The Slaughter Rule is a fairly slow-moving, low-budget-feel indie. I liked the outdoor visuals in Montana; the scenery in that part of the country has long been a favorite of mine. But overall, it’s one of those movies with a lot of portentous moments and reading between the lines stuff, where I always feel like I miss a lot. It isn’t completely confusing or anything, but I’m sure I missed some of what happened, and some of what it is all supposed to convey at a deeper level.
The central activity itself of the film is new to me. The protagonist of the film is a high school student who is recruited to play quarterback for a barnstorming six man football team that travels around Montana. The team consists all or mostly of high schoolers who didn’t make their school’s football team or were kicked off for disciplinary reasons.
Like I say, I’m not familiar with this phenomenon. Who does a team like this play? Other similar teams of teenage “free agents”? High schools? At one point, they’re talking about the schedule, and I think something is said about playing teams on their “bye.” So is the implication that high schools play real games against each other most weekends, and then on their bye week they play some sort of informal game against a six man traveling team like this?
The other main character is the coach of this little team. How does he get paid, by the way? He’s shown having to pay to be scheduled (to play a high school I guess, but again I’m not sure), so who pays him? Is money raised by selling tickets? Maybe, but there are few if any people at these games; they seem to be played on a field out in the middle of nowhere rather than in any kind of stadium.
So I found a lot of that rather puzzling. Another puzzling thing is how readily all these kids get served liquor. What’s the drinking age in Montana?
Anyway, though there are a few subplots (that mostly aren’t that interesting), the focus of the film is on the uneasy relationship between this player and the coach. The coach is a middle-aged man who is rumored to be gay.
I thought the coach was a pretty interesting character. It may be that he’s just unambiguously gay, and he’s hot for all these teenage athletes, but if you go by what he says about himself (and I may be naïve to put any stock in that), it’s a lot more subtle and complex than that.
It’s not clear that he himself is sure what he’s about. When he’s confronted on it and tries to explain, he indicates more of a general longing for human connection and closeness, and how there’s something about the dynamics of high school sports, the camaraderie of it, that most represents that to him. Maybe when he was that age he felt the rush of that environment, that connection with other males, as the peak experience of emotional connectedness of his life, and he’s forever trying to recapture that.
The male bonding of that kind of teenage jock culture could be appealing in a homosexual way, it could be appealing in kind of an ambiguous, quasi-sexual way, or it could be appealing in a fully non-sexual way. Like I say, maybe I’m reading too much into it and he’s just a straightforward pedophile, but I thought it was left open which category he falls into.
If he himself doesn’t know for sure—which is quite possible—then the player is even more uncertain. He has at least some desire to connect with the coach—he’s clearly in need of a father figure—but when he senses sexual overtones, he reacts against them.
He may be unsure not only what the coach wants from their relationship, but what he himself does. What the player wants isn’t sexual apparently, though I suppose even that might be open to question. (Though I’ve never thought much of the type of analysis that says if you are receptive to the advances then you’re gay, and if you reject the advances then that indicates you’re denying and suppressing your own feelings and so you’re gay in that case too.)
There’s definitely a lot going on between them—a mutual interest, tension, uncertainty of interpretation of each other, temper flare-ups, internal struggles to understand how one is reacting to the other, and so on.
The dynamics of that relationship, and trying to understand the coach, is intriguing. Still, there’s not much else in The Slaughter Rule that held my interest, and it is denser in places than I’d like, so overall I would say my enjoyment level for this film was a bit below average relative to all those I’ve written about so far.