A promising if not wholly successful ‘experiment’ in a minimalist character study where the character being studied barely speaks.
Instead, the eyes become essential both for the character and the movie’s construction (and thus the audience). For the former, the eyes are windows into the aurally impenetrable soul of impressive newcomer Royalty Hightower, and the latter heavily relies on dialogue-free visual storytelling. Despite Hightower providing a wealth of humanity far surpassing her age (her line deliveries are less impressive) and director (also a newcomer) Anna Rose Holmer’s endearing stylistics – most notably: the evocatively sparse score, the effectively precise sound design, and the aforementioned meaning-packed cinematography – too much of the character development and social commentary are merely and insufficiently sketched in such a way that they fail to sufficiently engage with the character’s psychology, the societal issues her plight implicitly addresses, and frankly, the audience’s attention. Due to the noticeable lack of a conventional spoken text, the elements that provide the subtext of most movies practically become the text here. As such, for those who like to excessively, subjectively plumb the subtextual depths, almost every aspect of the movie can be – and almost demands to be to sustain one’s attention throughout the entire viewing experience – endlessly interpreted. For instance:
- Regarding the clearly intentional lack of dialogue: does she wield the power to choose not to talk, or is it an allegory for the inability of many disenfranchised people to possess enough agency even to voice their own story?
- The Fits of the title can be seen as a sort of communal ritual norm that at first feels foreign to her, until she figures out how to manipulate such norms in new ways to express, and thus empower, herself.
- The boxing/dancing interrelated dichotomy connects to the cinematography’s focus on deriving meaning from nothing more – but what else is there? – than the movement of bodies in space, a concept integral to both boxing and dancing. But in the same ways that both of these forms of expression utilize bodies in different ways, so too can movies transform the movement of bodies in space from being mere blocking in conventional movies to powerful symbols in works like this.
Overall, The Fits is an intriguing exploration of – at its most universally relatable – nature vs. nurture, specifically how much a corrosive, yet not irreversibly crippling environment can simultaneously restrict and shape an individual’s identity. In a similar interrelated dichotomy, the conditions that a person is forcibly born into often negatively dictate their lives while also giving them the strength to persevere through and ultimately transcend those same conditions. In the words of the final song in the movie – which is undoubtedly the most memorable sequence in the whole flick – “must we be slaves to gravity?” Gravity is a seemingly unavoidable limiting element of everyone’s environment, yet through the aforementioned empowering artistic expression, any person can float – in this case, literally – above their environment while still being a part of and harnessing power from it.