A film has a lot to live up to when the festival brochure synopsis promises a film ‘nothing short of sensational’. Dominic Murphy’s 84 minute glimpse into the drug-infected mind of Jesco White explores the downward spiral of a man’s psychological stability. White narrates us through the defining moments of his life, his strong West Virginian accent afflicting his words with a sincerity which openly conveys his hidden torment. The depiction of White’s highs and lows bonds the audience with this unlikely protagonist in a unique way. Describing his father’s death as both ‘sad and powerful’ White encapsulates the essential essence of his own life. The film is both a disturbing tragedy and a brief grab at hope and lives up to its billing.
After the harrowing opening scenes of violence and despair, the idea that dance may be a viable outlet through which Edward Hogg’s Jesco can find solace and stability seems unlikely, but the juxtaposing poles of the film offer an interesting contrast. With Carrie Fischer becoming the object of White’s obsessive love, the film reaches a point where it seems Jesco can truly be saved. The days spent in an asylum with people defecating on the floor seem well and truly gone and yet his instability still etches itself on Jesco’s face and the scenarios he finds himself in. The ‘bad things’ he speaks of litter his life and thoughts and you find yourself emotionally attached to the internal dilemmas he voices. The darkness which inhabits Jesco’s growingly disturbed mind crawls increasingly onto screen, coming to life in the blackness that swallows the screen when Jesco’s often dead-pan narration interjects the story.
Murphy’s directorial input adds to the distressing tone of the film. Through the jarring use of camera work it feels like we travel to the very edge of sanity alongside Jesco. His narration speaks of his weakness as a person and his ineptitude to do what is morally right, but his attempts to rectify this throughout are powerful. The shortfalls of his fractured mind are almost forgivable, no matter how terrible his crimes are. The road to redemption is a rocky one and the final scenes may be shocking, but the depiction of Jesco White’s life is an intense one. Not one for the squeamish, White Lightnin’ has a humble core but an alarming story which makes for a brilliant and commanding film.