30th October 2013

Cornerhouse Pick of the Week: The Selfish Giant

Leo reviews the latest film by Clio Barnard, acclaimed director of The Arbor

The Selfish Giant, directed and written by Clio Barnard, is brutal. Not in a violent way, not in an overly emotional way, but in a way that never lets you forget that sometimes, life is just bloody awful.

  The story follows a pair of young friends from Huddersfield, who take up scrap collecting in order to make some money after they’re excluded from their school. Throughout, the message is pretty clear that they have nothing and no-one to rely on. In fact, barring their mothers, every other character in the film is trying to take advantage of them. The main character, Arbor (Conner Chapman) swiftly becomes obsessed with his new job as a scrap collector, and uses it to support his (seemingly jobless) mother and drug-addicted brother, whilst Swifty (Shaun Thomas) really just wants to look after horses. However, the scrap collecting leads to stealing wire from railway tracks, and looking after horses doesn’t exactly end well either. The horses have a pretty terrible time of it too, because in this film, nobody gets off easy. Not even baby horses (Spoiler alert).

    At times the film drags a little bit, but this kind of emphasises the fact that these boys’ lives are not only miserable, but also monotonous. The impression is given of a middle-aged man, trying to make ends meet and angry at the world, trapped in the body of a thirteen year old. If anything, it’s less of a story and more of a snapshot of a couple of days in Arbor’s life. The fact that you see every side of it, including the parts with no real dramatic input makes the film seem more real, and less like someone had written it. In fact, I would genuinely not have been surprised if it had turned out it was based on a true story.

   For those of you who want their films action packed, or with a bit of comic relief in them, this is not the film for you. It’ll leave you feeling emotionally drained, and a little like someone just punched you in the stomach. And if you’ve never had to sell scrap metal to buy food, it’ll make you very, very appreciative of that fact. It should be seen, simply for how well it manages to get its message across, without ever feeling like it’s preaching.

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