This is one of those grim, gloomy low budget indies, heavy on atmospherics, light on dialogue, light on conventional storylines, with mediocre acting and occasional forays into the surreal or artsy, and requiring plenty of inference or guesswork to get inside the characters, and at times just to figure out precisely what’s going on.
I can admire such films to a certain degree, but I find them taxing to watch.
Trans is the story of a sixteen year old (Ryan Daugherty) who escapes from a boot camp style juvenile detention facility in Florida, and bums around for a few days trying to stay clear of the authorities, and beg, borrow, or steal enough to survive. He has a vague intention of finding a way to get to Colorado, but it doesn’t sound like there’s anything really waiting for him there. He thinks his mother might have ended up there, but he doesn’t know for sure and doesn’t have any contact information on her anyway if she is there.
We observe him drifting through a series of misadventures. Whatever criminal or violent tendencies he has are superficial and reactive. I wouldn’t say he’s a good kid, but he’s not a malevolent, hardened criminal either. He’s apparently spent his life being bounced around by people and forces he doesn’t understand.
He is depressed and emotionally lost. He seems to be of no more than average intelligence and to have little foundation to build on (even compared to those of his age group) as far as education, maturity, goals, control of his impulses (he escaped with only a month left on his sentence, and a lot of what he does seems similarly done out of impulse and desperation), life skills, relationship skills, etc. He maybe has some degree of street smarts that he couldn’t help but pick up due to his lifestyle, but for the most part life has made a habit out of kicking his tail and there’s little to indicate that’ll ever change.
I would guess he’ll spend most of his life incarcerated.
Returning to the point about being buffeted about by things out of his control, probably the thing that I felt most in watching him, and maybe in imagining myself in his shoes, is how much he–understandably–craves freedom and autonomy, and how little he has of it now, and how little hope there is he’ll have much of it in the future.
Many of the scenes in the film show him left to the mercy of a group of people (males). Sometimes they abuse him and sometimes they are satisfied just with establishing that they could if they wanted to. But he has little or no control over his own life; the best he can do is play defense by conforming, lying, being quiet and unobtrusive, etc. to minimize the risk to him and increase his chances of extricating himself from the situation (and no doubt into a similarly hopeless one).
Obviously the nightmarish prison camp for juveniles is the worst instance of this, but even on the outside he’s constantly maneuvering through tricky predicaments with gangs of loitering youths, groups of rednecks, and others.
That spoke to me, because that is one kind of situation I most fear in life–being trapped where I have to do something to placate authority figures or a mob. I have little or no craving to dominate people, but I fiercely rebel against any hint of others–smugly backed by their ability and willingness to enforce their will with violence–dominating me.
No wonder his vague notion that he can “live in the snow” off by himself is incentive enough for him to want to go to Colorado.
Trans would be a depressing movie in any case, but it could have been a more emotionally powerful and/or thought-provoking one. But its pacing and amateurish low budget indie feel made it too dull to be a “good” kind of downer film for me.
It connected with me a bit, but only a bit.