I showed The Florida Project last week in my honors film studies class, where the honors program’s theme, “The Power of Place,” is the central unifying subject of our course.
I really love this film and could not believe it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. Then again, one thing I’ve learned and wished I’d known much sooner in my life is the extent to which awards are arbitrary, political, and subject to both conscious and unconscious bias/prejudice/ignorance. In the case of this film, the subject matter (white welfare mothers and their children living a precarious existence in low-budget motels-cum-housing-projects at the margins of Disney World’s tourist complex) was not “deserving” enough to warrant attention, much less recognition or validation, from cinema’s oligarchs. That’s my personal take on their slight (which clearly somehow affronts me on moral grounds😂).
Anyway, one little moment from this movie that I find incredibly meaningful comes when six-year-old Moonee and her friend Jancey score a loaf of white bread from the church group that distributes food from the back of a van each week at the Magic Castle motel, where Monee lives with her mother. The girls carry the bread to a nearby field and share a messy, sticky meal of jelly smeared over slices of bread with a spoon as they sit facing each other on what appears to be a tree branch, the jar resting between them on the bark.
“Kind of like that, don’t ya?” says Moonee. An old hand at getting free bakery items (and soft-serve ice cream cones via coins scrounged from strangers outside the Twistee Treat stand) Mooneee is Jancey’s guide to the art of enjoying “found” treats.
“This is the best jelly I ever eated,” Jancey replies.
“Do you know . . . Do you know why this is my favorite tree?” asks Moonee, a closeup on her profile as she bites into a slice of bread.
“Why?” says Jancey.
“‘Cause it tipped over,” explains Moonee, licking jelly from the bread’s surface. “And it’s still growing.”
Then we cut to an extreme long shot of the tree, the two girls barely noticeable at first in the lower right-hand corner of the frame. Only as we process their presence do we realize how huge that tree is. And that, yes, it is indeed “still growing “ despite its dire circumstances.
An image like a little gem of poetry.
The film is full of metaphors similar to this one. In fact, maybe the best way to deal with the movie’s unexpected final moments (uplifting? heartbreaking?) is to remember the lesson of Moonee’s tree.