In the great balloon debate of the arts, there will come a time (possibly after Mime has been chucked out) when those left will debate the idea that as art reflects life to some degree, it is vital for us to understand the human condition and put certain things into perspective. Andrea Arnold’s Red Road would certainly claim it I guess, taking on the great themes of revenge, justice and the somewhat less great theme of dirty sex and CCTV in its stride. But the message the film gives out is surprisingly redemptive.

It need not be so. I thought the film was going to end ten minutes before it did, and am still not sure if it shouldn’t. If it ended where I thought it would, with a shot of a young girl on CCTV, our heroine is put in a morally difficult situation, there is the burgeoning idea that in her quest for justice, she has damaged something else. It’s a nice moment which would leave the audience wanting a touch more, but questioning their own moral judgements. All the kind of stuff that would keep cinema in the balloon well past Opera.

Instead the film follows through and allows the character to recognize her situation, and save herself. It is redemptive to the character, but is it useful to the audience. Not only does it not ring all that true, but in making explicit the films mysteries it closes the film down, it prevents it having a niggling half life of the grey morality it had claimed for itself. But at the same time does the world need another bleak film where angry people are trapped in a cycle of abuse? Red Road suggests a way out which the alternative ending could not suggest (it being out of character as presented up to that point).

Needless to say, for all that wrangling about the end, Red Road is terrific stuff: absolutely focused on its story with tremendously nuanced performances (good to know there will be two more films with this cast). Heavy going, but with clever use of its CCTV premise it opens up questions about the nature of surveillance and the need for voyeurism that its own story illustrates pretty well. And even with my questions about the end, it is providing a question about cinema itself. It is more dramatic to end bleakly, but showing a redemptive ending might be more responsible.

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