Review of “Parked” (2010)

Colin Morgan (left) and Colm Meaney (right) in “Parked” (2010)

Parked will be two years old at the end of this year.  Being an indie film, it hasn’t received much promotion.  Being a foreign film, this Irish production has just been distributed in the US a few months ago.  Which means that I immediately grabbed any opportunity to see this intriguing little movie as soon as it came along.

Of course, it’s obvious why I was and still am interested in Parked.  Finally, I find a modern flick and longish tale (aside from John Steinbeck‘s mind-blowing The Grapes of Wrath) that focuses on everyone in my shoes: the homeless.  And not only, these two homeless people are sleeping in their cars!  Parked has the themes of homelessness, seclusion, loneliness, and societal neglect highlighted all over its storyline.  It’s simple; it moves along at the same pace that life passes by all of us wanting to climb out of a true abyss of horror and a situation that’s constantly spiralling downward.  One of the film’s most painful truths: how people really don’t care at all about their neighbors, i.e. fellow human beings.

Fred returns from England to his homeland to find his boyhood home gone and his life in ruins.  Left with only a wreck of a car and his wits, Fred finds himself a spot to park and struggles to survive by sleeping in his car by night and enduring every day in turn.  He keeps his circumstances a secret to the best of his ability.  With the welfare system refusing to help him financially and finding no chance of work, Fred remains stolidly pessimistic about change.  Suddenly, like in a fairy tale where one unexpected event alters the course of the story, a young man named Cathal parks next to Fred and offers him friendship.  Who would have ever though a drug addict and a middle-aged jack-of-all-trades could become best friends?  Nonetheless, their lives become intertwined as they try to make the most of every waking moment and find light at the end of their dark, dark tunnels.

There are movies which entertain, movies which enlighten.  And then…there are the movies which make you feel.  You are not meant to enjoy these; you’re meant to sense them, experience them, and breathe their messages in.  True, I did find humorous moments in Parked, moments which made me smile.  I found even more moments which made me frown.  However, this film does indeed make you feel the very heart of the story at hand.  Some critics have complained that there’s no movement or “action” in Parked, that it’s languid.  Hmph.

First of all, we are, after all, talking about homelessness here.  When you’re in it, you’re in it up to your neck.  It’s like sticky quicksand, sucking you in with no escape.  Well, it’s extremely hard to escape, in any case.  For Fred and Cathal, life moves slowly and quickly at the same time because life for everyone else besides them is “progressing.”  Naturally, how could the average person possibly understand what a devastating course of despair these characters (and real people) are in unless you know from personal experience?  I remember Gregory Peck from To Kill a Mockingbird: “You can never understand what it’s like to be in another man’s shoes until you put them on and walk around in them.” (I’m paraphrasing here.)

However, I do understand.  So I’m seeing Parked from a first-hand perspective, so to speak.  I know all about the hygiene and washing problems Fred comes up against; the sanitary issues with his car; his car troubles; the lie in the outward appearance of a lazy lifestyle with nothing to do; the prejudice and bias of other people when they only hear the word “homeless”; the excruciating loneliness you feel despite being deprived of your privacy and being stuck in full public view 24/7; the devastating moment when the welfare clerk tells you you’re ineligible for food stamps and cash aid just because you have no address (ugh); and the embarrassment and humiliation of admitting you’re homeless to anyone.

Fred’s character is easier to understand than Cathal’s, though—the need for drugs, a “temporary relief from reality,” is something I’ll never understand, because it’s illogical.  Nevertheless, when I watched Parked, I was faced with a likeable character who was, willy-nilly, a drug addict.  Did I approve of his addiction?  No way.  Did I feel sorry for him and why he was using them?  Of course.  In Parked, there’s more to everything than meets the naked eye, and Cathal’s no exception.  Drug user or no, Cathal is merely a frightened boy abandoned by his father at an early age and blamed for things that were clearly not his fault.  He goes too far in his choices and his desire to find relief from his feelings of guilt and pain, but he’s still one of those characters you’ll cry for in the end.

As far as content is concerned: there’s a mild level of profanity (some four-letter words, for example) and almost no sexuality in the film.  However, the beating scene with Cathal is extremely violent.  It makes me cringe again and again and AGAIN while I’m watching it.  The director really captured brutality and cruelty in a few minutes of filming.  Also, Parked demands tissues.  I couldn’t help crying for Cathal and Fred.  For Fred: even though he gains something through his suffering, he loses much more and he still ends up alone.  For Cathal: his life seemed to be over already at the age of 21, he felt like he was so alone and purposeless, and he had given up on everything.  He stopped holding on.  And don’t say a drug addict being depressed is a “pathetic picture,” because Cathal is different.  There are flashes of a hopeful person underneath his distant mentality.  Even he’s only a character in a film, he deserves real sympathy from the audience, not some disgusted form of it.

The acting: Colm Meaney was very good, as was Milka Ahlroth.  Did I hear about Parked because Colin Morgan was playing Cathal in it?  Yes.  I’m a fan of the TV series Merlin, remember?  But regardless of the referral method, I enjoyed what each actor and actress brought to the film and the story, even though Morgan had to step out of his charmingly innocent appeal as Merlin to portray someone whose innocence and youth has been drained by drugs, neglect, and despair.  Parked isn’t your typical film, and with its haunting piano score it brings sadness and the seriousness of life to the front, forcing you to confront what society and the world have become.  Oh, this look at homelessness in Parked is not restricted to Ireland’s economy…oh no!  I’m in the U.S. and I’ve gotten an accurate reflection of the story, welfare fraud and all.  And the car smashing too.  Oh yes, my mom and I had to watch someone try to smash our car while we were still in it.  Ahem.  A penultimate pointer: I noticed that in Parked no police took action at any time during the characters’ misfortunes, even though some crimes were committed in broad daylight.  Where are those damn cops?  When crime happens to you as a victim, the police make themselves scarce.  Hah.  Anyway…the very last pointer: Parked has an unusual ending: it has no ending—it’s unfinished, so to speak.  Apropos, Lemony Snicket mentioned in The End that no character’s story has an ending, only the point where the author decides to stop telling the story…

Parked is…well, it’s a film that will make you remember its title, its characters, its actors, its plot.  You’ll get an up-close-and-personal look at homelessness from the survivors’ point of view, from all of us who see “Fred” or “Cathal” in the mirror everyday.  The compassionate and sensitive will be moved to sobs.  The iron-fisted will not look so fierce.  Parked is exceptional.  And, in flickering beams of sunlight and starlight, it’s a lesser known “indie film” that has genuine, raw beauty.  Watching Parked made me hurt…but I’m glad I saw this movie.  I needed to.

Natalie Gorna