“Red Dirt” is an enigmatic film dealing with two major themes—agoraphobia and claustrophobia. As the film deals with the difficulty and pain of expressing love and the changes that love takes, we are witness to a southern family and how love affects it. This film is one that demands complete immersion into the story line. Set along the Mississippi River, the presence of the South is readily felt from the moment the movie opens. It revolves around the character of Griffin who longs to leave the south after finishing high school but feels an obligation to stay and see to his Aunt Summer (a bravura performance by Karen Black) who raises him after his parents died. Summer is not a well woman; she suffers from depression or is bi-polar—we do not know. She closer herself up in a room listening to operas. When he is not tending to his aunt, Grif hangs around with his cousin, Emily. Suddenly everything changes when a young drifter, Lee, comes on the scene and becomes Grif’s friend.
There is a lot of character development in the movie. We see that Grif comes to terms with his sexuality with a quick kiss to Lee and so ends the question in his mind as to what he s sexually. Overtly gay, this film is not but after a second viewing of it. I saw many things I did not see the first time. When we meet Lee, we think that he is nothing more than a drifter with no goal in his life and no sense of direction.
The script has many problems but the movie has any pluses that negate the minuses. The acting is superb as is the cinematography. The emotional tenseness of the film is overwhelming. We not only see the emotions but we feel them as well. Although the movie is set in the present, the characters were not ready to admit their true feelings because of a primitive belief system in which the characters believed. Because of this, romance was not allowed to blossom. Perhaps this is reflective of people who are trapped by what they consider to be the rules of society. Yet with that the movie is a love story. It also deals with the evil perpetrated by the women in this movie. The lies and manipulations and calculations that they concocted were responsible to make Griffin the nervous wreck that he was. Griffin was unable to make his escape and he stays, imprisoned by a half-mad woman. He had the chance to find happiness but instead he imprisons his life by staying. It isn’t to the bizarre end of the movie that any hope surfaces for Grif.
In today’s world of determinist sexuality and the politics of identity, this movie fails drastically. People fall in and out of love and there is the overt hint that sex and love do not have to be related. This s what I found to be so interesting in “Red Dirt”. Instead of the usual teenage coming out story there is no tediousness. It is a movie that s quite simply about love minus all of the gay clichés so associated with coming out.