The We and the I: Michel Gondry's Brilliantly Mixed-Up Kids
First, let's compare the title of Michel Gondry's new and absolutely wonderful film The We and the I to the title of Terrence Malick's last film, The Tree of Life. The first title tells us that the movie is going to be about something substantial: human sociality, which is structured exactly by the dialectic between the one and the many, the singular and the multiple. The second title tells us we are in for a bunch of mumbo jumbo—meaning, we know what we are going to see is not a work of sociology, but the kind of mysticism that Nietzsche once described as muddying the pond so that it looks deep and mysterious. The We and the I—which is set entirely on a Bronx public bus that's mostly occupied by teenagers who have just completed their last day of school—has only one moment of magic. It happens in the second half of the film, like this: From the bus, the teenagers see a beautiful woman in a flowery dress cycling down a Bronx sidewalk. Her hair is flowing in the wind. She has the air of an angel on a cloud. The rude and usually loud students are mesmerized by her. But then one young man stands, walks to the window, opens it, and screams something like "I like your big tits!" The spell is broken. And the teenager is admonished for being vulgar at the wrong time. "Why did you do that, man? I was connecting with her," one teenager complains.
The We and the I is not so much about a group of teenagers but the constantly shifting bonds between these teenagers. Some bonds are strong, others are weak; some are ending, others are becoming; some are sexually charged, others are all about power; some are not what they seem to be, others are exactly what they seem to be; and so on. As the bus moves through the Bronx, as the teens interact with each other and adults who board the bus, we get a sense of the creative, ethnically mixed energy of the city itself. There's lots of mixing going on in this movie. The racially mixed kids mix with other races, all of them connected by a mix of pictures that have been taken by and shared on smartphones and actual memories that look like they've been taken by and shared on smartphones—memories of angry parents, drunken parties, private moments in the bedroom. What comes out of all this mixing is a mode and way of being that is utterly urban. The We and the I is the best film Michel Gondry has made since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the most important film about teens since Kids.