Family is a tricky thing. They are the people that you are connected to, not only on an emotional level but on a molecular one as well. Traits and perspectives are passed down through the years, sometimes showing up in the most random of situations. We grow up knowing about our past, spending the future building relationships though our experiences, but what if you become aware of another side of the family you never knew about. A side of your lineage that for whatever reason was shunned. How would you react to your world being shattered by a never-ending stream of questions?
In the new film by Justin Lerner, co-written with long time collaborator Katharine O’Brien, The Automatic Hate explores the notion of family through the scopes of nature vs nurture and unspoken conventions. The film prompts the viewer to contemplate their own decisions, ones consciously made and those that are influenced by family and past experience.
Alexis (Adelaide Clemens), tracks down Davis (Joseph Cross) and introduces herself and her sisters (Yvonne and Vanessa Zima) as his cousins. Davis, an only child, unaware of any other family besides his own mother, father and grandfather, dives into the newfound family connection. After a carefree reunion the true journey of the film uncovers the reasons for the family’s estrangement and dark secrets of the past.
The journey may begin with Davis and Alexis, but it certainly doesn’t end with them. The audience actively participates in this discovery, as well as their own. Questions are asked throughout the course of the movie, with no real answer ever laid out for you. The audience is afforded the opportunity to decide the outcome based on their own opinions, and in turn acknowledges the complexity of the real world.
Some may find this type of filmmaking frustrating, but in actuality this is a smart and appreciated tactic by all true film fans. A film can be used as an escape from reality, but it is also a tool used to stir up emotions and provoke thought.
With the effortless and beautiful acting by the entire cast, the audience is able to place themselves in individual characters and experience the movie through their eyes. While Cross and Clemens portray their characters with conflicting emotions, repressed and fierce respectfully, their chemistry is a powerful vision to be seen. They never let their characters slip into the Hero or Villain role, but instead allows the situations to unfold naturally.
Visually the film is divided into two sectors of the segregated families, the urban landscape of Boston with younger brother Ronald Green’s (Richard Schiff) family and the rural terrain of open land with older brother Josh Green’s (Ricky Jay) family. However, neither of the two respective families fall into the common tropes of stereotype. They live in these places not because they are hillbillies or yuppies, but instead because their environments are reflections of their personalities, which are then passed on to their children.
This brings up a good point about the way we deal with family connections. How much of our life do we spend regurgitating the view points of our parents instead of forming our own conclusions? Is it unjustified if we play along with grievances of the past? These are both tricky questions to evaluate, but ones that are important to be asked. “The Automatic Hate” never pulls back from these sometimes unanswerable questions, which is what makes it a beautiful film to experience.
The film is uncomfortable at times, exposing taboos that are have centuries worth of illicit scrutiny. This wasn’t done to make you squirm in your seats, but instead to crack open your inner self to contemplate the situation. It’s only through uncomfortable encounters can a person truly gauge their essence.
With modern writing by Lerner and O’Brien, and the emotional acting by the entire cast, The Automatic Hate is a perfect example of a festival film. The audience is presented with situations they normally aren’t accustomed to seeing, and made to look deep inside to find the answers within. Some may say these types of films, the thinking man’s film, are too heavy in tone for a medium meant for escape, but if we aren’t allowed to explore these complex issues in a film, how can we grow as people or as artists?
The Automatic Hate has two other showing during this week, each with cast and crew in attendance. For more information on the film, visit their Facebook page.
Written by Lisa Mejia