10. These scenes increasingly ascribe to personal meaning. For example, after Jim is sent off to boarding school she says to Joe, “Every time I see him go….it breaks my heart. He needs an education.” Presumably she wants Jim to have options other than working on the barge his entire life. As such, the demands of an increasingly educated society alienate her from her own son and create a gulf of loneliness that she navigates by busy work and by the diversion of a primal enterprise with Joe. In the scene in which she expresses these feelings to Joe, Ella bears her breasts and he kisses them in the midst of her mournful maternal sway.
11.Past and present, everything Joe does is an analysis of his own loneliness,
16. By trial’s end Joe is more intense than ever. He steps to the river’s edge framed again by the ripples. We look down upon him from behind almost as though his were now the body floating dead. He looks at himself in the pocket mirror, the last time he will do so seeking glimmers of humanity or reason to think lightly of life. And Joe’s great nightmare, that it is indeed possible to live a life without leaving fingerprints, to drift through without responsibility…that seemed some kind of liberal dream… it’s actually a nightmare.” (Swinton)