starring Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Michael Parks
screenplay by Nick Damici and Jim Mickle
directed by Jim Mickle
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. It begins with a leaf falling into a river and a woman, confused and trembling, declaring to a shop owner that she's fine but that the damp will sometimes get into her head. Jim Mickle's smart, downcast We Are What We Are looks to Nature as not just insensate, savage, but also the first testament to a greater power. It locates the source of religion in the need to control Nature, more specifically to find meaning in the capricious-seeming meaninglessness of the universe. It implicates the ugliest, most selfish aspect of Nature in the founding of the United States, mining resonance in the idea of "Manifest Destiny"--in the process giving women a starring role: positions of real power in which they're depended upon for their strength rather than exploited for some idea of their weakness. We Are What We Are enacts a matriarchal melodrama in that way; connecting the feminine aspect to Nature is nothing new, of course, but the picture does so in a way that feels true and is in its own way touching. It opens with a quote that seems Biblical (later, one of the characters will ask another, "Is that from the Bible?"--it's not then, either), which serves the multifoliate purposes of establishing the mood of the piece, clarifying that religion is born in the breast of man, and establishing a woman as the artifactor of the Word. The woman with the damp in her head, a mother, falls into water and drowns--the first of several images of baptism in the picture, and one that predicts the flood imagery running throughout. Water suggests change, unearths things, washes them clean. It's all heavy stuff, I know, yet the thrill of We Are What We Are is that it's about all these things without being obviously about any of it.