Film Review: American Honey (2016)

Hugo Unwin | Kinofilia Australia

The opening scenes of Andrea Arnold’s American Honey subtly remind us of our place as animals within the natural world. Scavenging for food, protagonist Star commences a 150 minute long existential journey, played with finesse and poise by Sasha Lane in her acting debut. Star displays lichen-like attraction to a passing ragtag group of magazine salespeople follows, as she joins their observance of essential customs, typified by the chanting of southern trap anthems.

This documentation of a particularly American style of escapism is reminiscent of Kerouac and pays homage to this tradition throughout. Arnold's talent lies in stressing the importance of bonds which drive groups of individuals, with patient and lengthy scenes that illuminate traditions, routines and stability for subjects whose liberation is found in crafting their own brand of these essential human customs. Excitingly, the bonds these impoverished youngsters forge in replacement of popular social conventions are on at least one occasion literally borne of fire.

American Honey shines in exploring the dynamic between animals in the natural world by subtly reminding us that we too are such beasts. The sound and aesthetic of fauna consistently entices a conceptualisation of the exuberant teenage and twenty-something subjects as animalistic, while simultaneously reprimanding our instinct to do so through Star's gentle demeanour.

Arnold's depiction of animals can be seen as a nuanced investigation of the connection between an impulse to accumulate capital, consumption, and the human species' place in control of Earth's climate. The bonds demonstrated throughout American Honey show an individual style of human collaboration, the foremost challenge of our age.

Unfortunately, the film loses some focus in a lengthy third act, distracted by the seemingly random and confused driven sexual relationship between Josh and Star. This could be looked upon as an expression of the randomness of reproduction that is commonly, if unconsciously and oftentimes mistakenly, associated with non-human animals' sexual activity.

Uncertainty hangs over the film’s conclusion, guiding the viewer to an acceptance of this is an essential part of the natural order of things. It is a powerful end to a film which places responsibility for empathy and understanding on the shoulders of the viewer, an evocation made throughout this engaging piece of cinema.