I watched this film with my in-laws and kids recently. I was struck by how differently we viewed the content matter of the film. My kids loved that the children didn’t have to go to school, and hated that the mom had died. My in-laws loved how free-thinking and independent the kids became. I was struck by the colourful knits and the idea of self-sufficiency woven through the film.
It wasn’t until I was explaining to my father-in-law that Viggo Mortenson’s T-shirt was from African American politician Jesse Jackson’s (and not the cowboy outlaw Jesse James’) failed presidential run, that it hit me: Almost all the clothes the family wore was thrifted.
Whereas some of it might have been adjusted or embellished, the clothes were reduced to their original function: to cover and provide warmth. Seen that way, it’s absolutely irrelevant that the T-shirt was from 1988.
These days clothes mean so much to many, shaping and projecting their identities. Or the identities they would prefer to project. Never have we been freer to wear what we want, how we want it. So free, in fact, that a refusal to follow any types of norms of society is also a clear message. Although it may be a message that the intended audience doesn’t, cannot or will not read correctly. This theme is played out constantly through the film: two value systems constantly clashing. Thesis and antithesis.
So what is this anti-fashion message? My guess is that clothes should be about us, and how they make us feel, rather than about labels. The mom wanted everyone to come to her funeral dressed in their brightest party clothes, to celebrate her life rather than mourn her death. How can anyone be sad in a bright red disco suit? Or Missoni lookalike hotpants? Or a killer whale onesie?
Do your clothes make you happy?
Link: The New York Times review and interview with the costume designer.