The opening images of the movie “Ballast” present a young boy drifting freely in a vast Mississippi Delta flatscape and a middle-aged man immobilized by grief in the darkness of a small rural home. If, among other possibilities, the first can be regarded as an image of hope for “what can be”, and the second an image of regret for “what has become”, it is the emotional expanse between these poles that successive images will seek to reconcile. Although 12 years old, the boy, James, is already beginning to stumble under the weight of poverty endemic to the Delta. As Marlee, his single mother, struggles to sustain their tenuous existence through long hours at a demeaning and poorly paying job, James is left to his own devices. He wanders. His venturings take him into the natural landscape, where he finds solace, and, increasingly, into the turbulent orbit of a group of local teenagers whom he seeks to impress. His willingness to perform the occasional drug drop with his motorcycle bodes well for his acceptance. Patiently, he nurtures this goal. One morning James points his motorcycle in a new direction. He travels fifteen miles to the home of Lawrence, the middle-aged man. Though it is unclear what motivates the cruelty the boy will inflict upon this devastated soul, familiarly suggests a shared history. When James’ interaction with the teenagers turns abruptly violent, Marlee reacts instinctively to excise him from the conflict. They flee their home in the night and alight, inexplicably, on Lawrence’s property. While, in the bodily sense, this will provide them with safe harbor, it will rekindle the fury of a malignant and irresolvable conflict that has existed between Lawrence and Marlee since James’ birth. Lawrence awakens to discover the visitors, Marlee lays claim to half of the property. What ensues is a demonstration of the practical value of humility when the future of a child is in peril. To this end, it is also an exploration of an instinct to protect the ideal of “potential” as it is embodied in youth; in this case, protection from the devastating forces of poverty that seek to mute it. Though grief has left Lawrence hopeless, though guilt has left him suicidal, he must now consider a child. To this child, he can be of use.