Overview: A small logging town in Maine feels the rippling effects of psychological trauma when a bus driver fails to notice a young boy lying unconscious at the end of her route one fateful day. 2013; Distributed by Act Zero Films; Unrated; 90 minutes.
Small Town Negligence: Lance Edmands’ feature film debut is a brooding independent drama on the effects of one woman’s professional negligence on an entire community of individuals, only half of whom are professionally responsible themselves. In Edmands’ film, New England is a locale archetypically haunted by the sins of the father revisited upon the children, each and every character representative of a communal history that has become familial. Irresponsible behaviors and temperamental predispositions are passed down from generation to generation, father to son, mother to daughter, and so on and so forth. Bluebird’s central crime is thus attributed not just to one person, but to an entire community. The blue-collar atmosphere of the film’s narrative world is collectively guilty and aggrieved, the plaintiff speaking on behalf of a collective conscience, the defendant on behalf of a collective culpability. In Edmands’ script, there is no fault to be laid at any one individual’s feet, as the crime proves pervasive in its source and after effects, the town of Bluebird itself the guilty party.
Small Town Nihilism: What makes Edmands’ film so jarring to watch is the nihilism of the town in which Bluebird’s narrative unfolds. Though a few of the characters allude to some form of socially practiced Christian theology, much of the moral uprightness of organized religion is absent. Bluebird is decidedly nihilistic in tone and thematic content. At times, Bluebird is reminiscent of a true crime drama from The Coen Brothers, its visual aesthetic similarly cold and sardonic, but without any of The Coens’ wit or gallows humor to offset Edmands’ decidedly dour, menacing presence. The crime at the heart of Bluebird is indisputably deemed wrong, but not in an ethical sense. In Bluebird’s engagement of Dostoyevsky-ian themes of crime and punishment, narrative action arises from ego, one man’s misfortune capriciously inflicted on another within a community made inescapably oppressive, interpersonal meanness callously engaged in on a grand scale, right and wrong made irrelevant in the film’s listless engagement in social degradation.
Small Town Purgatory: In Bluebird, there is seemingly no escape from a cycle of moral and social turpitude, inflicted generation upon generation in Edmands’ small New England town, making the film into a sort of purgatory for its characters. Unfortunately for the viewer, watching someone else’s punishment is not any more bearable than the characters upon which it has been inflicted, making Bluebird punishing in its vision for no discernible cinematic reason. It’s not so much that Edmands’ film demands closure for its characters, but rather that Bluebird lacks the compelling nature of an entertainment of any sort. The purgatory in which Bluebird’s characters find themselves becomes a mere echo of the one placed upon the viewer, summarily forced to trek through Edmands’ inferno. Any poeticism tangentially evoked by the film’s self-absorption towards literary fruition is defeated by the film’s labyrinthine devolutions of narrative intention.
Overall: Lance Edmands’ Bluebird is decidedly bleak, but without the catharsis of a dramatic climax or the inclusion of clearly articulated characters inhabiting a cohesive world, the film withers away under the weight of its own pretentions. Existential dread is made heavier through the laborious tone and aimless narrative of the film’s supported script, making it no small wonder why Edmands’ film took two years to find a distributor.