Published Jan 27, 2013In the opening moments of Kyle Patrick Alvarez's ode to the imposing and rigid nature of social inclusion, C.O.G., Samuel (Jonathan Groff), a pseudo-privileged academic with a superiority complex, travels cross-country on a bus from Connecticut to Oregon. Planning to work on an apple farm with best friend Jennifer (Troian Bellisario) and a cross-section of Mexican immigrants, he readily dismisses every piety that sits next to him on his journey, whether they're promoting God or using some choice expletives to rant about their baby-daddy.
His disposition is clear: having built up a lifetime of defences stemming from social rejection and emotional abuse as a homosexual, he limits his social lexicon to those with a non-threatening or extremely similar guiding outlook. It's a self-imposed alienation, but one that isn't entirely unjustified based on heteronormative systems of categorization.
Already not on speaking terms with his mother, his feelings of isolation are exacerbated when Jennifer shows up at the apple farm late with a boyfriend, asking him to tag along as a third wheel to San Francisco. Samuel, stubborn in his expectations of others and inability to interpret deviation from a plan as anything other than rejection, stays on at the apple farm, hoping for some sort of personal catharsis to stem from manual labour in middle-America.
As such, C.O.G. plays as a comedy, mostly, with the highly educated city boy trying to adapt to a migrant worker and country ethos, dismissing a cow as "stupid" when it doesn't jump up in the air for a slab of roast beef.
But within this fish-out-of-water context is an examination of cyclic repetition. Samuel vacillates between rejecting, and being rejected by, everyone he encounters, whether they're closeted, self-hating homosexuals with a giant dildo collection, or a collective of female factory workers. He eventually reaches his end, having eliminated every possibility of belonging, which is where the notion of an all-loving God comes into play, with religion being a last resort for those on the periphery of society.
What's interesting about Alvarez's approach to this potentially divisive material is his refusal to provide an easy answer. While the kneejerk reaction might be to have Samuel—a made-up name or middle name—find a place in the world where he belongs, the reality is that it is ultimately an impossibility for him to do so without giving up a part of the self.
Resultantly, C.O.G. would be a frustrating viewing for those settled into their routine, unable to understand the central plight at hand. But for those in the know, there's something compelling and fascinating about this deeply flawed and comprehensive character portrait. It's just a shame that the audience for an examination and social analysis such as this is so limited. (Forty Second Productions)