First Cow

First Cow ★★★★

A gentle, meditative variation on McCabe and Mrs. Miller’s bleak vision of this perverse American religion of unfettered free enterprise. “History isn’t here yet,” King-Lu says of their lawless corner of Oregon. “It’s coming, but we got here early this time. Maybe this time we can be ready for it.” Maybe, and they certainly have ingenuity enough; but probably not ready enough if he and Cookie still want to keep their compassion and human decency intact. “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship,” goes the opening epigraph from Blake. Fellow-feeling as a trap, caring for one another rather than fighting each other for capitalism’s scraps becomes a death sentence. “A hotel and a bakery. With wild huckleberry pies.” Even such modest dreams are so tragically elusive in a world in which there’s only so much milk to go around and a small group of men have already decided who gets it when and how. What King-Lu calls history finally arrives with a fence suddenly constructed around a cow that used to be able to just simply be; Shawkat’s contemporary witness implicitly left to ponder what it means to live in a place where a tender embrace for a friend in need is enough to get you an early grave.

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