The Norway rat can jump up to 32 inches from the ground. Just high enough to meet the lip of a trash can, but not high enough to get over. If trapped inside, a rat will jump and jump and jump and never quite make it over. But it won’t stop trying.
The nature of systemic racism is such that no matter how high a person jumps from one place to another, it’s never quite high enough. And in the opening shot of a rat trapped in a garbage can is the entire movie of RAT FILM. Only…
Only the next shot in sequence is of a drag racer speeding off from the start line, billowing exhaust, under narration from a computer-like (if not computerized) woman’s voice, acknowledging a creation myth. We were surrounded by an egg. A rat chewed it, and brought us into the light.
RAT FILM isn’t much about rats. It’s about people. Rich people. Poor people. White people. Black people. Rat people. Exterminators. It’s about maps. It’s about a drag race, and a computer simulation of Baltimore that we float through. It’s hypnotic, entrancing, enticing…
And flabby. And unfocused. Why does it matter how crime scene investigation came to be? Why does it matter where the police go to learn how to investigate murders? What does that have to do with the rats? And what does it have to do with the people?
As an exterminator says early on, Baltimore hasn’t ever had a rat problem. Rats have had a people problem. Though this exterminator (one of three featured) doesn’t have a problem with rats. They put food on his table.
They also poop on a table. A table lit from beneath at a loud DJ space as collected individuals go through a virtual reality simulation of being rats.
The director of RAT FILM, Theo Anthony (also cinematographer and editor), said at the Q&A that the experience of watching RAT FILM is the experience of browsing the internet. You read a paragraph about Kendall Jenner. You read a paragraph about redlining. You read a Facebook post about rat lovers who own them as pets. Then it’s Kendall Jenner again.
Much like surfing the web, RAT FILM shuts off every part of your brain that doesn’t simply accept information into random access memory. You watch. You listen. You learn. You’re lied to. You accept what you’re given, in the order it’s given to you, only later wondering what, exactly, a glitch in a game based around floating through a projection of Baltimore’s city streets has to do with a snake eating a mouse.
I liked RAT FILM, though I also quite like browsing the internet. I don’t know if that makes it good. I do know that I’m trying to cut down on time spent online. THREE STARS