We the Animals
Justin Torres’s 2011 novel is imbued with a vibrancy verging on the uncomfortable in Jeremiah Zagar’s cinematic take. We the Animals presents fragments from the coming of age of the novel’s ten-year-old protagonist Jonah (Evan Rosado) and his brothers (Isaiah Kristian, Josiah Gabriel), grappling with the undercurrents of a familial love tinged with an ever-present possibility of danger.
The central actors deliver astonishing performances, evoking a playful freedom in the private space of the home and the landscape of upstate New York that seems to foreshadow its own dissolution. Rosado shines in his first film role, while Raúl Castillo and Sheila Vand achieve a partnership inescapably framed within their past as unsupported teenage parents. The effect is to tear the audience’s sympathies back and forth, presenting pain and trauma as forces that linger – transformed, perhaps, but never absent.
This impression is masterfully crafted in the cinematography – scenes sun-faded like film, edited into segments that function as fragments of memory and interspersed with epistolary animations drawn from Jonah’s own early memoirs that fix the chronology into the young protagonist’s viewpoint, leaving the audience to make connections that might escape the children of this story. The rhythms of the natural landscape – the damp heat of summer shown transitioning into torrential rains and heavy snow – proceed alongside the adventures of the three brothers, each carrying the beginnings of change and growth to come.
If a criticism is to be levelled, it would question the efficacy of the medium in translating some the issues raised in Torres’ novel – the visual beauty of the film is not quite disrupted during scenes that might merit a harsher touch, such as the boys’ discovery of bruises on their mother’s face, or their searches through an empty kitchen, necessitated by ravenous hunger. However, the dreamlike quality of Zagar’s film remains honest to a child’s perspective, with the anaesthetising effect suggesting throughout that the real impact of violence and neglect are yet to be processed, yet to be confronted.
We the Animals is released in select cinemas on 14th June 2019.
Watch the trailer for We the Animals here: