Buffalo '66

Buffalo '66 ★★★★★

Buffalo ’66 is maybe my favourite film of all time, a sincere statement enforcing the power of empathy, love, and understanding, along with the need for personal agency and responsibility. It’s a film which, through its ever-necessary perspective and singular aesthetics, has guided me through some of the most turbulent portions of my life. The story profiles an insecure, defeated man named Billy Brown, and shows how he is able to find self-worth and happiness through accepting another person into his life.

The film opens on the desolate outskirts of a federal prison where we see Billy shuffle out from the gates, constantly looking back at the place which grew to define him over the past few years. The screen fills with overlayed images from his time inside, giving us a direct visual representation of Billy’s emotions and lasting traumas from prison while also establishing the visual motif of overlay. Frequently throughout the film superimposed images overpower the scene we’re watching to take us to another place in time. While fascinating in its manipulation of the cinematic form, it serves to establish the theme of film as exaggerated memory. Much like how cinema presents a form of escapism in its exaggerated presentation of reality, so too our memories exist in this exaggerated form. Director Vincent Gallo takes advantage of this to represent his characters as hyper realizations of human emotion.

Upon arriving in his hometown of Buffalo, Billy calls his parents. His exaggerated anger and brash nature, while played as darkly comedic, is still very conflicting to the first-time viewer. The juxtaposition of the quiet and melancholic opening of the film with Billy’s true loud and angry self leads the audience to question their attachment to the character. Billy tells his parents he’s in town for a short while and that he’s been gone for so long on important business, as well as lying about a wife he does not have. Billy then kidnaps a tap dancer, Layla, and forces her to pose as this imaginary wife.

At this point in the film Billy seems to be a shallow, rude and selfish character. However, as the narrative plays out the layers to his character slowly unearth. The truths behind his insecurities reveal themselves in scenes such as the lengthy dinner sequence with his neglectful and apathetic parents. In later scenes with Layla she begins to pick apart Billy’s insecurities as he slowly makes himself more vulnerable to her. Revealing truths to many of the lies he made throughout the film to mask his true broken self. Near the end of the film, Billy has undergone a near complete transformation through opening up to Layla and re-evaluating his perception of people. However, still there is this part of him which refuses to let go of past angers built on his inability to take responsibility for his mistakes. This leads to an ending where he confronts and intends to murder the man he irrationally finds responsible for his unjust imprisonment. Upon arriving he realizes how worthless this revenge would be, the potential for beauty and kindness in the world around him, and the value and emotional totality this new love in his life has brought him. A character who began as such a symbol for evil is unveiled to be one of just extreme insecurity. Billy now understands that hyper obsession with things beyond ones control is far less productive and conducive to growth than taking responsibility for ones mistakes, and growing on their own terms. He chooses emotional confrontation over the perpetual cycle of blame shifting and repression of his emotions.

Through Billy’s growth, Gallo makes intensely positive statements on life and how to move forward within it. Again however, Billy’s character, and many others, are a grand exaggeration. A large critique of the film is that Layla has no reason to show so much empathy and affection for Billy, or even stick by him since he blatantly kidnapped her and often treats her horribly. This exaggerated reality Gallo presents requires the audience to reconcile that many of the elements are meant to be taken less for what they are, but rather for what they represent. The film stands more so as a representation of the need to appreciate, listen, and make ourselves vulnerable to those within our lives who stick by us through emotional turmoil in order to help us achieve growth. By presenting the film in such an initially off-putting format, Gallo asks the viewer to show the film the same form of empathy and understanding Layla showed Billy. This requires looking past face value and showing patience to its bizarre sensibilities and slow characterization in order to reach a complete understanding of the ideas it presents. This contains the very essence of art itself: strange, unique and individual containments of humanity, which, while requiring some form of a learning curve and empathy from the viewer, hold so much to gain and infinite avenues for personal progression. In Buffalo ’66, Gallo paints this intrinsic connection between humanity and the art it creates. Much like how Layla was able to unearth Billy’s insecurities through showing him empathy, the audience - upon giving art this same second chance, may be able to see their own issues unearthed and treated on screen. These ideas can then be reflected on and applied in ways constructive to their personal growth. Buffalo ’66 was a vital component of my acceptance of not just art, but of myself and the world around me. It gave me an ability to appreciate the beauties of life, art’s place as an important tool for growth, and the empathy and care the people in my life share with me. The film has unlocked countless avenues for personal growth I could have never considered possible. And I can only sit here anticipating how far I have yet to go.

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