We the Animals
by Rachel Willis
Imaginative Jonah is the focal point of director Jeremiah Zagar’s family drama, We the Animals. Based on Justin Torres’s novel of the same name, Zagar and co-writer Daniel Kitrosser successfully enter the realm of adolescent boys.
The youngest of three brothers, Jonah is the film’s narrator. His quiet observations allow him to remain nearly invisible to the adults around him. He sees things others might miss, and with an artist’s eye, he renders his observations into illustrations that jump off the page.
With his two older brothers, Manny and Joel, Jonah navigates his parents’ volatile relationship. Though there is love between his Paps and Ma, there are also moments of violence.
While the time period of the film is never explicitly stated, based on a few clues it’s likely the mid-1980’s. It’s a time when kids ran wild outdoors without cell phones or tablets in hand. The cinematography captures the sunny summer days when aimless kids roamed far and wide. It perfectly evokes the innocence and curiosity of young children.
As Joel and Manny enter into adolescence and leave childhood behind, Jonah falls further into his own world. The three brothers, at first inseparable, start to drift apart. While Joel and Manny seek to become men just like their father, Jonah tries to carve out his own identity. It puts him at odds not only with his siblings, but his parents as well.
There’s a dream-like quality to the movie reminiscent of films such as Beasts of the Southern Wild and Pan’s Labyrinth. Though Zagar’s approach is slightly less fantastic than either film, there is still a lovable, magnetic child at the center. As Jonah, Evan Rosado joins the ranks of child actors whose talent belies their age.
Zagar proves his mettle as both writer and director. His previous works include a number of solid documentaries (Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart, In a Dream), but as his first feature film We the Animals is a marvelous addition to his body of work.