Adolescence is a mystery. It’s an inevitable period everyone experiences in maturation towards adulthood, yet its onset often feels traumatic, and its resolution is ambiguous. Every adult knows what it feels like, coming of age. Few care to revisit it in their art, and those that do often offer only hazy memories or cliched moments; the latter lack the sense of mystery, while the former rarely connect emotionally. When the mystery is authentically displayed in a work of art, it can be a marvel to behold. An enigmatic blend of the immanent and transcendent, of bodies and spirits, Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits is just such a work of art.
At 71 minutes, sparse in narrative and focused on a single setting, The Fits nevertheless feels full of imagination and spunk, much like its central character, Toni. Portrayed with a calm innocence by newcomer Royalty Hightower, Toni is a quiet observer of the activities and bodies in the community center where she trains as a boxer. She watches the teenage boys who work out alongside her brother in the boxing ring. She watches the dance troupe of girls practicing in the adjacent gym. She silently slides through hallways as crowds pass her by. She notices everything around her, yet remains unnoticed herself.
One of the primary tasks of identity formation during adolescence is finding affinity. Where do I belong? Whom do I belong to? What do I contribute to the community? To find friendship and camaraderie–to fit in–is simple in theory. Her curiosity piqued and her sense of belonging awakened, Toni joins the dance troupe. She finds a few friends. She practices the dance moves. She smiles. It feels good to belong, empowering and comforting.
Dis-ease arrives within the troupe when a few girls begin to experience seizure-like symptoms, swooning and convulsing in a manner not unlike what sometimes occurs in Pentecostal worship services. These episodes begin to occur more frequently, and with inconsistent behaviors–some girls shake all over, while others sway slowly as if in a trance. Toni watches these fits with earnest interest, yet holds her fears and hopes closely inside her. She listens carefully to the other girls and takes action to continue to grow in affinity, such as piercing her ears with newfound friends. Still, the fits continue, the tension and mystery steadily building until the final moments of catharsis can only be described as metaphysical.
Holmer’s directorial decisions feel fresh and in control, well choreographed and making the most of the simple premise and singular setting. The community center environment feels at-once expansive and claustrophobic, its large echoing gymnasiums and tight concrete hallways creating the perfect amount of cavernous tension. The soundtrack–a mixture of unnerving strings and horns in jazzy, free-form bursts–gives The Fits the tone of a thriller, even a horror film. Hightower’s performance as Toni is remarkable, especially in its physicality. The film opens with her doing sit-ups, staring directly into the camera with her wide, knowing eyes. While rarely speaking, she communicates so much with her eyes and her posture. We experience the story through her vision, her body.
The Fits is fascinated with bodies, both physical and social. Our bodies grow and change, particularly during adolescence. At times, the members of the body move in accordance with one another with a fluidity, in rhythm and harmony. In other moments, the body feels disjointed or out of sorts, a rift or disconnect between members. The body wants to be at equilibrium, where everything is in its right place. Sometimes that equilibrium can only be found on the far side of discomfort and contortion. Maturation of the body comes through being stretched and re-formed from the inside out. We human beings are bodies, but we are also spirits. Or, perhaps more theologically sound, we are spirit-bodies, flesh-and-soul, sinew-and-psyche. The Fits is a celebration of this reality through its awakening within a young girl and her journey into adulthood.
When adolescence begins, when issues of puberty, sexuality, vocation, abstraction, identity all begin to rise to the surface, it never announces that it’s coming. It simply arrives right it wants to, latent in our bodies, an ordinary mystery unfolding within and beyond us. The Fits captures the experience of adolescence like no other film I’ve yet encountered. It needs to be seen and experienced.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4238858/