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At a deaf school there live dozens upon dozens of students ranging from middle school to high school, and with little to no supervision, and perhaps few opportunities for money, we follow one student’s journey from an outside to one of “The Tribe.” A group of students who do varying crimes to survive.
Rating: Skip It
Trigger Warning(s): Abortion and Murder
Even with shows like Switched at Birth out there, one show naturally doesn’t speak for an entire population nor can speak on their diverse realities. Which is what draw me to The Tribe since not only does it present a different perspective and life, but because it represented a new challenge. Said challenge being? Well, watching a movie that you aren’t supposed to watch with subtitles. Thus leaving you unable to know the exact dialog between characters and having to go based off body language to figure things out. Leaving you almost vicariously living how perhaps deaf people do. Which came with a few problems.
Main Storyline (with Commentary)
Due to the lack of subtitles, and really only hair color and some continuous attire separating one character from another, I haven’t a clue of who is who or the exact storyline. However, what is made clear is that in a small town there is a school for the deaf and we are to follow one of its newest students. Said school looks like a former prison retrofitted into a school, thanks to the small rooms and the bars which separate hallways. But with little to no security, or after school personnel, despite the age range of the students seemingly being middle school to high school, it seems the boarding school is mostly student ran.
Something which causes unique problems for our lead since with everyone being deaf, naturally that cuts them off from the average opportunities. So when disenfranchised, no matter what race, background, color, or orientation, naturally crime becomes an option. As for the crime of these deaf kids? Well, it ranges from assault and robbery of individuals, stealing from individuals on train cars, and even prostitution. Which, with time, our lead finds himself slowly integrating into.
Perhaps the main thing this movie does well is show how desperate and even vulnerable the deaf population are. For just consider most places in their area, even with a deaf school being there, probably aren’t going to try to really accommodate them. I mean, in terms of spending money they might, for the students know how to write and read, but in terms of working with them in terms of employees? Well, that isn’t really presented as an idea. Granted, we see no one try, but that doesn’t mean others haven’t tried, failed, and spread the news it isn’t worth the hassle. Thus leading to why you can understand them stealing.
But, alongside that, you realize, especially with the prostitution aspect, how vulnerable they are. For, just consider this, both the girls and boys, who act as their pimps, are deaf. So if a girl is screaming, for all the wrong reasons, then how would their pimp know? Much less, as seen when a kid gets ran over, much less when it comes to the ending, it shows how a lack of hearing makes your life so much more vulnerable than the average person.
While, at first, crafting your own storyline and inserting dialog, like this was Mystery Science Theater 3000, could be fun, after a while it loses its luster. Mostly because there comes times when you are just left confused and needing some explanation. Such as why would some of the kids of the tribe, the male ones, ask the lead to drop his pants. Are they questioning if he is a cop or is this part of their weird ritual? Then, when it comes to our lead and one of the girls moonlighting as a sex worker, while certain parts of their story make sense due to social cues, like her taking a pregnancy test and then getting a home abortion, it is difficult to understand other situations. For whether it is why he pulled her from a prostitution job, after they arrived where she services customers, to whether they end up at the police station over being caught or because of the kid who got ran over, you are left scratching your head.
Another problem is, thanks to no subtitles, and most of the boys only easily differentiated by hair color, and perhaps height at times, it can be hard to tell who is who. Even with our lead, if it wasn’t for this one jacket he consistently wears, I wouldn’t know it was him until the camera focuses on him or he is alone with the sex worker.
Perhaps the ultimate problem is that with no subtitles, focusing on a group of deaf students sometimes feels more like a gimmick than a novelty. Yet, I honestly feel even with subtitles, what was presented doesn’t seem like anything worth holding onto. Like many movies nowadays which seems likes they are using one race or another in place of white people, with hardly any difference between, this film feels like it is doing the same but rather than changing the race it is inserting those who are hard of hearing. Which does come with some differences, due to the method of communication and vulnerability which comes with being deaf, but largely it feels like the same old thing with a different coat of paint.