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Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is rated 15 for brief strong violence. The film is available on DVD.
Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) are young and in love. They’re also criminals who, after committing an armed robbery, end up in over their heads. During a shootout with the police force, Ruth puts a bullet in Sherriff Wheeler (Ben Foster), and Bob agrees to take the rap. He goes to begin a twenty five-year stretch in prison, while Ruth gives birth to their baby daughter.
Four years and five escape attempts later, Bob finally breaks out and writes to tell Ruth that he’s coming for her. But things have changed since the lovers were parted. Ruth is doing her best to raise little Sylvie (Kennadie and Jacklynn Smith), under the watchful eye of Bob’s adoptive father Skerritt (Keith Carradine), and the kindly Wheeler, who has fallen in love with her. Will she take off with Bob to live the outlaw life they’d always planned? Or are other priorities now guiding her choices?
- Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? Which scenes or performances particularly stood out to you?
- Many critics compared Ain’t Them Bodies Saints to the work of Terrence Malick, and other films of the Hollywood New Wave. If you have seen any of these films (including 1973’s Badlands and 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde), how does Ain’t Them Bodies Saints compare? How does the film draw on the traditions and iconography of outlaw fiction?
- Various plot points and character details remain ambiguous throughout the film. How – and how effectively – do the filmmakers leave space for the audience to fill in these gaps? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach over more normal exposition?
‘It’s always just gonna be the two of us.’ – Bob
- What kind of relationship do Bob and Ruth have when we meet them at the beginning of the film, and how did you respond to this relationship? How might their life together have progressed if they hadn’t been separated? What does it take for a teen romance to become a stable adult partnership?
- How do Ruth’s priorities and motivations shift over the course of the story? How would you describe her as a person? How easily could you identify with the choices which she makes?
- In your view, did the story reach an emotionally satisfying conclusion? Was there any other way in which it could have ended? How were you left feeling when the credits rolled?
- Why do outlaws and rebels hold such appeal for us, and in what ways have they been portrayed through history? How and why are they often romanticised? Who are the ‘outlaws’ in our own culture, and how do we respond to them?
- Does Ain’t Them Bodies Saints ultimately take a romantic view of reality, a pragmatic one, or both? Is ‘romantic’ necessarily the opposite of ‘realistic’, and why or why not?
- How did you respond to the character of Skerritt, and his actions, motivations and decisions throughout the story? What do we learn about him, and what is left ambiguous? Is he ultimately a villain, a sympathetic figure, or both?
‘If he truly loved her in a sincere way, he would get as far away as possible.’ – Director David Lowery
- What drives Bob to come back for Ruth and Sylvie, and to what extent do you agree with David Lowery’s assessment of his choice? What moral judgments – if any – does the film pass on Bob, both for his crimes and for coming back to Ruth? In what kinds of situations might stepping back from a loved one actually be the most loving thing to do?
- Why does Bob tell the story about the man who insists on wearing his childhood coat, so that he can be identified by his mother if he’s killed? What is the significance of the moment in which the boy driving Bob at gunpoint doesn’t recognise him? What is the gap between Bob’s aspirations and who he really is – and what might this gap look like for all of us?
‘Whatever you’ve done, when I see you with your daughter, all I see is good.’ – Wheeler
- What contrasting kinds of identity do Bob and Sherriff Wheeler seem to offer Ruth? To what extent are the characters in the story defined by their past actions, and to what extent are they defined by faith and hope? What difference does it make to have someone believe the best about us, or to believe in us despite our mistakes?