Monrovia, Indiana

Monrovia, Indiana is the world-renown documentarian, Frederick Wiseman’s latest opus. I call it an opus because it is a gigantic undertaking. It’s a two-and-a-half hour long deep dive into almost literally every aspect of life in a small Middle American town in 2017. That town, of course, is Monrovia, Indiana. We start at a large farm, seeing the pigs squealing and running around in their cramped pen. We then see the massive machines that are used to tend to the crops. We are shown the livelihood of many of the residents of the town.

Throughout the film, we visit several churches, for regular services, a wedding, and a funeral. We join a group of old men who meet up at The Corner Cafe and talk about life. We go to hair salons, barber shops, grocery stores, high schools, town halls, cemeteries, almost everywhere in the town.

Monrovia is sort of an idyllic place, where a certain way of life still exists that is free from the chains of modernity. However, there are those who want that to change. They want new people to move in; they want economic growth and change. There’s an equal amount of people who don’t want that at all and would prefer things to stay just as they always have been.

We go to hair salons, barber shops, grocery stores, high schools, town halls, cemeteries, almost everywhere in the town.”

Monrovia, Indiana is a very accurate representation of rural life. I grew up in what used to be the middle of nowhere which became the suburbs that Monrovia is threatening to become. There are towns all over the South and Midwest that are filled with old men sitting around talking about how they don’t feel quite how they used to and how all their friends are dying, and what the hell is this world coming to. There are tons of people who parade their pride for their hometown like a badge of honor.

In many ways, Monrovia, Indiana is a microcosm for the American subconscious.  Progress vs. Tradition. Family Values vs. Economic Growth. Isolationism vs. inclusion. These are all concepts that define a lot of small-town America, but on a larger scale, define the human condition as a whole.

“…liked the film, but I felt an unease revisiting the mundanity of small-town life…”

I did find the film to be a little too long and slow paced, maybe it was intentional. Wiseman has directed such grand accomplishments as The Titicut Follies and Zoo; it’s not as if he doesn’t know what he’s doing. It’s a painstaking, incredibly detailed look at one town in America that could be every town in America, or America itself. One particular thought I had about this was that Monrovia, Indiana is like Parks and Rec, if Parks and Rec were on C-SPAN.

I liked the film, but I felt an unease revisiting the mundanity of small-town life that I was always incredibly eager to escape. I felt uncomfortable with the extended scenes at the gun stores and the abundance of Protestant churches. The overall conformity and inability to distinguish all these small towns from each other, and the people who are completely satisfied with where they are. It’s something I can’t personally relate to, so it was a tough pill for me to swallow.

Monrovia, Indiana (2018) Directed by Frederick Wiseman. Monrovia, Indiana screened at the 2018 New York Film Festival.

7 out of 10 stars

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