The Tenderness of The Peanut Butter Falcon

The Peanut Butter Falcon came out late last year and although it didn’t make a huge splash in the box office, the heart and authenticity of this film are what make it significant. The Peanut Butter Falcon, although dark in certain aspects such as struggling to stay afloat through the murkiness of depression and the poor treatment of those with developmental disorders, shines in its softer aspects of compassion and understanding. 

The film surrounds the story of Zac (Zac Gottsagan), a young man with Down Syndrome who has aspirations to become a professional wrestler. Upon escaping from his group home and carer, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), he finds Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a down and out fisherman whose life is in shambles after the death of his brother. Together Zac and Tyler form a brotherly bond that is at times, incredibly touching. Tyler seems to have an understanding and respect for Zac that no one has ever shown him before. In turn, Zac shows Tyler genuine communication and support that reminds him of his former brotherly relationship. Tyler promises to help Zac fulfill his dream of meeting his favorite wrestler and training under him.

The dynamic between Tyler, Zac, and Eleanor all paint different pictures of perspective on lives that fall short of ideal. Zac is abandoned by his family. Tyler is responsible for his brother’s death. Eleanor’s ambition and dedication always seem to be outshined by her beauty and femininity. However together, things seem complete. Those issues of the modern world fade away when the magic of Zac and Tyler’s dynamic comes to the fore. There’s a reason that people refer to the film as a “modern-day Mark Twain fable” (Flickering Myth). The film has an air of carelessness from a time past but unlike the genre in which the works of Mark Twain reside, the problems that are shown in the film are faced head on and gently resolved instead of being ignored and simply regarded as a sign of the times. The heart of this film is kindness and that is what differentiates it from the tales of the past and even tales of the present. 

Zac starts off in a world that is seemingly too small minded for his aspirations. However, those around him who are also in a limiting environment see something special within him. He has characteristics that other characters often identify with or admire. His carer, Eleanor is a little blinded. She has been educated within an environment that has mechanized interaction with those who are outcasts in groups. Eleanor’s initial interactions with Zac have an impersonal feel. All the while, there is an impression that Zac is worth more than how he is being treated within the institution he is being housed in. The element of authentic interaction is missing and so the viewer is innately in cautious support of Zac’s escape. At least he will experience real life for a while, no matter how brief it is. 

Something changes within Eleanor when she sees how Tyler treats Zac. She initially sees his interaction with Zac as reckless but as time goes on, that seemingly reckless treatment reveals itself for what it really is. Tyler is treating Zac as an equal while also taking his limitations into account. A perfect example is when Zac makes Tyler aware that he can not swim. Tyler avoids situations in which Zac needs to do so and in the one instance where it’s required, he guides him across a body of water in which he consistently makes his safety and wellbeing a priority. Tyler confronts Eleanor with the question, “what do you want for his life?” and she is taken by surprise. She had treated Zac’s life as a matter of management as opposed to what it really is: an existence just like hers with its challenges and developments. At this point, Eleanor finally sees this horizontal plane of treatment and changes. She starts adopting some of Tyler’s method and in turn, understands Zac better as a person. 

Zac is the impacting character in the film. He has a knack for softening the hearts of those around him. The powerful scene of a crying Tyler leaning on Zac’s shoulder on their Adventures of Huckleberry Finn-styled raft is called to mind when thinking of that sentiment. They float lazily down a river enshrouded by a dense forest and Zac says the following so thoughtfully: “Tyler, I am going to give you all of my wishes for my birthday.” These words resonate with Tyler as he understands the depth of their meaning. Emotions are stirred within him as he begins to lament and reflect on times past with his brother. Zac comforts his mourning friend through simply being there. He wraps his arm around Tyler and Tyler leans in. There is beauty in the simplicity of both his physical and emotional support. This kindness is instinctual and that is what makes the scene so powerful. He sees sadness overtake Tyler and he gently encourages him to shed his rough, carefree exterior for a moment of genuine expression. Zac silently tells Tyler that there is no need to fake anything for him. The scene is immediately paralleled with a flashback of Tyler sitting next to his brother on a dock. It is solidified that the relationship between the two protagonists now transcends friendship. The wandering souls now have bond that has evolved into brotherhood. 

The Peanut Butter Falcon evokes emotions that are entirely genuine in what they ask the viewer to feel. One looks at the world through the eyes of Zac for the brief runtime of the film and that point of view is one of truth. It is not idealized. It is not naive. However, it is optimistic, excited, and full of genuine curiosity. The film is a tale of healing and discovery and its integrity is displayed at nearly every opportunity. The discovery is not only of the beautiful world within the narrative but discovery of equality and human connection. It is a tale that, at times, portrays a hard reality to face but it always draws the viewer back in with Zac’s “good guy heart.”

Essays

Dani Ferro View All →

Making my way through the world. Writing and stuff.
Twitter: @whatsupsquash
Letterboxd: MyNameIsSquash

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