Exploring the Mourning Film Part 2: Blue Ruin

Much like Waves, Blue Ruin (dir. Jeremy Saulnier, 2013) tells the story of a family dealing with immense loss. Both films carry the viewer along the path of recovery, and attempt to provide an emotionally cathartic conclusion. This conclusion is where the films take drastically different routes. Whereas Waves portrayed a healing process that was only possible through love and forgiveness, Blue Ruin explores a story of vengeance and retribution.

The protagonist of this film is Dwight, a quiet drifter who lives out of his car. Unbeknownst to the audience, Blue Ruin at this point is already a mourning film. As later events in the plot reveal, Dwight is homeless recluse as a direct result of the ruthless murder of both of his parents. When he learns that the man responsible, Wade, is being released from prison, he immediately springs into action. Dwight follows Wade after his release and kills him. After this, Dwight reconnects with his sister and then he must fend off the remaining members of Wade’s family.

The most unique aspect of Blue Ruin is the utter commitment to realism, even as it intersects between mourning film and revenge fantasy. Dwight is not an action hero. He is an inexperienced, out of shape vagrant with a sloppy plan. He struggles to operate weapons, and he takes himself to the hospital when he realizes he cannot self-operate on his wounds. This was my favorite thing about the film. There is always tension, and no character feels safe. The visceral action that takes place never feels over the top, and the world feels more immersive and believable.

As a result, Dwight is often portrayed as a normal person in abnormal situations, which makes him feel more relatable to the audience. This is very important as we join him in the arc of his grief. He is angry, but instead of deciding to forgive like the characters of Waves, he chooses to act on his anger. It is not exactly admirable, as made clear by Dwight’s sister who tells him “I’d forgive you if you were crazy. But you’re not. You’re weak.” But while Dwight’s many crimes in the movie may be considered irredeemable, we are still able to empathize with him and understand his reasoning to some degree. He never expresses pleasure in the act of taking lives.

The violence in Blue Ruin could almost be described as Quentin Tarantino-esque. In an interview about his use of excessive violence, Tarantino stated that he uses violence to portray the “victims [as] victors,” and when they can bring justice to the evil characters, it’s “cinematic catharsis.” This is exactly the approach that I felt Blue Ruin took as a mourning film. The violence that occurs on screen is not pleasant to watch (unless you’re appreciating the excellent special effects) but regardless, it is clear that this is how Dwight is recovering from his grief. At the conclusion of the film, Dwight ambushes Wade’s family at their home where they make it clear that they intend to murder his sister and her children. To protect them and to put an end to the cycle of bloodshed for good, Dwight kills the remaining members of the family, sacrificing his life in the process. With the concluding shot of Dwight’s bullet-ridden body, we realize that his suffering has ended, and that his violent path has opened a door for his sister to absolve her grief over their parents. Once again, this feeling of absolution is extended to the viewers, so while there is tragedy in Dwight’s death, there is also relief.

Blue Ruin is currently streaming on Tubi.

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