Trans (1998)
★★★ / ★★★★

While out picking up trash alongside a plantation, two inmates from a juvenile detention center end up in a scuffle. While the guards attempt to break up the fight, others grab the golden opportunity to escape. One of them is Ryan (Ryan Daugherty), a sixteen-year-old who has only about a month left to serve his sentence. Over the course of less than a day, we observe his escape, the people he encounters along the way, and what he does next when things do not turn out as he planned.

While “Trans,” based on the story by Julian Goldberger, Michael A. Robinson, and Martin Garner, is not the most exciting story about someone running away from the law, it maintains a level of control by playing it small and creating situations that feel real. Interestingly, we learn about the main character so that we care enough for him but not enough to understand him fully. Like he surviving from minute to minute, what we come to know about him largely depends on each choice he makes with the time that he has.

The images are simple but worthy of our attention. For instance, the swamp that the escapees wade through is like any other swamp out there. However, upon closer inspection, it works as a symbol of hidden fears. Swamps are usually ruled by alligators, master of camouflage especially as it hunts. Compare this milieu to the early images of the film involving the cold and dominating walls of the detention center and the power the guards have over the inmates. The parallels between two ecosystems have surprising richness.

Ryan visits a number of places. Like the film’s images, the people he encounters are simple but interesting. When older gentlemen drinking beer asks him questions, his answers hold an importance because rarely does he speak. There are some inner monologues but its limitation can be felt. It is a different experience when someone addresses another by expressing thoughts, responding to questions, and unearthing curiosities. Given appropriate beats, the inevitable silences between two strangers communicate a lot, too.

One of the most memorable scenes is shared between Ryan and a bus station manager (Edge). A bus ticket to Denver, Colorado costs a hundred forty-seven dollars, but Ryan has only sixteen dollars to spare. The scene oozes with desperation, a tug-of-war between control. Ryan is so willing to leave that he is not above offering sexual favors. I admired that the scene does not at all feel cheap. There is a sadness that lingered in my mind well after the scene is over. It made me think how many people have been in this type of situation.

Directed by Julian Goldberger, I will remember “Trans” for its one powerful image. At some point, Ryan ends up breaking into a pound and finds himself transfixed on a defeated-looking dog in a cage while every animal makes a commotion. This is very reminiscent of the protagonist in the juvenile center with nothing to do in his poorly-lit room but to immerse himself in the quiet of his isolation.

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