Better Mus Come: Art, Truth and Politics

Better Mus Come: Art, Truth and Politics

Written by Editor

Topics: Film & Theatre

Artistic expression, it is often said, represents a search for truth. In his quest to tell compelling Jamaican stories, filmmaker Storm Saulter has turned his unflinching lens on an unsavoury truth in the film Better Mus’ Come, a truth anchored in the reality of political violence across the decades.

Through eyes of many inner-city residents, this reality is darkly coloured by corruption and plastered with pain and poverty. Largely neglected and disparaged, many of those who call the garrison their home are often manipulated and given way too easy access to a life of bullets, ballots and bloodshed. Better Mus’ Come brings to the big screen the life of the “warrior underclass” on the front line of politically-fuelled violence, whose survival options and  world view are often tangled with and constrained by party allegiance. While the film remains faithful to its depiction of the turbulent era of the 1970s, the way in which it mirrors contemporary occurrences and situations reinforces its relevance and is symptomatic of a stagnant socio-political milieu in which criminality and politics are cosy bedfellows.

Flames (Ricardo Orgill)

Ricky (Sheldon Shepherd) glares out the window of a cab. At the wheel is actor Volier Johnson

The “shadows” that “walk upright in these streets of town”, as voiced in a poetic internal monologue by the film’s protagonist/anti-hero Ricky (Sheldon Shepherd), are creations of the society born out of desperation, greed and an insatiable desire for power. In Ricky, we see a man caught up in the struggle of trying to be more than just a product of his environment. On the one hand, he is a steely political enforcer who is strapped and ready for action. On the other hand, he is a father who is seeking an alternative that is less violent and sanguineous as he strives to take care of his son.

In Ricky, we see a man caught up in the struggle of trying to be more than just a product of his environment.

But is there any hope for a “top rankin’ rude bwoy” with a conscience and a streak of morality? Can his aspirations for some measure of spirituality, enlightenment and redemption save him? Can it take him away from the violent and corrupt forces that engulf him and ultimately lead him and those he loves to “better”? It’s a tough test of character and will for Ricky, whose efforts to break the mould requires the kind of conviction exemplified by the biblical Daniel in the lions’ den.

In tandem with conviction or something akin to faith, a greater understanding of the “truth” of his reality is what spurs him to break the chains. We witness the opening of his eyes and the freeing of his mind when he comes to the realisation that his service to the politician has not improved his lot in life. The tap in his yard reluctantly yields a solitary drop of water as he tries to fill a bucket, a sign of life in a community starved of basic social necessities. When his love interest Kemala (Nicole “Sky” Grey) asks him what he’s fighting for, a question sparked by his pronouncement of himself as a “warrior”, Ricky has no immediate response. He later talks about the need for survival and the threat of communism from the ruling rival political party, but by the end of the movie, this cause and the rhetoric being pushed by the politicians ring hollow.

Prime Minister (Roger Guenveur Smith)

Politician (Karl Williams) from the opposing party

The Prime Minister (Roger Guenveur Smith) uses his oratorical skills to sell a generic vision of hope to the masses, while  the  political candidate from the opposing party (Karl Williams) passionately fans the flame of tribal war. The words of both political figures ultimately cloud the real issues and succeed in creating greater distance between the people and their grasp of the fundamental truth of their reality.

Harold Pinter, the 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature, was most incisive in distinguishing between the search for truth in art and the avoidance of truth in politics. In his Nobel lecture “Art, Truth and Politics”, he stated:

“The search for the truth [in art] can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot…Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power, it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us, therefore, is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.”

Better Mus’ Come brings us face to face with an unsavoury truth, in a manner and style that delivers much more than what Jamaican audiences have come to expect from local productions.  The film is in the midst of an impressive seven-week run to sold-out crowds since its local theatrical release on October 13, which is a clear testament of its resonance with moviegoers. Beyond its entertainment appeal, the team behind the project will no doubt be hoping that the film will also enjoy success in stirring the national consciousness,  bringing us closer to the truth in our own lives and sparking a more purposeful and inclusive search for better that just might lead to meaningful change.

2 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. sumaya says:

    i love the movie i hope to see it in cinemas of my country dominican republic

  2. Daniel says:

    great post, thanks for sharing

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