I wanted to write about Night Moves because it was one of my personal favourites from the London Film Festival. The film made a deep and long-lasting impression on me, and I am still thinking about the film and the issues it raises many weeks after seeing the film.
Night Moves stars Jesse Eisenberg (Josh), Dakota Fanning (Dena) and Peter Sarsgaard (Harmon) as three Green activists embarking on, and committing, an act of ecoterrorism. Ecoterrorism is an act of violence, sabotage or terrorism committed in support of ecological or environmental causes. The film follows the three activists as they plan, prepare and carry out this act and we bear witness to its aftermath.
As a viewer, you get to know the three activists as people over a period of time and this means that you genuinely care about them. You have a lot invested in what happens to them and what becomes of them. Will their plan work? Will they succeed, will they be caught, and, ultimately, what price will they pay for their actions?
I loved the film’s pacing. It takes its time and is a slow burn, steadily ratcheting up the tension. Night Moves is the name of the boat the activists buy (an integral part of the plan) and it is at night that they carry out their act of ecoterrorism, under cover of darkness when their actions will hopefully be hidden and pass unnoticed. The fact that it is night-time significantly increases the tension and the drama for the audience and you are drawn into the dark heart of the action.
The film considers what makes a successful ecological or environmental campaign action. Is it about making a big statement/gesture and grandstanding or is it about changing behaviour and delivering real results by making people live a more ecologically and environmentally friendly life? What is the best way to genuinely affect lasting change?
I valued the fact that the film did not stop with the act of ecoterrorism, but went on to examine in-depth the aftermath and the far-reaching consequences of the group’s actions on themselves, their friends, and their communities. Their act of ecoterrorism is targeted against property not people and no one is meant to get hurt. But even when no harm is intended, people can and do get caught in the crossfire and become collateral damage. As the full horror of the aftermath emerges, the lives of all three protagonists start to unravel.
All three activists attempt to return to their normal day-to-day lives. They each have their own way of dealing with what they have done and they are affected in different ways. But they are all damaged by the experience and pay a heavy price for their actions, especially in terms of their conscience and their peace of mind. Guilt is a very heavy burden to carry around if there is no one you can talk to and it can eat you up from the inside. The film looks at the effects of guilt and the psychological damage inflicted on the three activists.
The film explores what the fear of being caught and imprisoned for life, or even facing the death penalty, can propel a normal human being to do. It shows what normal human beings are capable of when forced into a corner with their back up against a wall. It is not a pretty sight.
The film is stunning to look at, in terms of the scenery and the landscapes featured, which is fitting for a film about Green issues and the environment. The film very much places human beings in the context of the landscapes and the geographical spaces that they occupy, and looks at how human beings interact with their environment.
Night Moves was programmed in the “Debate” section of the London Film Festival and was the Debate Gala Film. The film certainly made a very profound impression on me. It engaged my brain and I was (and am) still mulling over the film, its themes and issues long after first viewing it.
I am a campaigner myself and my campaigning interests are eclectic, diverse and wide-ranging. Night Moves made me contemplate very seriously how far I would/should go to achieve certain campaign objectives, and it also opened my eyes and my mind to the many unforeseen and unintended consequences of an individual’s/group’s actions. Dropping a small stone in a big pond can cause ripples that reach far and wide.
To summarize, Night Moves is an intelligent, thoughtful and provoking film, utterly compelling from start to finish, which will haunt you for a long time to come. Food for the brain.