Before Bravo became home to oh-so-polished reality shows like Top Chef and Project Runway (well, not anymore but still), it was once a showcase for independent-minded programming. Don’t remember? It’s true. It’s where I first developed my love for indie films, and I still remember the film that started it all: “Trust” directed by Hal Hartley.
I think I was flipping through the channels when I came across it on Bravo one night; I do remember that it was the opening credits that stopped my trigger-happy, channel-surfing finger, namely the song that was playing. It was a low-key but still rockin’ song I had never heard before.
Then the film started, with a close-up of a pretty, heavily made-up, but unsmiling teenaged girl (that would be Maria, iconically played by the late Adrienne Shelley who also made a great directing debut with Waitress before tragically being murdered; R.I.P.). In a matter of moments, the following happens: she announces she’s pregnant, her parents are shocked, her father calls her a slut, she slaps him and runs out of the house, then the father collapses in shock and dies. Over-the-top melodrama? Hardly. Hal Hartley frames the actors’ dialogue like no one else, every remark is as pointed as a needle, every word filled with cool meaning. In Hartley-land, everyone knows exactly what they’re saying and why; irony is used deftly and with perfect timing; everyone outwardly seems cool and detached until they reach the point of no return. I was riveted.
Maria soon goes on a downward spiral, struggling to remain her detached coolness as she gets blown off by her football jock boyfriend, finds about her father’s death and gets kicked out of the house by her Mother from Hell (a mesmerizing Merritt Nelson), has a brief conversation with a bizarre woman who goes on to kidnap a baby, then barely escapes from a sexual assault-minded shopkeeper by jabbing him in the eye with her cigarette. All in all, she’s not in good shape when she comes across a not-so-mentally-stable-himself Matthew Slaughter.
Matthew is an interesting character indeed. He’s essentially a rebel and a social misfit in the mold of James Dean and Marlon Brando, but he becomes less recognizably stereotypical and more intriguing due to the actor playing him: Martin Donovan, whose Britishness and kinda-handsome-kinda-blobby looks add more meat to the role. Matthew, who we’ve seen jam his supervisor’s head in a vise at work in defense of his ideals, walks into an abandoned house, ostensibly to hang out after getting fired, and sees Maria. They have the following nihilistic exchange:
Maria: What do you want?
Matthew: I don’t want anything.
Maria: Why not?
Matthew: Because I don’t think anything’s going to help.
Soon enough, Maria and Matthew develop a relationship based on trust, if not love, and they help each other deal with the complex evil of their parents (her mom, his dad). The plot continues to develop, revolving around Maria’s pregnancy, Matthew’s uncomfortable search for respectability and health benefits (for Maria’s sake), the aforementoned kidnapped baby, Maria’s mother’s scheme to have Matthew end up with Maria’s older sister, and the grenade Matthew likes to always have around “just in case.” In the end, it’s all about the two main characters’ interactions and dialogues with each other and how their limits and their trust are tested time and time again by the world around them. It’s not exactly a love story, perhaps a little less, but in my opinion, a lot more. In other words, it’s a classic.
Here’s the song from the opening credits (not quite as awesome as the movie, but pretty close):