Rust and Bone: Portrait of a Human Journey

Whenever I travel, I usually pack a “mini-library”. However, in this trip I have managed to leave behind my beloved books by accident. They are still sitting on my bedside table in Malaysia, as we speak. Hence, in the absence of my travelling library, I resorted to watching movies online. And thanks to a new friend I made in Paris, I got to know about this movie: Rust and Bone (De Rouille et D’os)

Rust and Bone: The Movie

Rust and Bone: The Movie

Now, let us be clear – this is not a movie review. If you know me by now, I don’t do movie reviews. Rather, I share how the movie reverberates across my entire being.

And there is no reverberation sweeter than a deeply stirring film that’s orchestrated by a gifted French Director. Somehow, the French just seems to understand the pace of story-telling. Especially, with a movie that’s drenched in symbolism and meaning. It can take you deeper than you can imagine, if you let it. Or, it can stay at the shallow end with you, if you so desire it. The movie unfolds without haste, and allows you to determine your “relationship” with it. Thus, you will only see what you choose to see. This is very kind of film that Jacques Audiard has achieved with “Rust and Bone”. It was released in 2012, and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in the same year.

Those who know or have heard of Audiard may well remember his brutal repertoire in The Prophet. However, “Rust and Bone” deals with a different subject matter. “They” refer to it as a dramatic love story, but I call it a human story. To be precise, the portrait of a very human journey. You can read a review on “Rust and Bone”  by the New York Times here. It is one of the better reviews, in my opinion.

What first caught my attention is the title itself – “Rust and Bone”. To me, the “Bone” represents the basic necessary structure of our lives – the skeletal network of our bodies and the framework of our minds. And the “Rust” is the corrosion that eats into our every day lives over a period of time. This can be the corrosion of our heart, of the mind or even the human spirit. I find this “corrosion” inevitable in real life. We cannot escape the pains and suffering that are part and parcel of the living. Hence, the questions beg to be answered – do we become so corroded that we are beyond repair and all we resemble are just some “gnawed through” versions of ourselves? Or, can we actually transform our corroded experiences and heal from the “rust” that we become better people?

Facing your greatest fear or worst pain is the first step

Facing your greatest fear or worst pain is the first step

Through the skillful direction of Audiard, I find myself taken on a journey to witness the disintegration of the human spirit as well as the eventual conscious effort to rise from the rubbles. It echoes my personal journey and battle against depression. There was a time when all I could think of was the ways to end my life. From the moment I opened my eyes to the moment I closed my eyes, those suicidal thoughts consumed my mind on a daily basis. It has been more than a decade since I last thought of taking my own life. Hence, I do empathize with the movie’s portrayal of the fractured lives of the two very fractured individuals, played brilliantly by Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. They live within a callous and sometimes cruel world, where nature holds the ultimate power and they had to find their own ways to define what is of value and beauty in their lives amid the “ugliness”.

Sometimes, when one is thrown into a vicious living environment, it can become intensely tempting to give oneself over to the sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Then, our impaired ability to make the “right” choices in every situation would diminish. Thus, the projection of “hunger” is established from the very beginning in the movie – the hunger for food, for life, for love, for success, for recognition, to be desired or wanted and etc. This is the very same “hunger” that haunts us all.

For many, it is this very “hunger” that fuels their desire to court, acquire, compete, conquer or excel in life. Some may do it well, while others may regret the sacrifices made while in blind pursuit to satiate that “hunger”. Only we would  know of the emotional side-effects that come after every bad decision made.

When one is “forced” to live like a scavenger due to the unfortunate circumstances in life, one may easily end up acting and thinking like a scavenger. Therefore, sometimes the circumstances in our lives – be it an unfortunate accident that’s beyond our control or a series of mistakes that we have inadvertently made may work to condemn us into precarious “roles” for life. And the only way out is to confront the pain and horror. We can start by recognising and accepting where we went wrong. Only then, can we learn from it and transform all our wounds and scars into medals and stars. Only then, can our pain and suffering cease to imprison us, and transform us into better beings. I had to learn the hard way, but I am certain that I am not the only one.

In many ways, we are all flawed individuals. We all have our own “disabilities” compounded by all the painful experiences in our lives. No two individuals deal with pain and suffering in the same way. Sometimes we have to abandon everything that is familiar and even those we love the most in order to “find” ourselves again. Sometimes it takes a great personal loss to wake us up from our self-serving stupor, in order to get our priorities sorted out. Here, priorities do not necessarily mean success, career, family, love or material gains. It is really about what is of value and meaning to us. It would differ for every person, just as it would change through the various stages of our lives as well.

What was important to me ten years ago are immaterial now. Though it does baffle me to this day how I could have placed such importance on those matters – the point that I would lie or steal for them. That was when I learnt – desire and desperation make a deadly cocktail for personal damnation, and the “hunger” only increases with ferocity when fed with the wrong “foods”.

A man carries a woman physically but a woman carries the man, in return, through emotional and mental support

A man carries a woman physically but a woman carries the man, in return, through emotional and mental support

To me, “Rust and Bone” deals with a host of issues in life. It does not only focus on rising from our adversity, but also delves into the heart of human relationships – from the relationship of a father and son, to brother and sister, to two strangers. Above all, the intimate connection between a man and a woman.

The imagery of Matthias carrying Marion after her legs were amputated moved me especially.  His brute strength gave him power to physically help and protect her. However, he lacked her internal strength. And it is this inner might of hers which gave Marion the power to carry Matthias through his darkest hours. In the end, they carry each other through life’s eternal struggles and find solace (and even love) in one another.

This is how I truly perceive the relationship between two individuals in real life. We support and carry each other through, despite our own “handicaps”. Our strengths and weaknesses are inter-related, as much as they are inter-changeable. Because no one can remain strong all the time, and no one stays weak all of the time. It is like an exquisitely delicate “tango” between two individuals – one which we will all learn to refine as we grow.

In life, we have so many labels for our relationships – some are friends, or buddies, some friends come with extra benefits, and some are “meaningless fucks”. We shift from purely primal to tenderness to love and everything else in between. Thus, these words from the movie touched me immensely.

“Let’s show some manners.”

“Let’s show some consideration.”

“We continue but not like animals.”

I firmly believe this is what separates us from a barbaric society – the civility and decency that we impart towards one another, the consideration that we can afford to give each other and most importantly, we stop behaving like animals. I do not believe these are reserved solely for the relationship between a man and a woman – it applies to every human being, young and old. This is the very fibre of every human connection.

I am grateful that Audiard did not impose an overtly emotional or sentimental tone on this movie. In fact, music was used sparingly. Personally, I hate it when a movie employs its musical score to illicit an emotional response from the audience. I find that manipulative and fake somehow. I like the starkness minus the pomp, theatrics and melodrama. Because in real life, we do not hear arias and crescendos punctuating at every juncture of our lives. Instead, we live with the deafening silence of realisation.

So, when the scene fades to complete darkness in a poignant moment of the movie, and no background music is accentuating that very moment – our attention is heightened with the blackness of the screen. Then when the words: Je’taime (I LOVE YOU) are uttered by Matthias to Marion, it hits us like a drop of fire – subtle and yet undeniably enflamed. We understand the journey it took him to reach that declaration because it is the similar journey we make to arrive at any destination of self-awareness. These days, it takes a great deal to say those three little words and mean it. This is something I am still grappling with, but I am gradually learning how to open myself up to love again. Sometimes we imagine the scars still hurt long after the wounds have healed.

Here, I would like to share these words from the movie. You can make of them as what you will. At the end of the day, it is never about what I think or feel about it. It is about what it makes you think or feel. We each will take away our own understanding and experiences of it, as with life.

“27 bones in a human hand…you break a hand, you break a leg, after a while, calcium joins it back together…it may even end up stronger than before…But break a bone in your hand and you’ll see it never heals…you’ll remember it at each fight with every punch…you’ll becareful…But one day…the pain will come back…like needles…like broken glass.”

I do not deny that the pain can always come back. In fact, I can even guarantee it. Just dwelling in hope alone does not change our situation from worse to better, but positive conscious effort does. And this must be supported by the consistent determination of not quitting on ourselves. Only then, can we learn how NOT to quit on others. Hence, despite our human frailty, I believe that we can find strength in our own vulnerability and even courage in our suffering.

The pain or heartache may return, and yes, our “bones” may break and our hearts become corroded, along with our minds. Sometimes the rust may never be washed away, but we are better because of them NOT in spite of them. We are all much stronger than we like to think. Our scars need not become a constant reminder of our grief, nor our ugliness. They become the trophies of our bravery and triumph in life.

As always, start your own brand of fearless living and love the life you live.

Peace! 🙂

Being Afraid Is Human, But Staying Afraid Is A Choice.

4 Comments
  • GK Adams
    April 11, 2013

    Wow, beautifully written. I’m going to have to see this now.

    • SHIRLEY MAYA TAN
      April 11, 2013

      Thanks, GK. Please do let me know what you think of it. I would love to hear/read your perspective of it 🙂

  • M
    March 15, 2014

    I have seen this movie. But I never thought about it this way. Great thought process.

    • shirleymaya
      March 17, 2014

      Well, we all watch all kinds of things – from an art piece or photos to movies, but we each SEE very different things. I am sure there are things which you saw and I did not, as we all relate to things very differently as well. It is very personal. Nice to meet you, M. Thanks for sharing 🙂