Thoughts On: The Rocket - Transcending Your Lot


The Rocket - Transcending Your Lot

Quick Thoughts: The Rocket (ບັ້ງໄຟ, 2013)

Made by Kim Mordaunt, this is the Laotian film of the series.

The Rocket is a brilliant film that sees many themes collide quite potently. It follows a young boy who was born, one of two twins (one dying at birth), in a village where it is believed that if a woman births twins they (one or both - I am not sure) must be killed for they may bring either good or bad luck. The mother of the boy dissuades his grandmother from murdering her one surviving baby, and so he grows up. One day, however, their whole village is moved so a large dam can be built in its place. As the family moves, tragedy befalls them and the grandmother blames the boy. Hereon the boy is alienated from his family as they move from place to place, blamed for all the bad the happens and inadvertently causing some trouble himself. The family pick up along their way all that is left of a family that was decimated by malaria: a drunkard uncle who always dresses like James Brown and a young girl. The group eventually find themselves on the edge of an end when they come across a competition that rewards those who can build the most impressive rocket and maybe convince the gods to send rain.

Laced deeply into this film is a questioning of tradition and superstition/belief. Whilst tradition has certain characters (the grandmother) assign great meaning rather arbitrarily, we are made to see our main character suffer; forced to carry the weight of an artificial pre-destiny. He then becomes a symbol of assumed failure. Circulating him, however, are also many allusions to the failures of Communist industrialisation and American imperialism. So, whilst tradition reigns down upon the boy from above, beneath him are bombs left by Americans after Operation Barrel Roll (which has heavy links to the Vietnam War) and around him are failed attempts at industrialisation; 'the city' as far from a ray of hope as it can be and settlements provided by the government/corporations a dead end.

In very many ways, all focuses in on this young individual, his world around him, his culture before him, all forces of great conflict and alienation, his only chance at life resting in his own will. It is here where two central symbols emerge: the rocket he wants to build to win a competition and a mango he wants to plant in memory of his mother. The mango seed is his culture, is history before him - that which labels him an entity of pure bad luck because he was born a twin. The rocket is symbolic of a scar left by war and American influence on his nation; it is, in some senses, the volatility and explosiveness of modernisation. Where one may perceive both of these objects to be symbols to be cast away, The Rocket delves into its themes with melancholic resolve, deciding to show an individual overcome a dark past and a dim future, to bring out from within himself something that can transcend the lot in life that he has been given. And for this, The Rocket is a deeply touching film that I highly recommend you see.

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