Rough Environments: Our Review of ‘His Name Is Ray’

Posted in Movies, What's Streaming? by - April 18, 2021
Rough Environments: Our Review of ‘His Name Is Ray’

Michael Del Monte tries to find the human being in all of his subjects. That’s regardless of how mainstream viewers might perceive them. That’s true when it comes to capturing the life of a trans bodybuilder. Or a social worker trying to get LGBT+ refugees out of the Middle East. Now he sets his camera on Ray, a man who panhandles at Toronto’s Lakeshore Boulevard. And being silent observers, we get to see Ray’s precarious life. He’s always trying to recover things he either lost or what others have stolen from him. We get to follow him beyond his usual routes like a hardscrabble detective. And he makes for an unconventional detective since he only has his bike to take him from one place to another.

Ray finds himself in a cycle of being the victim of theft and recovering things he lost or getting new things. And wherever he is that cycle, he still needs to make money panhandling. Most of His Name is Ray is observing how he negotiates his competition against other panhandlers. After presumably standing his ground, the doc follows him all over the ravines where he can find refuge. The images here are reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s words about Toronto as a city of ravines. And there’s something strangely beautiful about watching a man walking around those ravines. That’s true even in the early springtime, when the trees’ branches are bare. The reality of Canada’s seasons helps shape one of its inhabitants.

Another shocking thing here is Ray’s conversations with the other homeless addicts. His conversation topics include catching up with his fellow panhandlers about other people dying due to drug overdoses. It’s alarming how other people’s deaths feel casual to him. Shockingly, he even looks for justifications about those people not wanting to live. But in a way, his words reflect Del Monte mission statement in making the film. In their own ways, they calls out a society that is callous to people beyond the fringes. Ray can die as easily as the other homeless addicts around him. But if we really think about it, everyone’s situation during these times is as precarious as his.

(The original version of this piece about Michael Del Monte’s His Name Is Ray appeared here on In The Seats on April 18, 2021. A rough cut of the documentary was the only version available for review purposes during that date. This edited version reflects the movie’s final cut).

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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