What begins as an intriguing tale of a prodigal drifter returning home following the death of his father, evolves into a moving character study and an exploration of destiny and belonging. Unafraid of tackling big themes but posing no easy answers, ‘Major Arcana’ is an honest and understated story led by a stirring central performance.
How much control do we really have over our own lives? This is the central question that runs like a thread through Major Arcana, a quiet romantic drama set in the backwoods of Vermont that ultimately works its way under your skin.
It begins with the return of prodigal carpenter Dink (Ujon Tokarski), an outcast coming back home to collect the inheritance left behind by his similarly disliked father. Seeking to overcome his struggles with alcoholism and rebuild his life, Dink embarks on a project through which he can attain his redemption. But it’s his ties to the community, in the form of his embittered mother Jean (Lane Bradbury) and beguiling old flame Sierra (Tara Summers) who ultimately hold the keys to his fate.
Had Major Arcana been a Hollywood film, it’s likely that the story’s central questions about destiny and fate would have been resolved with a tidy, reaffirming conclusion that reinforced the power of love and free will. But instead writer-director Josh Melrod’s film is far more satisfying and compelling, with a surprise, open-ended conclusion that feels more believable as a result.
Tokarski’s Dink is a walking enigma, a leading man who is both likeable and untrustworthy, and his mission to construct a cabin (or a ‘fortress’, as he describes it at one point) makes for entertaining viewing. It’s to Tokarski’s credit that even at his most self-destructive we remain deeply sympathetic with Dink’s struggles, and his scenes with mother Jean are full of haunted gazes and painful truths left unsaid.
As opposed to indulging in saccharine scenes of romantic love and family redemptions, Melrod doesn’t shy away from exposing the manipulative, controlling potential of love – Dink is repeatedly batted about like a ping pong ball between the other characters in his life, all drawing on him for their own dark, sometimes malicious ends.
It’s this brutal honesty that makes the depiction of Dink and Sierra’s relationship so captivating, as two wounded souls trapped in an endless dance of desire followed by inevitable disappointment. Sierra is as exciting as she is explosive, a truth that remains ever apparent, even at the resolution of their love story. Tara Summers is a magnetic presence in her scenes, and feels fully believable as the small town woman with a larger than life personality.
It’s this ability to take small town struggles and make them feel universal that is Major Arcana’s biggest success. Regardless of whether their lives are predestined or not, the film’s characters are ultimately heroic simply for attempting to wrestle with fate.
Drama | USA, 2018 | NC-15 | Raindance Film Festival | Dir.Josh Melrod | Ujon Tokarski, Tara Summers, Lane Bradbury