-op farm with lots of young, friendly, vegetable-gatherers who live closely together, as in a commune. Josh is serious about making a difference and doing some damage. Their plan is to make explosive material out of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, McVeigh-style (Harmon learned this in the military, also), stuff it into an outboard motorboat, slip stealthily beside the dam by night, set the charges, and escape in a canoe. Innocent-looking Dena helps them buy the fertilizer (claiming it’s for her Uncle’s broccoli farm), and the angry young men buy the boat, and they all prepare the explosives. But of course there are glitches, and everything does not go according to plan. Those of us who have decided to take a stand on principle have also experienced its unintended consequences.
Director Kelly Reichardt makes this film with a documentary-like feel, no glitz or glamour, very straightforward and somber. Even the little nudity is unremarkable; sturdy, frumpy, blubbery middle-aged women in the spa. There’s a grim determination kind of mood that is anything but lighthearted. But there’s not much foul language, and the little violence is also understated, so most of it seems….very ordinary. But that’s part of the overall irony, that three people deciding to blow up a dam could itself be viewed as rather ordinary. All in the name of peace on earth, and goodwill to all?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas