For the elder Thomas Gonzalez – self-proclaimed “Last Gonzalez on Delacroix Island” – hunting the Nutria rodents is more than just a way to pay bills; It’s an affirmation of personal philosophy. He is among the many men and women who trap, kill and fish off the land in St. Bernard Parish and the Southern region of Louisiana. Well, what’s left of the land, anyways. Between climate change and oil spills, what was once solid land flourishing with trees is mostly water and mud. Contributing to the problem are the nefarious Nutria, which is where Thomas and crew come into play, collecting $5 per collected tail bounties from the state for reducing the population of these pesky rodents. Most see it as simply making money, but Thomas is different, understanding the natural order and cycle of things on Earth.
In Rodents of Unusual Size, the Nutria is merely the jumping off point, with the people being the central focus. From “The End of the World” to New Orleans itself, Nutria run amok, burrowing under levees and canals, eating vegetation en masse and growing in uncontrollable numbers. What were once sought after and bred for fur and food during the Great Depression – giving poor working class families new ways to earn money and sustain themselves – are now viewed as swampy and unsympathetic. Good riddance, some say and want. Certainly, the Nutria (accents/dialects make it sound “New-Tra”) aren’t naturally welcome but culturally accepted at the very least.
We in this region of Louisiana have a funny way of reacting to disaster and chaos. Pain will come, of course, but so do parties that the living can enjoy and, well, live on with. Unusual Size is at its best when juxtaposing lifespan of people with the lifespan of Nutria, and how through inconveniences and circumstance, a harmony has been found. Thomas seems to be the featured one to understand this connection, and thrives on its truth.
With ethereal music from The Lost Bayou Ramblers, Unusual Size covers generational teachings, evolutionary adaptation and the unfortunate/scary state of our coast, all with an eye and mind for gazing past the horizon. As a documentary, modern tales and actions are discussed, but looming ahead are trials and tribulations for communities by the water and even humanity at large. Beneath the fun cooking and wildlife anecdotes is an inquisitive motion of unwavering notions about the coast, tradition, and ways of life and family. All things have a beginning and an end, the movie accepts. Do the people?
It’s a hard thing to accept and on such a grand scale as having to pack up and move a whole town, but unfortunately, it’s happening. Parishes like Plaquemines are planning to relocate and abandon what was once home for hopefully greener but perhaps temporary pastures. The coast will continue to erode and eventually the river and the Gulf will retake things. Unless we engineer some long-term plans beyond recycling Christmas trees and gunning off large rats. I have to believe we’ll find a fix or a new way. The documentary does too. But if a grim future is possible, then we’re prepared for the time spent to fade away.
The rodents aren’t solely to blame, but they ain’t helping. We aren’t solely to blame either, but as Thomas kinda puts it, no matter if we help the situation or not, Mother Nature is gonna have her way. For Nutria and man alike, the clock will strike. So have fun while you can and live as much of the life left in your body.
RATING – 4 / 5