Elippathayam (The Rat Trap) is a Malayalam film from the early 1980's directed by the famous Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who is named the "true heir to Satyajit Ray", according to the DVD cover of the Region 2 DVD. The film is also one of the reasons I just don't watch art cinema all that often.
Gopalakrishnan is surely an accomplished director, and the film is certainly an accomplished one. Among its accolades is the British Film Institute's "Most Original and Imaginative Film shown at a National Film Theatre". What's so original about it, then?
The plot centers around a man called Unni, who lives with his sisters and is, quite frankly, a giant douchebag. Of course, the thing about art films is that you're not supposed to phrase a character's douchebaggery as such. I'm supposed to say, he is trapped in the metaphorical rat trap of the past, determined not to accept the fall of the feodalist system and rejecting the world around him that is getting on with the times. If this sounds original and imaginative, you know, that's because it probably is. But what you see on-screen is a coward of a man, treating his sisters and the rest of the world badly and eaten up by his own paranoia. And anyway, any philosophical conclusions I made of the film, the DVD cover already told me and the essay booklet inside the DVD clarified further. So it's not that I figured out the film - it figured out itself.
So I suppose this is where I'm going to drop a cliché on my innocent readers while addressing the movie: "it's not you, it's me". Because Elippathayam is not a bad art film - it's just one of those things that highlights to me why I personally don't really enjoy artsy films all that much. The film is ripe with symbolism and meaning that I probably wouldn't understand if I hadn't read the attached essay, or perhaps would've only picked up on a rewatch - a rewatch that might've never taken place as the film simply isn't encaging enough for me to return to.
It's a difficult topic. Does a movie have to result to low-brow antics in order to entertain me? I don't think so, nor do I consider myself a 'dumb' viewer. But this type of cinema, I guess it's just not for me. There is constantly this attached difficulty that the films aren't about the events that take place in them, but the themes and the meanings those themes take in the film. To discuss what happens in the movie is of secondary importance - the themes and messages are the priority, but I guess the metaphorical rat trap - aha! - is the fact that once you discuss the movie and reveal the themes and the treatment given to them by the director, you ultimately 'spoil' the movie to the person who hasn't seen it. But perhaps there is joy in the discovery of these things, even after you know about them. Like I said, it's just not my kind of cinema.
(This was, by the way, my first Malayalam film. I knew I should've started with something from the more commercial side...)