Thommy Kane’s New Shoes sees the bleak world that a young boy occupies, with his mother at the centre of it, and he on the periphery waiting. Always waiting, with a brick ready at hand. Twenty-two minutes long, the film explores Tristan’s threadbare life until it sways right on the edge of falling apart.
Tristan (Jacob Moran) lives with his young mother, Elaine (Laura Whiteley). She is a sex worker operating from home. Tristan waits the entire time outside, ready for his mother’s signal in case there is trouble. The state of his entire life is summed up by the state of his shoes: scuffed, peeling and ready to disintegrate. To make matters worse, Elaine is also a drug addict, habitually employing Tristan’s help in using. This is clear through the single instance that the film shows; Tristan is well-versed in what is expected of him and does it quietly.
The film brings the frame to hold Elaine and Tristan only. As far as Tristan is concerned, their world is just the two of them, and Elaine repeatedly reinforces this idea. Lighting and camerawork frames the two in claustrophobic closeups with almost no background to be seen. The only people that Tristan is seen around are Elaine’s clients who take pleasure in taunting him, and Elaine’s dealer upstairs, Jason (Joe Vingi).
Their house on the ground floor is characterised by clutter, dirty dishes, rags and practically every other signifier of neglect and poverty. The colours have a green tinge to them, creating a dated look while simultaneously evoking disrepair and mould. With a brief scene at a shoe store, the film illustrates what Tristan has and what he could have without ever putting it into words.
Elaine’s bad parenting goes beyond neglect and into abuse, both physical and emotional, which should be obvious by now. Besides the unsafe environment they are both subject to, Elaine also isolates Tristan emotionally from the world. By turning the whole world into an abstract, hostile entity which could harm both of them, Elaine intends to keep her son under her thumb indefinitely.
The subject of his shoes comes up in what appears to be a long ongoing conversation. But this time when Tristan asks for new shoes, Elaine takes drastic measures. The degree of revulsion and horror that the film has maintained so far escalates to a mental and physical brutality that threatens to consume both Tristan and Elaine.
New Shoes intimately understands and expresses the experience of abuse at home, combined with poverty and social isolation. The old shoes against bright, white, new ones showed everything that the film hoped to achieve in its entire runtime. And just like with his shoes, some things are hard to give up, even if you can afford it.
Watch New Shoes Short Film Trailer
New Shoes: Childhood Abuse and Unconditional Love