The Toughest MoFo in Portland, Oregon
Feature Film -- Ozzie, a maladjusted seventeen year old prone to acts of violence, is exiled to Portland to live with his estranged brother. Faced with the startling optimism of Portland’s plaid-wearing denizens, his transition to his new high school is disastrous, to put it lightly. On top of all that, he’s struggling to cope with his best friend’s suicide and the very real possibility that he is losing his mind.
We live in highly-polarized times, where it’s impossible not to see, feel, or read about anger all the time. Whether it’s the disenfranchised on the right feeling angry towards a world that has passed them by, or the left at the reality of civil liberties being stripped away, it seems like a day can’t go by without this all boiling over into some sort of violence – on both sides. What’s worse is that we continue to write those on the other side off without any effort or desire to actually understand one another, perpetuating this cycle.
Years ago, an old film professor told me that any great script or movie should "tell me how to live now," that it should "show you the world in a different way than you saw it before," or else what’s the point?
For me, “Toughest MoFo” does that. This is a movie about empathy. It’s about deep looking – both in form and content. The film asks you not to judge our lead Ozzie, who at first, might seem detestable. Someone the other characters in the film can’t reach and we, as the audience, can’t understand.
But, it asks us to stay with Ozzie, and discover that it’s more complicated than it first appears. We realize he communicates all feelings, whether it’s love, pain, regret, or loneliness via anger. And so he picks fights and hits the self-destruct button on any and all relationships. When we come to understand the root of this behavior, we finally see him with new eyes.
By the end, we watch as Ozzie gains the ability to express himself in a different way physically. He dances – a requiem for his old self. A final expression of who he was and who he is now. It’s a demonstration of his vulnerability, and an admission that he has been so alone, for so long.
Nobody’s seen this version of him, and Ozzie shows strength to expose himself. It’s hard to bare one’s soul – for fear of rejection. For fear of judgment, or abandonment. So, we hide ourselves from the world, and pretend we’re whole. All the while, just underneath the surface, all of this pain and anger is boiling, ready to come out in destructive ways.
Within the film itself, Ozzie the “character” learns to look deeper as well. He does this by coming face to face with the fact that one of his equally violent adversaries is not so different from him – both are just byproducts of their shitty circumstances. It is through this understanding of shared human experience that allows Ozzie to find his moral rudder and break the cycle of violence.
Anytime I read this script, I am reminded that this is how I should be living. Inwardly, by wrestling with the worst parts of myself and coming out the other side being truthful to who I am and how I feel. And outwardly, by not retreating away from people who act out in ugly ways. In those times, I need to do a better job understanding that had I been born in their shoes, experienced the things they did, I too would most likely be like them.
This is a way of thinking that I believe the world needs now more than ever, and my hope is that people will see this movie and feel the same.