The Cutlass: A Metaphorical Masterpiece

Visually stunning, steeped with imagery and symbolism, Darisha Beresford’s The Cutlass is a stroke of filmmaking genius. From the very beginning, awe-inspiring cinematography sets the tone with breath-taking, panoramic mountain views that captivate the viewer’s attention; views that make you ask yourself – is this Trinidad and Tobago or the forests of South America? Only when glimpses of the north coast’s rugged coastline begin to appear, do you realise the splendour and natural beauty of our country.

But the majestic Northern Range shrouds a reality that many of us know all too well. Amongst its lush green thickets and crystal clear rivers, two polar worlds collide taking you on a journey of realism, emotion and survival. This is the story of The Cutlass, inspired by true events.

Joanna, an aspiring college student burdened by her father’s declining health and strong sense of familial duty, escapes with a group of friends for a weekend retreat in Toco. But what promises to be a distraction quickly turns into a nightmare. As they prepare to have dinner, a gun-toting, cutlass-wielding bandit enters the beach house, mentally torturing the group and stealing their money and valuables. He cuts the power to make a stealthy exit but when the lights turn back on, the others realise that Joanna is missing.

Al, a petty thief form Toco accustomed to minor misdemeanours has now graduated to kidnapping; a desperate move provoked by desperate situation. For him, kidnapping a ‘rich white girl’ is the only way to acquire the large sum of money he needs to repay his debt to more sinister criminals. From this point onwards, the film centres on Al and Joanna’s interaction; an intricate juxtaposition of socialization, strength and survival instincts that reveals similarities and differences between the two.

While Joanna has had a stable, nuclear upbringing and is part of a loving, close knit family, Al’s has been a less than ideal. His brother bullied him as a child, he doesn’t know his father, and his mother, who he only mentions once in a caring, nostalgic context, seemed to be the only stable figure in his life. Both protagonists are therefore victims of circumstance and tragedy but their socialization and family relationships set them apart.  For Joanna, this is a source of strength and determination but for Al, this engulfs him with bitterness and resentment.

Being kidnapped is an unimaginable break from the normalcy Joanne is accustomed to. It’s the first time she has had to find the internal strength to face her own life and death situation. Her survival is at stake and she goes through a process of empowerment to escape this adversity. By comparison, fighting for survival is the only existence Al knows.  His most prized possession is a cutlass given to him by his brother, which ironically, he used as a weapon against his brother in matters of the heart.

The symbolism of the cutlass comes full circle throughout Al and Joanna’s rapport. For Al, using it to harm his brother represented both freedom and entrapment; freedom from being bullied but also the beginning of his entanglement in a life of crime. The cutlass is also one of the weapons he uses to capture Joanna, submitting her to his will and exerting upon her hints of the same oppression he experienced as a child. It is in this very weapon of subjugation that Joanna finds liberation.

With outstanding acting and best in class production, The Cutlass is undoubtedly one of the best films the local industry has produced. Engaging and relatable characters combined with a gripping plot that leaves viewers at the edge of their seats, make The Cutlass a must-see movie at this year’s trinidad+tobago film festival.  Check out one of its two screenings:

  • Saturday 24th September, 5:00 p.m., UWI Film Programme
  • Monday 26th September, 6:00 p.m. MovieTowne Port of Spain

The Cutlass was one of three feature films that received support from FilmTT in 2014 via the company’s call for submissions for feature films.

Photo courtesy ttff/16 press kit.