The early star power of Shia LaBeouf outside of Even Stevens began fifteen years ago in a little Disney movie called Holes. A Shawshank Redemption for a younger generation, Holes remains a classic for its story of friendship and intertwining tales of legends and destiny.
This story within a story (within another story) structure gave the film maturity, as each part is unfurled at a steady and engaging pace. But it wasn’t just simple flashbacks that told us of Kate Barlow. As Stanley Yelnats (LaBeouf) learned of the legendary outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow, so too did the audience, giving the film an air of mythic qualities to it. The Camp Green Lake portion of the film may be steeped in friendship and loyalty, but the plot takes its roots from folklore, legends, and stories.
I think that’s what kept me going back to Holes every so often. The film is undoubtedly about Stanley’s time “building character” at Camp Green Lake, but the story of Kate Barlow is the most impactful. She’s Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy, a certified legendary outlaw in her own right. Though she may just be part of Green Lake’s past, her story is fully realized and adds a great amount of tragedy to Holes, balanced by the comradeship and young juvenile quirks of the main story. Though her relationship with Sam (Dule Hill) gets little screen time, it’s one that hurts every time that gun shot rings out, killing Sam. This part of the story also touches on race relations a bit, as the town of Green Lake sets out to punish Kate and Sam for their interracial relationship. A little one note, but a topic not often found in such blatant terms in a children’s film and/or book.
Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, and Tim Blake Nelson rounded out the rest of Camp Green Lake. They’re some of the three best villains I can remember from my childhood because they all had humanizing qualities to them — Mr. Sir’s real name being Marion, Pendanski not being an actual doctor but still calling himself one, and the Warden’s revelation of what probably amounts to child labor, digging holes on her grandfather’s property, searching for treasure. It’s a small flashback scene, but one that’s necessary to understanding a huge part of the movie and the Warden herself. In the same way we understand Kate’s criminal turn, we understand, at least a small part, of the life the Warden may have led.
Tales of curses and magic may be looked down and begrudged in the Yelnats household, but there’s something entirely endearing about it. The Yelnats’ men may blame their family curse on their no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great great grandfather, but it’s a story that ties the remaining Yelnats’ together. Not only is Holes cool (remember, this was the theme song), but it ultimately came down to family. The ones that came before us, the ones we were given, and the ones we chose. Destiny may play a small part in it all, but Stanley and Zero (Khelo Thomas) weren’t aware of fulfilling their destiny until after the fact. I love how the past informs the present, and in Holes, all that matters is that the audience is aware of the full story. Zero may have taken shelter in the desert under Sam’s old boat, but we’re the only ones who understand the meaning, of how that boat ended up at the bottom of the lake, only to save someone’s life years later. Stories often have a circular nature to them, but Holes flawlessly navigated the triteness that destiny can be, by reminding us everyone has a story, and there’s often more to them than we ever thought.