The following piece includes spoilers.
The last scene of ‚Good Time‘ feels like an active sensation of whiplash to the viewer’s brain. The film, until now a relentless, borderline psychedelic odyssey through the night of New York; suddenly slows down from 100 to 0 in a single transition. The heart-pounding, at this point almost aggressive synth-wave score by Oneohtrix Point Never, transforms into a more gentle shadow of itself and finally fades away.
This sudden shift in tone is connected to the absence of Connie, a layered, unpredictable character, who is brought to life through a deeply committed performance by Robert Pattinson. He gives his character a layer of staggering complexity and has never been better over the course of his fascinating and hopefully long-lasting career. Connie’s absence means a lot, since the film (save the very first and the already mentioned last scene) centers around his POV and the trail of chaos he leaves behind, all to get his mentally challenged brother Nick (played by a fantastic Ben Safdie) out of jail.
The fault of that incident fully lies on Connie’s shoulders. The film starts off introducing us to Nick and his therapist, who is trying to get to the bottom of an occurrence, that took place in relation to Nick and Connie’s grandmother. It’s hard for him to get through to Nick, but the session shows progress as Nick tears up, instead of closing down completely towards the therapists questions. Suddenly Connie bursts into the room and disrupts the constellation, to take Nick for a round of bank robbing. The score starts to set in, the visual language suddenly brims with agitation and energy. Connie takes over. The heist itself goes wrong and leads us to the main conflict of the film: Connie tries everything to get his brother out of jail as fast as possible, whatever it may cost.
To me, Connie is one of the most fascinating characters of contemporary american cinema and everything surrounding him cinematically perfectly encapsulates that, since his presence is weaved into all aspects of the films audiovisual language.
He is a white, lower-class citizen, who tries to escape the city with his brother, whom he has an undeniable affection for. He really loves him in fact, tries to help him and wants him to have a normal life. That’s probably the main reason, why he takes him with to execute the bank heist, despite his disability. He could have easily done it by himself, Nick just hinders him if anything. But Connie apparently feels like he needs to guide Nick and perhaps make him ‚hard‘ somehow. He pretends that everything is fine with him and ignores the consequences it could have, suppressing the mere existence of Nick’s disability and playing it down. Somewhere in his head, Nick is merely too sensible for the world they live in and he feels like he can change that. And only him.
This is a clear comment on toxic masculinity and the systems that surround it, the ones Connie has grown up in. This trait is inherent to his personality and one of the parts of a contradictory, fear-fueled logic, that is built up inside of him. He wants to help Nick, but he wants to do it himself. He isn’t devoid of empathy, but there are mechanism in his thought process, that make him blend out certain factors of reality. It’s a very complex, heightened visual representation of something that exists all over the world and is fueled by systematic and societal dynamics that furtherly perpatuate these kinds of mindsets.
There is another interesting comment the film makes, one on white privilege. It’s the only reason why Connie even get’s as far into the vortex of his own madness as he does. He basically destroys every life that he encounters in some way, not exclusively the ones of POC, but these cases are striking in their disturbing plausibility and the contex they happen in. There is no further questioning by the police, when he confronts them at Wonderland. The security hat, that he stole from the real security guard, a black man, who now lies beaten up and with a mouth full of LSD in one of the rides, is enough. There is no checking if he really is the security employee. Just instant trust towards him and instant mistrust against the two POC, who Connie allows to be taken away, even though they did nothing wrong and even helped him in one of the cases.
With ‚Good Time‘, the Safdie brothers seem to finally have found their balance of layered storytelling and the wild, cinematic energy they always possessed. The sheer nuance in the grasp that it has on racial politics and socio-political dynamics, is stunning. It’s a masterpiece about the unability on self-reflection, because that’s something which is not able to survive in a setting that is so undeniably depressing to confront for the characters. Connie just wants to get out of there and doesn’t have much patience in his impulsive body, but besides the bank heist, there are merely two other immediate links to a different life in sight.
The first one is Corey, excellently played (as usual) by Jennifer Jason Leigh. She is some kind of ‘sugar mummy’ to him, significantly older, with a wealthy family background. She seems to be a troubled person herself, there is an implication that she suffers from mental illness, majorly supported by the fact, that she still lives with her mother. She wants to escape too, not only from a spacial perspective. Connie obviously exploits Corey, his plan is to run away with Nick, not her. But she doesn’t seem to notice (or care), since Connie seems to give her something she sorely misses from other people, something that may be connected to his energetic radiation. She seems to be very needy and probably loves him on some level. She permanently tries to get validation from him, most of the time even considering that she won’t get a response. Her character doesn’t get much screentime, but she is complex and fascinating.
The second link is becoming involved into the underground world. He is confronted with that perspective when the LSD bottle comes into play and Ray (Budy Duress), a drug dealer, talks about how he is gonna make a lot of money in the future, compared to Connie. The drug world is ‚hard‘ too. There is an immense level of masculine self-affirmation during every action that Ray and his buddy, who eventually drops by, perform. Not to mention that they plan on solving the arised conflict with violence, instead of letting Connie go and avoid trouble. The money, the path to another world is too important. And it’s worth the risk to them.
It all comes full circle. The origins of Connie’s toxic masculinity are bound to a self-perpetuating system, that tries to erase any alternative form of masculinity within itself.
It seems like every man, who has the ambition to rise up in social stratums, has to be ‚hard‘ in this (also deeply misogynist and homophobic) societal structure, otherwise he will get crushed. The entire system would have to be dismantled for this to stop. The origin of all of this, is missing education. The lack of latter, mostly because it is too time-consuming for an adult, who has to sustain itself on the side, leaves barely anything left, except years of long, hard work, the faster choice above, or to stay a small fish, permanently in the risk of suffocating in open air.
Nonetheless, Connie tries to take the route of the drug dealer, during his last scenes of the film. But it’s doomed from the start – he isn’t and has never been patient enough for it. And that’s why he finally get’s caught, because despite all his self-deceptions, there is something very honest inside of him, that simply just doesn’t work in his setting. The love for his brother is the source of his impatience, but it’s also a beacon of the burning flame of humanity, that is buried deep inside of him. He is endlessly afraid that his brother might die because of him, on some level he understand that he does something wrong. He is, through his terrible actions, definitely not a good person in any imaginable way and he is deeply misled, but all the same, he is human.
The last shot we see of him, implies his loss of humanity. There is a coldness in his eyes, it’s how he copes.
When we return to Nick, we return to someone who was always pressured into being something he couldn’t be. And now he doesn’t have to, for he has been saved from his brother’s tragic attempts to express his love to him. A question arises: How does Nick feel about Connie in this moment?
In the final scene, Nick is introduced to a group for disabled people by his therapist. They start playing a game called „cross the room“ to get to know him better. It’s a simple game. When something applies to you, you can (but don’t have to) cross the room. This exposes facets of your personality, as far as you want to.
The first questions Nick reacts to, are not whether he likes candy or if he has been in love, or has ever lied. The first questions that makes him cross the room are if he was ever involved into family drama. And if he was blamed for something he didn’t do.
He also crosses the room when asked if he has a friend.