That Was A Surprise …

The Drifter [spoilers].

The Drifter is about four strangers who find themselves lost in a vast desert. They all wake up separately, but find each other as they stumble through the sand in the hot sun. They all wake up with angry scars where their kidneys would ordinarily be, and they wonder if they’ve become part of an urban legend. But that isn’t the way real life goes, they reason; something else must be going on. Someone cut each of them, sewed them up, and left them in the desert in strategic proximity to each other.

Eventually the other three decide it must secretly be the man who originally found them, although he seems as confused and frightened as they are. Maybe they just don’t like the way he took charge of the situation, as though he were the leader. Maybe they just don’t like the way he says there must be a reason, an end, a purpose to their journey.

Eventually one of them turns on the would-be leader, and on whoever put him in the desert, and in a frenzy he digs into his scar until he passes out. And then the scenes change, and the four strangers find themselves first in a forest with a banquet table laden with food and weapons, and then on a river raft in a steep canyon. Nothing makes sense, and nothing stays the same for long. The strangers are as perplexed as the audience, who are wondering by this time, Is this a dream sequence? Is this a supernatural movie? Is it a fantasy movie? Did they mix up the reels?

But then the would-be leader begins having visions different from the others – memories of what happened before he landed in the desert. None of them can remember who they are or how they got there, but the leader starts to remember images from his life – images of a business partner and friend who’s trying to get to his sick wife in the hospital, images of a wife who loved him once but doesn’t anymore, images of a woman who needed something from him and he let her down.

Eventually he realizes that the events he’s experiencing with these three strangers are really just his mind’s response to something he did in life that he’s ashamed of. Eventually he remembers that he was supposed to save the friend’s wife by donating a kidney, but that he chickened out. He remembers that he put himself and his business ahead of his wife, his partner-friend, his friend’s wife, her life.

He understands why the “strangers” walking with him through the desert are so mad at him, even though he didn’t do anything. He understands that it’s because he didn’t do anything.

The Drifter starts out in such a strange way, and everyone is reacting in such a strange manner to their circumstances; the setting goes from one place to another with no particular explanation, which is confusing at best and certainly off-putting. But if we, along with the main character, stay with it, and allow ourselves to piece together the jangled images from the past, the picture – the film – becomes clear.

And the connection to ourselves becomes clear too: we run from the things we’ve done even more than we do from danger. We’ll run through a desert of our own making rather than face ourselves and our crimes. We’ll cast ourselves as the hero in the drama we created, but in the end we’re just making everything worse for ourselves and the people around us. But underneath, no matter how far or how fast we run, no matter how hard we try to forget, we actually do remember. We carry it in our cells. We carry our guilt like an angry scar where the things we ought to have done differently are painful and obvious in their non-existence. But nothing in our lives really makes sense until we’ve dealt with all of it.

So The Drifter turned out to be a lot more than an urban-legend-horror film … and it turned out, really, to be an excellent movie for the New Year – new beginnings, new chances to change ourselves, new opportunities to confront our failings and foibles and to make something good out of them.

If we’re willing to do that.


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