A Review of Galveston (SXSW 2018)
by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.
Set against the backdrop of a city known for its hurricanes, Galveston is the place of refuge for an unlikely couple on the run from the mob. Working as a hitman, Roy is set up by his corrupt boss in New Orleans. In escaping the sting, he also rescues a prostitute by the name of Rocky. Reluctantly bringing her along, Roy chooses Galveston as their destination—a place where they can lay low. Along the escape route, they rescue her little sister Tiffany from the girl’s abusive step-dad.
Illnesses trouble each of them. For Roy, he is facing a diagnosis of lung cancer—and at times he becomes nearly incapacitated. Resigned and bitter toward his former colleagues, he has an inconsolable spirit. He gets no pleasure in being with the young and attractive Rocky. In spite of his illness, he chains one smoke after another. While based in Galveston, he visits a former lover living nearby, only to find that she has moved on in an emotional sense. Unable to reconcile, he understands that he has not changed over time—perhaps not even in spite of the recent events.
Rocky has a different problem. Claiming Tiffany seemed to trigger a recurring emotional illness in her life, but the exact circumstances linger as a mystery. Like many other characters in this year’s SXSW narratives, she is scarred psychologically by issues of abandonment. Even though Roy’s leaves for only a short time, Rocky returns to the street for survival upon his departure. Ironically, she leaves her sister (Tiffany) with babysitters—and all these separations become a continued source of anxiety over abandonment.
Roy returns and begins to attempt a genuine relationship with Rocky. They go on a proper date, and dance to the old Marshall Tucker song, “Fire on the Mountain.” The tragic story depicted in the lyrics complement the film’s plot: “All for a useless and no good, worthless claim.” Roy has begun to recognize that relationships are what matters above all else and that he can become fulfilled in redeeming these two young women. He drops his claim to himself.
Just as Roy swears he will never leave the girls, a turn of events takes Rocky away from him. Avoiding the key spoilers; the film ends after a passage of twenty years. The aged Roy is living a solitary life in Galveston—he has experienced physical healing, but his memories still weigh on him. Tiffany, now grown, has finally located Roy after an extensive search. As a hurricane bears down on the Island, she visits him at his lonely apartment. Her question is a tearful one. Holding a photo of the three of them in a happier moment, she must know why the couple abandoned her in Galveston twenty years before. By this point in the film, the viewer knows the full truth, and Tiffany has grown up with the pain of her reality. For both Tiffany and John, there is some resolve as the film ends and the full force of the hurricane bears down on the city and on him.
Galveston is a tragedy with considerable hope in the dénouement. Like any good movie, this story plays on what many fear the most—being left alone in this world.