Locusts, The

The Locusts, written and directed by John Patrick Kelley, is a tedious
Freudian melodrama which, like so much else that comes out of Hollywood these
days, bends every effort to convince us of the awful secrets buried beneath
those smiling, happy-families exteriors of the 1950s. Such a belief in the real
hideousness of apparent domestic tranquility is itself, paradoxically, a product
of the 40s and 50s. The granddaddy of all the Freudian paradigm movies could be
said to be Ronald Reagan’s greatest
hit, King’s Row,
from 1941. It is a great picture, but since that time, if there has ever been a
Hollywood screenwriter or director who has questioned for one single moment the
ironclad orthodoxy it promoted, that sexual repression is the source of all
human evil, I haven’t heard about it.
So it might be hard to tell if the
camera’s briefly lingering over an old
billboard showing Reagan advertising Chesterfield cigarettes is a tribute to
that film or just the usual kind of Hollywood politics—a kind of in joke
for those whose loathing for Reagan runs as deep and is as hard to repress as
the sexual instinct.

Vince Vaughn plays a mysterious drifter called Clay Hewitt who hitchhikes
into the town of Sealey, Kansas, one hot
summer’s day looking for work. He gets
into a barroom fight with a loudmouth boor over a pretty and flirtatious girl
called Kitty (Ashley Judd). Soon Kitty is
Clay’s girlfriend and Clay has got a
job working in the feedlot of a mysterious widow woman called Delilah Ashford
Potts (Kate Capshaw). Does the name tip you off to anything about her? If not,
Mr Kelley has made very sure that a lot of other things do, even down to her
punishing her despised, beaten-down son, Flyboy (Jeremy Davies)—who has
been unbalanced since the age of 13 when his father committed suicide after
catching Delilah in an adulterous act—by castrating his prize bull.

Clay takes Flyboy under his wing, educates him in the ways of sex with girls
(among the movie’s many anachronisms
is the assumption that Kansas farm girls in 1960 would be as easily cooperative
in the nurturing of sexual manhood as they are depicted as being here) and in
his own idea of manhood, which is a very convenient one:
“A man becomes a man when he realizes
that he’s one. . .no matter what
anyone else says.” Flyboy, not
surprisingly, realizes that he is a man and is about to leave the ancestral
acres and his horrible witch of a mother along with Clay when mom returns home
with the news that she has discovered
Clay’s dark secret—i.e. that he
is on the run from a (naturally false) rape and murder charge. She uses the
information to try to blackmail Clay into sex with her and, thus, even further
trauma for Flyboy.

But the point isn’t really anything
to do with the pathetic Flyboy. It
isn’t even to do with the classic
bitch-goddess Delilah. No, see if you can guess.
It’s about our old pal the
patriarchy! It seems that mommy is only a bitch goddess and the
poster-girl for sexual guilt because she was f***** up in her turn (as Philip
Larkin says) by granddaddy, a hero of the Spanish American War who welcomed his
men to Cuba with the words: “Nobody
gets out of here in one piece.” These
words were later adopted, rather comically, as his motto and inscribed on the
portrait hanging portentously in
Delilah’s living room, where it
presides over the predictably tragic ending. So much for
America’s glorious advent as an
imperial power! Those Rough Riders should have been making love, not war, and
ridding themselves of their crippling repressions. So instead of Teddy Roosevelt
charging up San Juan Hill, we can put in our national iconography the image of
Clay and Kitty driving off into the sunset in her Ford pickup. Somehow it just
doesn’t seem the same.

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