‘East of Middle West’: a tale of loss, forgiveness, and redemption

Analyzing Mokotsi Rukundo’s newest film, ‘East of Middle West.’



Sights of rural Iowa play a big role in this film.

Haneen Eltyeb , WSS Intern

A group of drunk high school boys drive around rural Iowa one evening. Beer cans being held in the air, along with collective laughter. The boys take turns daring each other to engage in rather dangerous activities as the night goes on. Oh, and there’s a frozen turkey sitting in the back. Soon enough, disaster strikes, and troubling events begin to unfold.

East of Middle West’ is an intricately derived film written by West High alum Mokotsi Rukudo and directed by Brian Lucke Anderson. In this slow-burn crime drama, the audience follows two main characters, Chris and widowed father Denny, as they both navigate through loss and forgiveness.

Rukundo’s ability to convey important messages through underlying themes and have each little detail possess some kind of significance is unmatched. At the beginning of the film, we see the same stadium lights clip used twice; once when following Chris, and another after being introduced to Denny and his family. Foreshadowing is used multiple times throughout the movie to shape and define various events. One easter egg detail that I found interesting when watching the movie is the license plate on a truck seen at the beginning of the film. The license plate reads “6FTUNDR,” which is an accurate portrayal of just what kind of position Chris is in.

This subtle detail at the beginning of the film speaks measures. (Haneen Eltyeb)

Rukundo does a great job of giving depth to all of the characters in this film. Chris and Denny are both multi-dimensional and abstract characters, who require a bit of mystery and complication in order to reach their full potential. Chris’s actions at the beginning of the movie can be categorized by many as unforgivable and incredibly damaging. However, it is important to also note that Chris is not the main villain of the story. Throughout the entirety of the film, he is trying to fix his wrongdoings and become a better person overall. Meanwhile, Denny spirals into a depression and great anger after losing both his wife and daughter. He drinks away his feelings and completely shuts down, rejecting everyone who tries to reach out and help him. Throughout the entirety of the film, Chris and Denny both go through dynamic phases and their character development is nowhere near linear.

You really think people change? Change is impossible. It stays in the blood. ”

— Denny

If you enjoy watching crime and drama, this film is definitely for you. This movie features new and refreshing aspects of creativity. The setting, characters, and plotline all contribute to the uniqueness of this film. The film was set on a low budget and only took 21 days to shoot. Located in Solon, Iowa, the audience gets to experience the sights of rural Iowa and plain atmosphere. Other films typically feature exciting locations that may not necessarily contribute to main plot points, however in ‘East of Middle West,’ this is not the case.

The scenes of rural Iowa emphasize the idea that smaller towns tend to carry more secrecy and ambiguity. Characters in this film differ from each other in the sense of age, sex, how they present themselves, their wants, needs, etc. However, they do share the common trait of keeping secrets and letting on less than they truly can. It’s interesting to watch these characters interact with each other and see their different points of view in action. The plot throws you in for a loop because you think you know what’s going to happen, but then you’re proven wrong time and time again. I think that’s what makes this film so fun to watch. You never know what’s going to happen, so you just sit back and enjoy the ride. And boy, is it one wild ride.

There’s certain things that you just observe and you hear overtime that I don’t think I was trying to make it fit in, it was more so just like a natural way of observing and seeing things.”

— Mokotsi Rukundo

Rukundo wrote this film to tell a human story. He wanted to convey realistic themes and emotions within the characters’ behavior throughout the film. This was a great success since the film spoke to the audience and sparked a conversation about things portrayed in the movie that are also present in our own lives. Whenever we watch a movie, we want to experience it, not just watch it. We are constantly looking for mirrors in the media we consume. Where we can see ourselves in some way, shape, or form. We want to be comforted and assured that we’re not alone. The argument that some parts of this film were unrealistic or blown out of proportion can be made. Still, when taking a step back and looking at the big picture, it becomes glaringly obvious that this film is a work of art in the sense that art imitates life.