Skip to main content

A Review of "C.O.G." (With Some Discussion of Inter-Generational Conflict)

It has occurred to me - nine months into this blog - that there's a lot of people out there who don't like to read actual reviews of movies.  They really just want to see a plot recap with a score and move on.  So I think I'll just put that bullcrap up front from now on so they can get on with their lives, and then anybody else who actually enjoys criticism can get the good stuff.

C.O.G. is the coming-of-age story of a cocky, wealthy young man who moves to Oregon to live the life of the working class, which he has romanticized.  He takes up a series of odd jobs and realizes that nothing about the working class is like what he had imagined.  I give it a 4 out of 5.

Now, then.  The actual review.

At its heart, C.O.G. is not that much different than the novel I'm currently trying to sell ("I Need a Job").  It's about a Millennial who is intelligent, although a bit narcissistic, and who wants desperately to contribute even if they're not entirely sure how to go about it.  So they have a series of misadventures and come out at the other end of it a better and more humble person.

Since the subject matter is so similar, I think my reading of C.O.G. is going to be pretty biased.  And yet, a huge part of me wants to write it off and be like, "Eh, wasn't that great.  Now, have you read my book?  That's some fine art, let me tell ya."  It drives me crazy when I see or read something that is similar to one of my own works, even if it's a plot that's not especially inventive, even if it's a rich vein for material, even if the narrative is completely different and the two stories really only share thematic similarities.  I've got no excuse for that.  I'm just a jealous writer, I guess.

That being said, I liked C.O.G.  I found little things about it that irked me, like some of the unnecessary beats that went a bit too long, or some of the characters that came off too much like caricatures rather than real people.  But then again, those are probably complaints people are going to throw my way if or when "I Need a Job" ever gets published.  I've surely got one or two cartoons in my book.

Sorry, sorry, I'm supposed to be talking about the movie.  Let me get back to that.

What I loved about C.O.G. is that it focuses on a Millennial, but rather than trying to make a statement about my generation as a whole, it just deals with youth.  And this is important, because I find that most discussions of generational gaps are inherently flawed with the assumption that there actually is a generational gap.  I think it's bullshit.  The one thing that I can safely say I've learned as I've grown older and spoken to people of all ages is that everybody seems to think their generation had it right, that old people were always in their way, and that young people are a bunch of dumbasses.

Everybody just talks a lot of crap about generations and nobody wants to admit that we're all the same.  People don't change.  Just situations.

So, if you want to make a movie about a Millennial who's coming of age, you don't want to ruin it by trying to make some grand statement about "the generation."  That's dumb.  The only thing that you can fairly say is, "This generation was pretty normal."  The real discussion is in how specific age groups relate to other specific age groups - that is, how does a 22 year-old relate to a 42 year-old - and C.O.G. nails that on the head.

The main character is Samuel, an arrogant college grad who doesn't believe in God, thinks that people who do believe in God are a bunch of suckers, thinks that poor people are "cool," and has gotten into some kind of disagreement with his mother and refuses to call her for fear that he will lose that argument.  So he has come out west to pick apples at an orchard and live a simple life.

Almost immediately, he finds himself at odds with all of the locals.  He is simultaneously eager to befriend them, and yet dismissive of them as being beneath him.  But what the movie does really well is that it doesn't portray Samuel as one-dimensionally immature and the townspeople as one-dimensionally wise.  Samuel is at least partly right - the locals are idiots.  And not only that, but they are inflexible in their ignorance; education, to them, is a meaningless pursuit.  And so you've got this kid who is learning some harsh lessons from people who have given up on learning anything.

There is a great and perfectly awkward scene where he tries to eat lunch with some women who work at an apple sorting plant.  One of them mentions Japan.  He pipes in with, "Have any of you been to Japan?"  And then he tries to explain how nice it was when he was visiting once.  In that moment, he immediately displays the sort of contemptible presumption that goes hand-in-hand with youthful ego-centrism.  ("Hey, old man, my music touches my soul.  You just don't get it.")

But instead of simply ignoring Samuel or telling him that they're not interested, they immediately turn to mocking him.  And then that escalates even more - not only is Samuel dumb for having asked, but he is dumb for even having gone to Japan in the first place.  ("Why the hell would you want to go there? That's a waste of time!") There's no wisdom to be gained from this attack - it's just an attempt by people who perceive his worldliness as a threat to a sort of Alpha (Fe)Male mentality.  They must compete with his experiences by insisting that their own home-grown experience is inherently better.

This interaction perfectly captures the ever-constant conflict between young and old.  It's a great scene because neither side is behaving especially well, and it holds up a mirror to the ugliness of all of us.  It's also a terrible scene, because ugliness is... well... ugly.

Another great moment happens far later in the movie - actually, right at the very end.  Samuel, having previously established that he is an atheist and that he dislikes religion, allows himself to become a born-again Christian, having found solace in prayer during an especially dark event.  He then studies rock-shaping with his mentor, Jon, another born-again Christian who has horrible mood swings and constantly berates him.

During a particularly frustrated moment, Jon decides that he's done mentoring Samuel and no longer wants anything to do with him.  So he kicks Samuel out of his truck on the middle of a random, empty road, takes some of his money, and tells him to get lost.  At that moment, it becomes clear that Samuel's assertions on religion from earlier in the movie were probably true: the people who gravitate toward and cling more strongly to God are broken.  So, once again, Samuel is proven right at a moment when he really doesn't want to be.

I really liked how the movie shows the complexity of these feelings and assertions.  You can be spot-on with your assessment of a particular group of people, but if you don't have a healthy amount of respect for their lives, histories, or struggles, then you're just an asshole.  And if you're one of the people that is being assessed and you aren't willing to return respect to the people who might have opinions of you, then you are equally an asshole.  This is a movie where everybody is basically correct with their assumptions about each other, but they're still wrong about how they allow those assumptions to inform their actions and attitudes.

Man, maybe I should bump up my rating.  If only it wasn't so slow at times, I think I might give it a full 5.  I don't know - I think this is one of those movies I'll come back to later and think about late at night, and I'll be like, "Huh, that movie was really smart."

Anyway.  One last thought before I sign off on this.  C.O.G. was based on a story by David Sedaris, whom I've been told is a very funny writer.  But be advised that C.O.G. is not a comedy.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I didn't laugh even once.  It might be one of the most heart-breaking movies you'll see all year.