Before I saw Hillbilly Elegy, I noticed a slight stir on the internets about this movie based on true events. It’s actually based on a novel of the same name written by J. D. Vance. A novel that went on to become a bestseller. I had no idea this is a true story, so the finale showing the real characters came as a pleasant surprise. 2020 seems to be the year of rural America as this is the second movie with similar motives. A much more powerful and engaging The Devil All the Time was the first one. And it wasn’t based on true events.
I’m pretty sure that the novel is much better than this movie although I haven’t read it. Hillbilly Elegy, the movie, never settles on a theme or atmosphere, focusing on the actual events and just going through them with the grand finale in sight. A finale that we all knew was coming. The problem that most reviewers or establishment writers have with it is that it never dug deeper into reasons why something was happening, leaving much of the heavy lifting to the viewer or relatively obscured. So, if you’re looking for some revelations or a complete look at rural States, you’re looking in the wrong place.
Powered by strong performances by all three leads but Glenn Close in particular, Hillbilly Elegy is interesting enough to warrant a viewing, if for nothing else than for a couple of elements that require further analysis. First one, of course, is the interesting life of J.D. who was supposed to epitomize the American Dream of working hard and overcoming adversity to ultimately become the best you. This is where we must divide that element into two concepts, J.D.’s real-life experiences and the adaptation we have before us. I have nothing but respect for him and his efforts and I don’t want to diminish them in any way. What I want to talk about is the lesson that people were supposed to learn from watching this movie. That verification that America is the best country where dreams come to life. And whether J.D. actually tried to convince us that you can make it or he was just trying to tell his story is irrelevant. Irrelevant because we’re not going after him, his story or the perceived message. We’re going after something much deeper.
Same America failed not only J.D. and his mother but also his grandparents and basically the entire bloodline. The hard work and dedication are only prerequisites to success, you also have to be really lucky to make it in the US and A. On one J.D. who managed to overcome difficulties in his life you have thousands and thousands of equally smart and potentially successful people who are left behind exactly because of the system of values perpetuated here. You can probably guess that it’s the tribal system of values that’s the problem here. The lack or clumsy adaptation of this struggle without the usual melodrama is the thing that privileged structuralists didn’t like.
After we evolved beyond the natural selection of strongest and smartest, the new game of life emerged among tribal communities and it’s still very alive and kicking. This is that boomer “pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps” attitude. In the 21st century. In a time we are preparing terraforming systems and colonization of other planets, we are still working on the same system of values that was used thousands of years ago.
Here’s a fun game, as the movie unfolds, think of ways how the bad situations could have been prevented or resolved. And remember that capitalism, ruthless neoliberal capitalism, is just an extension of the tribal system of values. Why J.D. didn’t have a clear path to Yale university? There are a lot of issues that pop up with such a simple question and I will leave you to think about them on your own.
Another aspect worth looking into is the condemnation coming from lefty snowflakes who after four years of Trump are now taking it out on this demographic who voted him in the office in the first place. At this point, it’s worth remembering that eternal saying:
Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.
This means that both left and right are plagued by the same issues and basically have no right criticizing each other. They should be helping each other and figuring out how the fuck things got so bad. And yes, those who are more aware of issues and have more time and resources have a greater responsibility. This is not fair but that’s just fucking life. I know I went on a tangent here, but hopefully, it was interesting enough. What are your thoughts about this movie?
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: J.D. Vance, Vanessa Taylor
Cast: Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Gabriel Basso, Haley Bennett, Freida Pinto, Bo Hopkins, Owen Asztalos, Jesse C. Boyd
Fun Facts: Amy Adams and Haley Bennett play mother and daughter with just a 14 year age gap between them. The real Bev Vance had her first child, daughter Lindsay, when she was 19 years old.