Anybody who has worked in a job that requires interaction with others will tell you that people are terrible.
I did my time in retail and hospitality jobs. Sure, I had the regular smiles and genuine interactions, but it’s not those customers I ranted about afterward to my flatmates and friends. It was the inconsiderate, rude and selfish that stuck in my mind. The worst part about these encounters was that people didn’t even seem to know how terrible they were. They appeared to exist as bubbles of self-involved angst, furious and fragile, and it always happened to be me they burst against.
That particular annoyance about our society – and the resulting cynicism – is the subject into which I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore plunges into black comedy.
The film opens with Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) in her backyard, staring at the night sky, lazily clutching the neck of a beer bottle. Dim sounds of revelry in the background are not coming from her house. She is alone. What follows is a montage of interactions between Ruth and her community over the course of an ordinary working day, serving to both highlight her isolation and the reason for it – in Ruth’s own words, “People are assholes.”
It was an assertion I immediately agreed with.
Ironically, it’s one more incident in a long line of these little violations that forces Ruth to break through the walls she’s built around herself. Her house is broken into. Among the stolen goods is a case of nostalgia-laced silverware that belonged to her late grandmother. The police won’t help because silverware doesn’t matter that much. They’ve got bigger problems to deal with.
Infused now with a calm sort of rage – perhaps because she’s been proven right about her views on the world – Ruth begins her own investigation.
Through Ruth’s interviews of the neighborhood, she meets the nunchaku-wielding, Big Red-swigging Tony (Elijah Wood), whom she enlists to help with her vigilantism. Now begins an odyssey of odd interactions, through which it’s swiftly revealed that everyone Ruth interacts with is a shell of obnoxiousness hiding a deeper self.
One of the unexpected joys about I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is how initially two-dimensional people become surprisingly multifaceted as more details are revealed. I’ve always loved little quirks of personality, and this film delivers. There are no cookie-cutter characters. The bad guys are vulnerable, the powerful are impotent, and sidekicks aren’t automatically allies.
As a heroine, Ruth is ordinary and faulted, and all the more relatable for it. Almost an anti-Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She lives in a house that matches her income. She doesn’t always wear flawless clothes or makeup. She isn’t a source of special inspiration for anybody else. She drives this quest for vengeance, and the love-interest storyline takes a back seat.
Escape is what we all crave sometimes, and I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore lets us follow someone that is able to do just that, for a few days at least. Ruth’s engaging quest – complete with brutal third-act violence and comeuppance aplenty – let me feel that little bit of mean satisfaction I now realize I’ve always wanted.
Throughout her journey for justice, Ruth becomes that which she despises. In her single-minded quest to claim back what’s hers, she becomes a force of annoyance in others’ lives, mirroring the same self-involved little aggressions she so cynically and silently raged against at the beginning of the film. Therein lies the uncomfortable reality. We are all assholes. But only on the surface.
Ruth’s stargazing at the beginning of the film is not out of wonder or fascination, but rather a numb dissatisfaction with the world as it is, and a vague want to escape, to be at home somewhere else. Any bright star will do. Anywhere that is far away from this endless cascade of petty obnoxiousness. This film’s unwieldy title, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, encapsulates that idea and lets us know that it’s alright to feel like you don’t belong because nobody belongs.