PUBLISHED 1 JULY 2016
A sole cigarette burning away in a clean ceramic bathroom sink is an omen to the impending disaster in the film TRUST (Hal Hartley 1990). Hal Hartley is renowned for being a pioneer in 1990s American independent cinema. Not only is he known for witty and offbeat dialogue but also his unconventional approach to love, as seen in SURVIVING DESIRE (1991) and FLIRT (1995). TRUST is a film that explores love and its importance within friendship, dependency and personal responsibility.
High School dropout Maria Coughlin (Adrienne Shelley) opens the film in the heat of an argument with her father (Marko Hunt), who has discovered Maria is pregnant and intends to marry her boyfriend. Maria strikes her father, accidentally killing him. Meanwhile, Matthew Slaughter (Martin Donovan) is a short-tempered and cynical individual working at a computer factory. After a disagreement with his boss, Matthew locks his head in a vice and takes it off. This is a darkly comic introduction to our two leads as they both aimlessly wander around their small Long Island town.
Matthew is a ticking time bomb of rage and hate, and carries a live grenade in his pocket at all times. He lives with his frenzied and violent father who treats him like a slave forcing him to clean the bathroom over and over until he is happy. Maria’s relationship with her mother is equally hostile.
Maria rescues Matthew from the tyrannical clutches of his father and takes him home. Maria is afraid to return home as her mother Jean (Rebecca Nelson) believes Maria is to blame for her father’s accidental death. As Maria has helped Matthew desert his father, Matthew proposes to Maria on the condition she leave her sadistic mother. Matthew argues that his feelings for Maria are not love, but respect and admiration. They both find that to have respect and admiration for one another, they must also have trust in their relationship, and to be able to trust each other they find love. Few films successfully show love is not exclusive of passion and lust but, rather, sometimes boils down to mutual dependability.
Matthew goes against his beliefs and self-importance to gain his original job back for the sole reason of being able to provide for himself and Maria. Matthew’s personality changes in order to take control of his life and he succumbs to the lifestyle of an average working man. As a result, all of Matthew’s attributes that Maria was once attracted to have now gone.
Maria decides not to marry Matthew, leading to him cause a panic in the computer factory he works at with a live grenade. Maria arrives and consoles in Matthew agreeing to let him take the pin out together and, at the last minute, they heave the grenade across the warehouse and wait for the impending implosion, just as the dwindling cigarette forewarned. Instead of being harmed, Matthew is carried out by authority figures and taken away. He keeps his eyes set on Maria as he is put into the car and does not take them off of her until the car is out of sight. Maria has been changed by the respect and admiration from Matthew, which, in their sense, is essentially love.