Living in Canada, we have the privilege of distraction; we are allowed and almost encouraged to distract ourselves in any way that we choose. We lose ourselves in TV shows, social networks and text messages and often these distractions only make our inevitable collision with reality more difficult. In “Hit ‘n Strum”, a film written, directed and composed by fellow Canadian Kirk Caouette, this collision with reality takes the very literal form of a car accident in which the female lead, Stephanie, hits a homeless man named Mike (played by Caouette) while being distracted by a document and spends the rest of the film living with the guilt.
The Second Collision
After the inciting incident of the film, Stephanie begins her journey of actually noticing what is in front of her. Immediately after she hits him, Stephanie somewhat lamely attempts to buy Mike’s forgiveness by giving him a $3000 guitar. When he refuses to accept it, he finally becomes a real person in her eyes. He does not act exactly like she expects him to; instead, he gives the guitar to another homeless person and spends the night making a drum for Stephanie to return the gesture.The subsequent relationship that the two form is believable, if unconventional, and both actors are compelling to watch throughout the film.
The backdrop being beautiful downtown Vancouver, the city almost becomes a character in the movie. Stephanie and Mike always meet at the same places; and certainly the most interesting moments are when they are out in the city, instead of inside a board meeting or Stephanie’s apartment. Perhaps the most interesting scene is when Stephanie and Mike go to a diner together and they discuss the differences in their lives and Mike actually begins to explain why he is the way he is. Unfortunately, that is really as much as we learn about Mike’s situation, because the rest of the film becomes about the back and forth of their friendship. The music, another memorable part of the film, saves it from becoming a complete microcosm of Stephanie and Mike’s collision.
Have you ever sang just to sing?
The music that Mike and his two friends play on the street is, for me at least, what gives “Hit ‘n Strum” a true Canadian feel. The music in the background becomes more than a soundtrack, it is actually integral to the plot and to the growth of the characters. Music is the point where Stephanie and Mike are able to connect, even if Stephanie’s way in is to buy Mike expensive instruments and ultimately get him a record deal. Regardless, they both see the value in music and I think it’s unavoidable for the audience to see as well. What’s interesting is that the music oftentimes takes the place of conversation for Mike and Stephanie. What they say to each other doesn’t seem to mean nearly as much as the music. The questions become, is music really enough to spur social change? Is it enough to forge an understanding between the two poles of income inequality?
Personally, walking out of the film, I’m inclined to say that music isn’t enough. While the music that Mike plays is enjoyable to listen to, it seems to be a little bit too much about resignation. He enjoys playing it, but the subject matter of his songs is about his own incompetency, and while they are beautiful lyrics, I can’t see them spurring any direct social change for homeless people. Personally, I think “Hit ‘n Strum” could have been more educational in terms of information about life on the street. In the film, we are given a depiction of one homeless man’s struggle and relative success with his musical career, but he ultimately remains on the street. Even his relationship with Stephanie comes to a halt when she decides to marry her slight dunce of an ex-boyfriend even when she and Mike are clearly more suited to each other.
I grappled with the ending because it seems to suggest that some people are too inherently different to make any kind of prolonged or lasting connection. While the film portrayed Mike and Stephanie almost reaching the point of understanding one another, their relationship ends with Mike swearing at Stephanie because he still kind of resents her for being such a distracted and ignorant human being at the beginning of the film. The final scene is heartbreaking because it suggests that even after all of their experiences together, they still truly do not understand one another. And maybe it’s naive to think that they could. Or maybe it’s just a few decades too early. Regardless, I think “Hit ‘n Strum” wants to spur social change but lacks the suggestion of understanding between characters that would make that a possibility. Or maybe the film is suggesting that both parties will have to work a little bit harder to find a lasting middle ground.