In the early days of cable television true aficionados of cinemas were excited to be able to watch unedited movies in the comfort of home. It put the time honored practiced of channel surfing into high gear. It was during such a late night sojourn I happened upon a little gem called ‘Trust’. It is an independent movie by a then burgeoning filmmaker, Hal Hartley. Although it is not a spectacular film there was something undeniably special about it; something that drew me to it. I found myself looking up in the cable guide to ascertain the next time it would be shown. Putting a new video tape in the VCR I set the time to catch the upcoming showing. I often found myself going back to the movie particularly when I felt the need to revisit something with panache. Year after year that tape held a special and accessible place on my shelves even when space was at a premium with my growing DVD collection. Eventually I transferred it to a recordable DVD disc. Although acceptable in quality at least in VHS terms I had all but giving up on adding a legitimate copy to my collection. Then as the calendar turned to 2013 I came across an announcement in my daily studio press releases; not only was ‘Trust’ was coming to home entertainment but the format would include high definition. After watching it for so long on a magnetic tape quality I greatly anticipated watching it in the perfect presentation of Blu-ray. Needless to say it didn’t disappoint. Of course the video and audio were far better than I have ever imagined I would experience it. The main reason why I was able to still enjoy this movie after all this time is it remains a solidly crafted film. It represents the early stage of several careers that would become substantial in their own right. While most of them would not achieve ‘A’ list status they did become journeyman craftsmen in their respective fields.
As with so many of the better independent films there is a simple premise that is explored through the talents of the director, actors and writer. Maria (Adrienne Shelly) opens the story with the simple line to her father, ‘Gimme five dollars’, as she applies another coat of purplish lipstick. Maria is a typical self-absorbed teenage girl completely convinced the world owes her better than her parents could possible provide. She dropped out of high school and announces she is pregnant. Getting into an argument with her dad Maria slaps his face and exits. He promptly falls over dead of a heart attack. Maria’s plan is straightforward; forces the father of her child to marry her. After a bit of a fling in football he’ll go to work for his father’s successful business. The future was laid out with no regard for what he might want and aside from delivering a child little if any effort on Maria’s part. She was all about being handed everything just for the asking. This entire foundation of Maria’s self-centered personality is concisely stated with her attitude while delivering that opening line; ‘Gimmee’. When the young man rejects Maria’s scenario for they lives in favor of one more conducive to his goals she is lost; the universe refusing to bend to her whim is a concept never considered by Maria. She considers having an abortion but after a discussion with the nurse at the clinic (Karen Sillas), she is still confused. The scene with the nurse is one of the poignant cinematic moments that contributed to the lasting effect the movie can exert on the viewer. It is a slice of life that avoids the potentially controversial nature of the topic. This film is not about a politically charged issue, it is an emotional exploration of two extremely damaged people. That brings us to the second character in this drama, Matthew (Martin Donovan). He is an intelligent young man adrift in a mundane life. His employment of repairing televisions is not only not challenging it is demeaning, the sets are cheap, not finesses or design and better junked than repaired. Matthew reaches his tipping point and after venting to his boss about the need for him to cut corners, Matthew is fired. His home life offers no solace from his discontent. His father, Jim (John MacKay) is overbearing, controlling to a sadistic level. In an example of happenstance the two soon meet. What develops is more than a friendship and far from a romance. It is a mutual relationship developed from isolation and despair.
Independent movies are not created to make a studio a financial windfall; the people involved are there for artistic creativity. There are no grand themes presented in this piece, Hal Hartley wrote a story that examined what would happen when two barely functional personalities come together. As a writer he eschewed the easy way out of a relationship between a vulnerable teenage girl and a slightly older man. Normally, Hollywood filmmakers would feel obliged to infuse the relationship with sex, baring their bodies instead of Hartley’s choice, laying bare their psychological heart. This avoidance of the puerile makes the story timeless, based on the fundamental composition of our humanity. Apart Maria and Matthew are broken, nearly beyond repair. Much like the TV sets Martin had to fix their personalities were in dire need of attention. Mathew’s refusal to cut corners is crucial to why he mutually drawn to Maria; they both require work. Mathew’s stubborn cleaning of the bathroom as demanded by his father demonstrates his determination. This is strangely mirrored by Maria’s obsession with having her way. When blended together the two somehow complement each other to mutually beneficial relationship. The psychological interdependency transcends romance or the primal motivation of sex; it is deeper, purer of purpose.
Hartley only had one previous film to his credit, ‘The Unbelievable Truth’, featuring Ms Shelly. She was on her way to be a character actress of note and just began to direct when her life was tragically cut short; murdered in New York City. Donovan also went on to a career as a regularly employed actor always brought an insightful performance to the project. Hartley is an award winning filmmaker well respected in the independent movie community typically focusing on the deeper emotional arc of his characters. Viewers with a sharp eye are sure to catch o glimpse of Edie Falco, one of the better actresses showcased on premium cable series.
‘Trust’ provides the audience with an unblinking eye following two lost souls finding purpose through knowing each other. This is the epitome of an Indy film; a glimpse of humanity.
Upon Reflection: Trust - The Making Of Trust