St. Nick (2009)

Directed by David Lowery

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Much of David Lowery’s later work is present in St. Nick, an affectionately rough around the edges micro-budget debut film about two siblings who have run away from home.  When we meet them they’re already past the point of escape.  They move around leisurely and confidently, not manic but with a deep sense of calm, like animals grazing.

The boy (Tucker Sears) has found an abandoned home and inspects it like a ghost revisiting it for the first time in years (a prelude to Lowery’s A Ghost Story).  He goes back to wake his sister (Savanna Sears), and together they move in and make it their own.

Much of the story takes place in and around this home, in long dialogue-free stretches.  We don’t know what they’ve run away from or why.  It’s safe to assume someone is looking for them, but we never get any sense of who those forces may be.  Instead the two siblings live within their own fairytale, apart from the broader world.

They’ve learned long ago to fend for themselves, and certain forces will demand they go back out on the run.  They are like the characters in a Terrence Malick movie, more concerned with bigger questions about life and death, while they walk through endless fields like the characters in Badlands.  They have a very immediate goal, to find shelter, but within that drive they find time to wonder about the world at large, sometimes without even saying anything.

There’s a strong sense of yearning in St. Nick, just as there is in Lowery’s other films, notably Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, A Ghost Story and The Old Man & the Gun.  It’s a common theme of his work, no matter if the main characters are children, young men and women, an aged couple or even a ghost.  They are all bonded by a common sense of melancholy and affection for life’s details, as if able to recognize just how fleeting they are.

St. Nick is often silent, watching the characters interact with their environment as if seeing it for the first time.  Because they are children such a dynamic makes a certain amount of sense.  They are seeing most of this for the first time, but they also behave with an unexpected maturity for kids their age.  The two siblings, then, have a poignant blend of wisdom and wonder.  To them everything is noteworthy, but there’s an awareness that it won’t last for long.

In the case of this story it’s simply that forces will kick them back out onto the road.  This isn’t their house, after all, and they are only borrowing shelter from the world around them.  This small slice of life, in this small amount of time, is an apt microcosm of life as a whole, at least I imagine.

Unless I’m reading too far into it, which I don’t think I am, the ways in which the kids borrow from and pass through the large world that surrounds them is the same way we pass through life.  They might as well be souls reincarnated, having lived many times over before, and this go round they figure they’ll just live as simply as possible.  They subsist on what food can be scavenged, and they spend their days drawing, making forts, sewing or just observing the goings on nearby.  The girl becomes an uninvited guest at a child’s birthday, and the boy silently takes in a woman playing a guitar before leaving before the subsequent conversation goes anywhere.

They seem to have no need for conversation, though they do share some between themselves.  Words, in some sense, are redundant and fail to convey what they feel or need.  Instead they just regard their environment with an almost eerie but certainly zen sense of calm.

Up Next: The Game (1997), Primer (2004), Hold the Dark (2018)

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