“Stop the Pounding Heart”
In the Rural South
Sara is a home-schooled young girl and one of twelve children who finds her values challenged after meeting Colby, an amateur bull rider. She lives in a family of goat farmers; a family that follows the precepts of the Bible. Like her sisters, Sara has been taught to be a devout woman, subservient to men, while keeping her emotional and physical purity intact until marriage. When Sara meets Colby, a young amateur bull rider, she finds herself in crisis, questioning the only way of life she has ever known. ”Stop the Pounding Heart’ is a look at rural America and its insular communities. The film explores adolescence, family and social values, gender roles, and religion in the rural American South. Director Robert Minervini uses a film method of looking inward into the lives of his characters and he brings us a sensitive film about a world that most of us do not know or are even aware of. He uses fundamentals of neo-realism and cinema verite as he deals with issues of faith and family and personal conviction as these are experienced by a contemporary adolescent girl who is beginning to question her life.
Sara is a young girl raised in a family of goat farmers. Her parents home school their twelve children, rigorously following the precepts of the Bible. Like her sisters, Sara is taught to be a devout woman, subservient to men while keeping her emotional and physical purity intact until marriage. When Sara meets Colby, a young amateur bull rider, she is thrown into crisis, questioning the only way of life she has ever known. In a stunning portrayal of contemporary America and the insular communities that dot its landscape, Stop the Pounding Heart is an exploration of adolescence, family and social values, gender roles, and religion in the rural American South.
The film stars non-professional actors; teenagers who are versions of themselves, Sara Carlson and Colby Trichell. They become part of a love triangle in rural Waller, Texas and while this is an important aspect of the film, the focus is actually on the themes of femininity, theology, and domesticity. We are very aware of the flirtations and sexual tension between Sara and Colby from early on. Colby also is entranced by Tayler (Tayler LaFlash), a talented fellow bull rider. Colby’s life has been dominated by guns, backyard wrestling, and riding practice, among other “masculine” activities, none of which interests Sara even though she has a primal attraction to him. We them look at how Sara’s home life and her father’s strident Christianity is questioned and reformed through her interactions with Colby and her inability to deal with the faith. The heart of the film is the struggle that comes out of raising and teaching young women to adhere to a faith that clearly values them less than their male counterparts.
The feminism that we see here is one that comes out of hard work and intuitiveness. This comes to the family through the mother’s home-schooling bible study that brings up fascinating discussion and, eventually, dissent especially when Sara’s sisters criticize her intentions to never marry. At the end of the film we see Sara tearfully admitting to her mother that she doesn’t know how to be a “good Christian” and as we think about that we realize that questioning seems to hang over the entire movie. Minervini cares about Sara’s doubt and is totally empathetic to Sara’s struggle with coming to an answer she can accept. Her fear and apprehension about taking part in the advances that Colby makes is certainly the result of her own uncertainty. Sara’s rebellion is both respectful and respectable.
The main focus of the film is on the Carlsons, a family of goat farmers that sell their dairy products at farmers’ markets. The parents, Leeanne (Leeanne Carlson) and Tim (Tim Carlson) have raised their twelve children, explicitly by the laws of the Bible. They live almost as sparsely as the Amish with lots and lots and lots of discussions about Jesus. When Sara meets Colby her attraction to him makes her begin to question the way she’s been brought up. Although, you’d never guess how she feels based Her mother teaches her about the helpfulness of doubt and that being a Christian isn’t easy. Yet Sara and her sisters are told time and again that woman is made from man and that they must remain subservient and that being submissive doesn’t mean being weak.
Some may find it hard to believe that today in America there are still isolated communities that exist in the ways we see here. All of the characters here actually play themselves, and keep their real names and this makes the line between reality and fiction even thinner. It is indeed frustrating to see how women are portrayed in this community and they continue being submissive to men. We can see that this kind of conditioning is the result of reading and rereading the same material over and over and that alternative ways of thinking as well as people who live a different life style are never introduced. Therefore, for Sara, it only took one meeting with Colby to understand that something is amiss in the Christian teachings she has had to live with. Sara then becomes, for the viewer, a young woman who desires something more but is left behind. The ending of the film, therefore, signifies that Sara and her family continue to regress while holding on to a past that does not exist any longer. holding on staunchly to a past that no longer exists.
One of the reviews that I read from the Cannes film festival where the movie premiered says that the film is a “hybrid of documentary and unscripted narrative depicting real people in an insular rural community”. This is a wonderful way to regard this film.
The main conflict of the film does not come up until a good bit of time has passed and then only in subdued terms. Some may find it to be paced too slowly but it is engrossing nonetheless. Minervini’s character development is amazing especially regarding Sara and Colby. Colby is a “skinny, sweet-natured cowboy who’s all sinew but no muscle, he needs focus and determination to master his rodeo skills and avoid injury”. Sara is “a born nurturer with a special feeling for animals, she holds sacred beliefs yet at the same time is needled by doubts and fears that she’s unable to articulate, which her mother assures her are an inevitable part of the battle for inner peace”. Sara is emotionally transparent and innately spiritual.
We do not often get films of such beauty as “Stop the Pounding Heart”, I see it as more of a total experience than just a film.