Monrovia, Indiana was one of those movies I watched during the hectic time on the site. When readers started asking about it again, I figured I should edit the original notes and get it done. Master documentarian Frederick Wiseman does what he does his best and that is step back and let life dictate the narrative. Monrovia is a predominantly white town that is aging poorly. Agriculture dominates everything, while urban life is creeping in on the periphery.
It’s almost an hour into the film before the first African American is seen, but even they are portrayed as a town visitor. Where the film finds its strength is focusing on the lightly inhabited housing development that just opened. The most prominent member is an elderly white man from Indianapolis who stands against everything that seemingly drives the town. He’s an Obama voter that feels out of place in rural Indiana. But, he seems to be constantly battling against an unseen foe.
Personally, I enjoyed watching the townspeople fight with the Development Board over paper-thin concerns. The elderly think the new housing community is draining police resources. Legit complaints about poorly functioning fire hydrants are ignored so that the town can plan a park bench construction. No time is wasted on judging, as we experience everything as a fly on the wall. Not enough time is allowed to even understand why these residents act like this.
It’s pretty amazing to see urbane Woke critics try to assess the film through their Coastal lens. They complain about how the film approaches the 2016 Election or that it’s not providing any sort of commentary. No attempt is made to understand the Wiseman aesthetic, as legion after legion of sheltered coastal brats want a shorter spectrum applied to a documentary filmmaker that has been working for over 50 years.
Art isn’t dictated by the outsider viewer, it’s interpreted. Wiseman understands this, as he makes no effort to coach Monrovia into a better performance. Whether it’s the patients in Titticut Follies, the Bronx residents of 2015 or the Monrovians…they dictate what happens next. Can the film be considered boring? Sure…in parts. What the film does successfully is force a modern audience to examine the world they don’t understand. No effort is made to correct or control them. You just have to watch them as a restricted observer.
Naturally, it made less than $50,000 at the Box Office. Cerebral exercises have no place on either side of the aisle.