SXSW 2017: Rat Film
The second film in recent months to deal with rodent problems (since director Morgan Spurlock’s aptly titled Rats), Theo Anthony’s Rat Film takes the form of an anthropological essay film over Spurlock’s straightforward episodic construction on the effects of these creatures. Anthony uses their existence within the city of Baltimore, Maryland, to examine the underlying social problems that have permeated for the past century, while also featuring a range of individuals who view the rats’ importance in a variety of ways.
Anthony makes the connection of how segregated housing in Baltimore led to a substantial rat population in lower-income neighborhoods, and in the ensuing decades throughout the 20th century, inherent forms of segregation still prevailed in many local institutions and attitudes. By linking this issue with the residents of the city, a greater picture of racial inequality emerges, one that does not seem like it will be going away any time soon. The film also contains a number of interludes, many of which are from the perspective of a virtual reality-based look at Baltimore, as the viewer is guided through the various streets and locales like a rat in a maze.
Anthony also takes the time to interview local people who depend on rats for their livelihood, like an exterminator from the city’s Public Works (who at one point remarks ‘there’s never been a rat problem in Baltimore, it’s always been a problem people’) and even for company, as seen by a family who treats them like pets. By taking an approach that doesn’t outright condemn their existence, Rat Film instead uses this subject to say something much greater about the nature of the human condition, and how we as individuals come to treat others.
As a whole, Rat Film seems meandering, as there isn’t any definite conclusion to the number of vignettes present, instead Anthony chooses to leave the viewer with much to ponder, hopefully emerging more aware of Baltimore’s history and its people.