MCN Commentary & Analysis

Review: John and The Hole (spoilers)

John and The Hole has lingered with me more than any other film at Sundance this year.

I filled out a critics poll a few hours before writing this review and it was a very odd experience. How does one define “the best?” Is it the easiest to consume? Most pleasurable? Most enlightening? Most personally powerful?

For me, the great movies leave me with questions, not every answer. And John and The Hole left me considering everything about being a parent and what it was to be a 13-year-old boy.

Pascual Sisto adapts the Nicolás Giacobone screenplay. If you know Giacobone a little, you know that he is not a literalist. And that is certainly true in this film. I mean, the most basic element… how does John gets his 2 parents and his older sister into the hole? Yes, he drugs them so he can manipulate the situation. But it is physically impossible for him to have gotten them into the hole with seriously hurting them, if it is physically possible for a boy of his size at all.

For me, the film is an exploration of the mind and soul of a young adolescent male who has not had the good fortune of having natural pleasurable distractions. He’s not physically limited, but he isn’t obsessed with his body. He enjoys tennis, but he is not going to be a highly-honed instrument. There is no blossoming sex partner.

Being in a pandemic for the last 10 months or so… having an 11-year-old son… and yes, being able to remember the vagaries of that age myself made me a perfect audience for the movie. I don’t think I was particularly odd as a kid, but I know I did weird stuff… like spending lots of time face down in the water or pushing the boundaries of my safety in rather banal ways. By the time I was hot for every girl with a starter bra or driving my car like an invincible lunatic, there was this moment of being soft, mushy, unset clay.

That is what John in the Hole is. As in other work by Giacobone, it blurs the line of reality, affording itself the benefits of being a literal work while having no compunction about going off into its own reality. Sisto fearlessly allows his film to be relatively inactive, not telling what the audience what to feel or think.

Sisto and Giacobone allow the 3 members of the family in the hole to freak out for themselves, but not for John. Once they get over their immediate concerns, they seem to kind of know where John is… and their deeper focus seems to be on waiting for this brief moment of his life to pass.

And indeed, John himself, giving himself a free pass for a few days, could not make more mundane choices. He drives a bit. He does stupid stuff in the pool. Hangs out with his friend. Feels fast and loose with money after taking a few hundred dollars out the ATM. When he misses his family, he makes dinner for everyone and doesn’t seem to think the anxiety in the hole is necessary. He sits on the edge of the hole like he was sitting at the dining room table just a few days earlier.

For me, the key to the movie comes near the end, when John wants to fuck next door neighbor Paula. And I use the word “fuck” with intention. John doesn’t turn into horny teen from Porky’s or try to drug her for sexual advantage… but as calmly as every moment of John in the film, you can see and feel his burgeoning desire. More importantly, Paula can feel it, the way she has felt a change of intention from men in appropriate and inappropriate situations through her 40-ish year life. She doesn’t believe it at first. But in the most subtle way, John confirms the intention of his puberty. And she knows that he has turned a corner and that she needs to avoid indulging him in any way.

But that is, basically, the end of John’s journey. This moment in his life is over. He is on to the next part of his life.

Back to life.

This is a true Step A to Step B story. The Hole suggests it might be something else… something more. And there are other elements worth chewing on here, like the behaviors of the parents and the sister, before, during, and after.

By putting his family in the hole, John makes the hole his normal life and the outside his hole, where he evolves. Just a little. But in the way I imagine most boys (and perhaps girls and perhaps all flavors of gender) experience, if not for a day or two, for a period in their lives.

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