Bliss’s Fort Tilden gives experience to viewers, leaves audiences pondering

By Jeffrey Robinowitz, Staff Writer ||

Every so often, our school gets a visit from some astonishingly talented filmmakers. Last year we had Alan Taylor, and this year we got writer/director Sarah-Violet Bliss. And while Taylor brought us a few episodes of Game of Thrones and The Sopranos (and I’m not complaining about that), Bliss came prepared with a whole movie: Fort Tilden. Though it may be Bliss’ first feature film and was shot in only 18 days, do not take her lack of credentials or the modest production schedule as a sign of weakness. Fort Tilden is a film that not only has a lot to say, but it says those things in ways that inspires laughter, rage, and even deep remorse from the audience.

Fort Tilden is the story of Allie and Harper, two twenty-something NYC women, attempting to navigate their way to the titular location, a former Army base turned public beach along the coast of Queens. However, their progress is slowed by obnoxious cab drivers, aggressive bystanders, and the main characters themselves. The story may sound like a classic tale of travel beset by obstacles and distraction, but, much like Bliss, a skin-deep analysis yields a skin-deep appreciation, and this film deserves the full attention of all those who see it and, more importantly, the full attention of all those who haven’t seen it.

One of the filmmakers’ most impressive achievements is the two main characters, both on the part of the actors and the writers. Allie, played by Clare McNulty, and Harper, played by Bridey Elliott, are the typical privileged, clueless, white chicks. We’ve all met these kinds of people, and we all know just how infuriating they can be. These are two characters that you wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with, let alone an entire film. It is, therefore, the reason why McNulty and Elliott should be commended. As these stereotypes, they are just as brainless and frustrating as one would anticipate.

There are several moments in the film when any reasonable viewer would want to scream at them for being so senseless. However, it’s when the movie begins to shift tone and the humor is replaced with feelings of regret and insecurity that McNulty and Elliott really show their skill. The fact that they can make the audience sympathize with characters who are rather terrible people is an impressive accomplishment. By the end of the film, both characters have transformed from despicable, condescending snobs to desperate, heartbroken losers and the audience experiences this evolution with them.

The writers also successfully created not just main characters that carefully walk the line between realistic and stereotypical, but a whole cast of vivid individuals that functions as clever satire of many social caricatures. Bliss and her writing partners Charles Rogers (who also co-directs) and Brian Lannin use the backdrop of New York City to show the side of the city that never gets highlighted in film: line after line of infuriating, irritating, and irrational people.

Including such “favorites” as: aggravatingly perfect twins, overly protective parents, and yes, a slightly racist depiction of an Indian cab driver. Yet while some of these portrayals may be offensive, they are nonetheless poignant. Each character is a reflection of the attitudes we hold as a society and, by embodying all the worst traits of these stereotypes, show us how judgmental and unfair we can be towards people we hardly know and barely
understand.

Ultimately, it may be comforting or easy to assume that bad things happen to Allie and Harper because they’re bad people, but such an explanation is too simplistic. Their actions aren’t malicious or evil in intent, they’re simply thoughtless. Even when attempting to do the right thing (in particular a kitten “rescue” that perfectly illustrates the “we want to help as long as it holds our attention” problem dominating Millennial social media), Allie and Harper just don’t know how to do the right thing. And it’s not their fault. They aren’t intrinsically bad people; they just haven’t received much help.

The only two characters that offer any sort of genuine assistance or guidance are Harper’s father and Cabiria, the woman helping Allie transition into the Peace Corps. However, neither of these characters ever appear on screen. They never manifest themselves physically and are only heard over the phone. For our two main characters, this just goes to show that even the people who want to help them can’t be bothered to meet them in reality. Allie and Harper weren’t taught the tools necessary to survive in a harsh reality and, as such, respond to their problems with rage and instability instead of kindness and rationality. They are the poster children for nature vs. nurture, and, in their respective cases, an unfortunately poor nurture beat a possibly kind nature.

Fort Tilden is a film that every audience member can take something away from. The movie’s message doesn’t just apply to 21st Century teens and young adults but serves as a reminder to all viewers of what happens to people when they are left to fend for themselves. The world can be cruel and unforgiving, but that doesn’t mean we have to be too. When met with anger and
hostility, kindness is the only cure.

Sophomore Jeffrey Robinowitz is a staff writer. His email is jrobinow@fandm.edu.

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