Milwaukee Film Festival Review: Jasper Jones

By Grace Peplinski, Current Staff

In “Jasper Jones,” a young man balanced on the edge between childhood and adolescence discovers a dark secret in his pristine hometown of Corrigan, Australia.

This interesting, impactful movie is just one of the many foreign and domestic films playing in this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival, which started Sept. 28.

Charlie Bucktin, the 14-year-old at the film’s center, befriends a wayward youth named Jasper Jones, who helps him uncover the treacherous behaviors of his fellow townspeople while they investigate a heinous murder. With the help of Jasper and a sweet but mysterious girl named Eliza, Charlie is able to reveal the good and evil in people and help Jasper make amends with those he loves.

Corrigan is a small town in Western Australia, and it appears to have a squeaky clean exterior. But each person harbors their own demons that have the power to take hold over their lives. The film’s director, Rachel Perkins, is not afraid to discuss dark topics. She layers these issues on top of a simple setting. The general plot of a murder investigation is laced with even darker secrets that lay just under the skin of this pristine town.

One thing Perkins subtly explores is discrimination. Several characters are victims of some sort of discrimination, and they are seen as less valued. Racism is seen toward Jasper and another character named Jeffrey. Jasper is mixed white and Australian aboriginal, and many townspeople don’t trust him. Subtle actions in the film give away signs that Jasper is seen as untrustworthy to the people of Corrigan, and they blame him for the murder without any proof. Jeffrey and his family face racism because they are from Asia, and they are targeted in more violent ways. Here, the director is making the point that racism can exist in any place, at any time. The director presents this issue in a way that’s not totally obvious, and it gives the viewer something to think about.

The general plot of a murder investigation is laced with even darker secrets that lay just under the skin of this pristine town.

Perkins uses characterization to reveal the secrets each person has hidden within. It can be argued that the children in this film are more complex than the adults. I think a prominent theme throughout this film is that one should not underestimate the power of children. They are often stronger and more profound than they may appear on the surface. The movie is seen from a child’s perspective, and I consider it to be a coming-of-age story. Charlie, the main character, matures throughout the film, and I think the young actors do a phenomenal job of portraying innocent children who all harbor deep secrets.

I thought this movie was well put together. I was struck by how the discrimination is presented in a not-so-obvious way. I think the ending was well calculated. It is not resolved in a way that will satisfy most viewers, but this is what makes it believable. The topics discussed in this film are becoming more mainstream, and light is being shed on them. This is a good thing, in my opinion, because these topics should not be easily overlooked.

Generally, when you watch a new film, you get excited, but when it’s over, you don’t spend much time thinking about what you just saw. With “Jasper Jones,” I found myself trying to decipher what I was seeing along the way, to predict the outcome, and yet, I was still surprised. This movie ends in a way that forces you to think about the fate of the townspeople, and this is what makes the movie so intriguing. It does not give the audience exactly what they asked for.

I like that this isn’t the typical American film audiences are used to—it doesn’t have a happy ending. It doesn’t have a sad ending either, but I can appreciate what the director was doing with this film. It isn’t a perfect film—several things seemed to be a little cliché to me, especially the ending. Yet in a way, this movie can serve as a way to look inward at ourselves, to see what we might be hiding and how we can make ourselves better. This interesting, impactful film digs beneath the surface of humanity to show that we as people have the power to overcome our differences.

“Jasper Jones” screens 4 p.m. today in the Oriental Theatre and 9 p.m. Sunday in the Avalon Theater. The 15-day Milwaukee Film Festival runs through Oct. 12. Click here for ticket and venue information.

(Image courtesy of Milwaukee Film.)

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