Ain’t them Bodies Saints is a beautifully shot, poetically endearing indie film from 2013 that seemed to get lost in the crowd of other releases that year. Set against the backdrop of 1970’s Texas, the story chronicles the relationship between Bob and Ruth, and how after getting imprisoned, Bob’s struggle and journey to reunite with his family (after escaping), and the daughter he has never met. The story seems simple, but it is so much more than what any description could detail.
Rooney Mara stars as Ruth while Casey Affleck stars as Bob, and both actors did a fantastic job at portraying struggling characters just trying to live without the other. Mara is one of those actors that just holds your attention when she is on screen, and this film is no exception. Her relationship with her daughter and watching her sing or play or simply talk to her daughter helps the story grow, and gives us insight into her psyche. We are basically just watching her be a parent, yet we feel like we know her every thought, even when she doesn’t say much.
The dichotomy in Mara’s character between needing to reunite with Affleck, yet trying to stay away to keep her daughter safe is on display, and we understand her struggle. Maybe not through her dialogue, but we understand her character through the music, and through the scenes she shares with her daughter.
Affleck’s struggle throughout the film is whether or not he should show back up in their lives, especially since he is a wanted man after escaping prison. But his love for Mara and his need to see his little girl are what drive him, and we understand the love he has for these two people. Love is what drives him, and he is blind to everything else.
Ben Foster stars as the sheriff, and he also did a fantastic job at portraying this complex character. His relationship with Mara and how it grows over time after Bob is imprisoned helps move the story forward, and the subtlety within these performances is what makes them so special.
The true star of this film is the music, and how it overlays the cinematography to provide a truly unique experience. The music is a character in itself, adding to the beauty and complexities that this film offers. We get a sense of optimism and hope, yet are hit with despair and sadness and all of these emotions are relayed through the music.
There are stretches of this film where there is no dialogue, just music overlaying the scene and providing the necessary feeling that the filmmaker intended. Not only that, but in these scenes, even with no dialogue, through the use of the music and the acting talent on display, we are truly given an insight into the psyche of these characters, and we understand their emotions and their struggles, even if there is no dialogue tell us what they are thinking.
For instance, when Foster’s character just looks at Mara, there is no dialogue being exchanged between the characters, yet we understand what they are thinking and the emotions they are experiencing. We experience the growth of the friendship between Mara and Foster, and they don’t need much dialogue to display their relationship over time. This could be attributed to the music, but also to the subtle performances by these two masterful actors.
One of the complaints against this film is that it is a slow burn, and I cannot debate that. The film is slow, but it travels at its own pace and moves at a pace that makes sense for what the film is trying to convey. Certain scenes in this film might not help elevate the plot, or these scenes might not connect to the plot right away, but they will by the end.
This is film is quietly enthralling, and sneaks up on you when your not looking. As soon as the credits roll you will realize the power of what you just watched, and will realize how much more time you wouldn't mind spending with these characters. Scenes will stay in your mind long after the credits roll, whether it is simply because of the beauty of the shot, or because of the poetic dialogue.
This film is not for everybody. It is a poem told through visuals and enhanced with music. Being as poetic as this is, you could essentially analyze every scene and every piece of dialogue being said, and there is no right answer or correct interpretation for what you see on screen. David Lowrey took his time to tell a simple story with complex characters, and in the end, it is a tale about the balance between love and desperation, and the fine line between both.