The Rule is a short film directed by Richard Smith III that focuses on the sentimentality of youth. It’s a story about a special place from a girl’s childhood where a rule became a tradition passed on to generations in her family. It’s told through a visual poem set in the landscape of the actual place that the girl is describing.
One of the strengths of this film is its setting. The escape from an urban setting works to propel the intimacy of the story. This film is not about some chase or great adventure ripe with conflict and danger. It’s more of a personal, detailed piece that is concerned with the individual’s experience. It’s this young woman’s recollection of her past and her exploration of what this place means now in her present.
The focus on objects in this film was significant. Every object had a story behind it, almost like they were all characters from a novel. There was such an imaginative quality to the way she would talk of them. These objects made the cabin the comforting place it was and they’re sort of landmarks of time. They’re ways to know she has come back to her roots and traveled back in time to a special moment. I thought it was cool that she is describing the interior of the cabin and all the objects inside. As she goes through each item and the camera cuts to it, we get drawn to another time. We are not actually shown the past through flashbacks. We don’t need it. These objects create enchantment and give a glimpse into her past. Items like the carved fish, the photographs, old journals, bird nests… are all pieces that are important to her and so they become monumental to our understanding of why this place is so special to her.
The images as well as the voice in this film are incredibly warm. The speaker takes their time with the words. These pauses create the soothing sensation of getting lost in time, particularly in the traditions of the past. “A century of summers carve our family tree where the pines align.” It’s not just one day or year she is thinking of. It’s a whole history of experiences that she had at this place.
When she says “…falling back into young selves without even trying.” I thought that was a universal theme because we all have places that we have given special meaning to, perhaps where defining moments in our lives have occurred. Simply visiting these places can trigger memories and specifically the sensations of those memories. It can recall our younger selves and transport us to the past, which is an incredible quality. It’s something we perhaps take for granted when we walk past the high school we attended, or an old friend’s house, or the bookstore we thought would always be around. Yet, the history is rich in the architecture and the crevices of this place and all we have to really do is feel it. Feel the details and recall the memories and suddenly we’re back in a world we once knew and it feels like nothing has changed. There is a comfort in the past that is needed at times when the present feels like its moving to the future at warp speed.
“We build houses out of sticks where we run and conspire.” I love this line because it captures that feeling of childhood in which we think we are infinite. It’s when imagination takes over and the simplest of resources can become the settings for amazing adventures. There was a lot of romantic language in this film and most of it had to do with nature and being immersed in this environment. I think that was done on purpose to also immerse the audience. The best way to do that was to use sensory detail and not just tell us about this place and show it, but make us feel it. Then, we understand its beauty and its impact.
There is a beautiful flow to the way that the lines of this poem and the series of shots work together. “As the clock ticks quiet beneath the cadence of bird songs…” It’s nice to actually have the music of birds chirping in the background after these words are spoken. “The cabins have always been there grown out of the ground into the trees…” That line turns the cabins into ancient pieces of architecture. This film did a great job of combining visual storytelling with the recitation of actual words. There was a subtle, genuine artistry in both the poem and the images. While film is a visual medium, sometimes it’s a line of dialogue or a brief quotation that leaves a lasting impression on the audience and that turns the film into something worth remembering.
For myself, those lines came at the end. “A rite earned by a swim is the reason we can do it all…we pull with tired limbs until we reach the shore. Let the sun set on failure and success. That is not why this place was carved out of birch. We press on through the unfathomable, rinse off resentment, and pool through the pedal of the deep. Connected to where I came, connected to where I go.” This last line of the visual poem bridges the past to the present. The girl’s recollection of her childhood combines with her present state of mind. She is keeping the past alive in her life by continuing the traditions and immortalizing this place forever as an escape from her fast moving world of “failure and success.” That line “connected to where I came, connected to where I go” shows how she is taking this place with her. It’s not perhaps just the objects or the landscape setting she is holding onto. It’s the feeling of being with family and finding solace there that she will keep with her always.