This was not the piece I expected to write about The Suicide Squad. I had a completely different idea in mind as the film began but as I watched the movie I realized this was what I needed to talk about. I’ve always loved stories. Who doesn’t? Reading, watching, telling, and listening to them – I’m here for all of it! I will reread and rewatch the stories I love again and again and again. The right story takes a place in our heart like nothing else can. Years ago this blog was born, in part, as an outlet to write about the stories I love (so maybe I’d talk about them a little less in real life (but the exact opposite occurred XD)). I love thinking about stories, talking about stories, analyzing and deconstructing stories, teaching with and through stories – I love it all. So I needed to write about Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher 2, played by Daniela Melchior and written/directed by James Gunn in The Suicide Squad, because never in my whole life has any character in any story ever moved what this character in this story moved within me. And that is certainly something worthy of exploration! This piece has a few minor spoilers for the film but you’ll be warned beforehand.
The Suicide Squad, formally known as Task Force X, is a team run by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) out of Belle Reve Federal Penitentiary, consisting of supervillains serving lengthy sentences. They can serve as the ultimate black ops team, doing the missions the U.S. government needs done while being absolutely expendable in every way. If they survive, a number of years are taken off of their sentences. If they die, no one’s going to sweat the death of a supervillain. And if they try and go off mission, escape or do anything other than what they are tasked to do, Waller remotely detonates the explosive charge she’s implanted in their neck, killing them instantly. Led by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the team in The Suicide Squad includes (but is not limited to (this movie has a BIG cast)) Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Robert DuBois/Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Abner Krill/Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Nanaue/King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), Christopher Smith/Peacemaker (John Cena), George Harkness/Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Brian Durlin/Savant (Michael Rooker), and – of course – Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior). Cleo’s father was the original Ratcatcher and he pioneered the technology that helps Cleo communicate with and control rats. When he died she took over his mantle, hence the “2.”
In The Suicide Squad, Waller sends the team to Corto Maltese, a small (fictional) island off the coast of South America. An uprising has left a less-U.S.-friendly government in place so they are to find Doctor Gaius Grieves/the Thinker (Peter Capaldi) in order to disable Project Starfish. Incidentally, I LOVE that James Gunn chose Starro the Conqueror as the main danger in this movie, having the Suicide Squad face the very threat which first caused the Justice League to form in 1960’s The Brave and the Bold #28.
So what made my experience with/of Ratcatcher 2 so unique for me? Well, it’s this. You see, I hate mice and rats. I detest mice and rats. I LOATHE mice and rats. I always have. They aren’t created by God. Nope. Everything that ever is, was, or will be came into existence through the transcendent ground of all being which is the infinite divinity we often call God…except mice and rats. I’m certain they were spat forth from the bowels of hell because even the Devil himself can’t stand these creatures. They sit there with their creepy tales, bristly fur, clammy little feet, and their cold, soulless, beady eyes just waiting for the chance to consume all that is good in the world. I even hated the Disney/Pixar film Ratatouille. When I saw it I had to try not to throw up thinking of a creature like Remy around my food and spent the film wishing the health inspector in Paris would shut that restaurant down.
To illustrate my feelings, I’m going to quote a series of texts I exchanged with Hannah years ago when, as I sat on my couch eating breakfast and texting with her about an exam we were writing, a mouse darted out from behind my couch. Note, nothing has been exaggerated or embellished. These were my true, unfiltered emotions:
Me – FUCK!!!!
Me – There’s a FUCKING MOUSE IN MY HOUSE!!!
Me – I’m FUCKING MOVING!
Hannah – Mine too.
Me – FUCK THIS!!!!!
Me – I can’t do this shit!!!
Hannah – Where is it?
Me – RIGHT IN MY FUCKING LIVING ROOM BEHIND MY FUCKING COUCH AND I HATE THIS AND I WANT IT TO DIE AND I THINK I HAVE TO MOVE AND THIS IS FUCKING BULLSHIT AND I WANT TO BURN IT AND THIS HOUSE AND ITS WHOLE FUCKING MOUSE FAMILY TO THE GROUND FOREVER.
Me – I HAVE NEVER WANTED SOMETHING DEAD WITH SUCH A PURE BURNING PASSION.
Hannah – Calm down!
Me – FUCK THIS GODFORSAKEN RODENT.
Me – I AM AT THE ONLY APPROPRIATE LEVEL OF CALM FOR THIS SITUATION!!!
Hannah – It’s a mouse
Me – I know! I can’t sleep here tonight. I’ll have to go back to my parents. I can stay there this weekend…or forever.
Me – I called Dad to come kill it but until I see it’s body I can’t be here.
Hannah – Michael!
Hannah – You’re a grown man!
Me – I’m literally standing on my couch now and have been since the first text.
Hannah – Sometimes…
Hannah – Want me to come over and get it?
Hannah – I’ll let it go outside.
Me – You’re welcome to try. But I doubt we have time before work…
Me – And I hope it’s dead and broken by the end of the work day.
Hannah – True.
Me – Or, again, I won’t be here tonight. I can’t sleep with this fucking monster in the house.
Hannah – It’s one of God’s creatures.
Me – No, mice and rats aren’t.
Me – BLACK PLAGUE! THEY DECIMATED OVER A THIRD OF EUROPE’S POPULATION!!!
Hannah – I had a pet rat.
Me – Well you are welcome to come over and befriend this monstrosity.
Me – I have no idea how I’ll get to work as I can’t get off the couch.
Me – FUCK! IT IS IN MY HOUSE! I’LL NEVER FEEL SAFE HERE AGAIN.
Hannah – Oh sweet fuck.
Me – I can’t breathe. The more I think about it the less I can breathe…
Me – I’m going to have some sort of panic attack and then I’ll die here and the mouse will eat my fucking corpse and that’s what it wants.
This went on for sometime and I ended up being late for work (if you’d like to read the whole story, you can click here). Theresa had to watch my homeroom as I literally stood on my couch until Dad arrived. I couldn’t move! What if it got me?!!? What if it moved and hid somewhere else?!!? So I stood on the couch until Dad got there. Then I helped him set the traps and, when I eventually got to work, I had forgotten to put a belt on and I had peanut butter in my hair from setting the traps. But I survived!
A few months ago I heard – gah – scratching in my garage. So I called Dad again and he set some traps. I came home one day to see a mouse’s dead body in the trap in my garage. That’s what you get for invading my home. Then I just…left it there. I wasn’t going to touch it! Plus, this way it would serve as an If you come in here this will happen to you warning to others. And yeah, it would stink when it started to decompose but a) it’s one little mouse so it couldn’t stink that much and b) any stink was better than my actually touching it. Hannah came over one day for a walk and for me to cut her hair and offered to “be an adult” and take the mouse out of the trap and dispose of it in the garbage for me. Naturally, like any sane human being, I told her if she touched it not only wouldn’t I let her in my house to cut her hair but I’d never let her in my home again. It could stay there until it decomposed and the breeze scattered the dust of its bones on the winds.
Ultimately Dad stopped one day while I was at work and threw it away, saving the day again. Anyway, there is literally nothing in all of creation I fear more than mice and rats (nothing physical/living at least, I’m not including deep personal fears like abandonment or failing those I love here). I HATE THEM.
Or rather, I did…until I met Cleo Caso and her little vest-wearing rat bestie, Sebastian.
She and her rat friends have my whole heart. I’m not even going to pretend otherwise. I rooted for Cleo. I empathized with Cleo. I loved Cleo! One of the innovative things about The Suicide Squad, especially for a superhero movie, is characters die at a rate making it clear we can lose any of them (well, Harley was probably safe). This brought a sense of risk and consequence lacking in most comic book movies. And, given the fact I was pretty sure Harley was safe, I found myself worrying about Cleo more than any other character in the film! This woman, who let rats crawl over her, was who I couldn’t bear to see die. I couldn’t bear the thought of anything bad happening to her! If that isn’t insane enough for me, I was also worried about Sebastian and all the other adorable little rats she talked to more than any other character in the film.
Yes, you read that right. The very same person who texted the above sentiments worried more for Ratcatcher 2 and Sebastian the rat than the other human characters in the film (I won’t spoil who lives and who dies, obvs.). In fact, I walked out of The Suicide Squad not just loving Cleo Caso but thinking with the utmost sincerity, “Hmmm, I wonder if I’ve been wrong about rats and mice? Maybe I should give them another chance.”
As the weight of this hit me, I kept thinking THIS IS WHAT A STORY CAN DO.
I spent two hours with Cleo, as played by Daniela Melchior and as written/directed by James Gun, and my unshakable greatest fear changed. Up until the movie began, I’d’ve told you my ever having anything remotely resembling a warm feeling for a mouse or rat was impossible. But then I saw The Suicide Squad and this movement in me occurred as a result of the character brought to life before me. I’ve been touched by many stories. They’ve inspired, shaken, moved, tested, challenged, and changed me. But never in my whole life has a single character in a single story brought about such a fundamental shift within me. Granted, I don’t know how I’d react if one scurried out from under my couch now…but there’s a real chance that deep revulsion and fear would be gone. I wept at the beauty of some scenes with Cleo and her rats. I wept at the beauty of rats.
We live in a world of facts and we ignore the realities of science and history at our own peril. But we are a people of stories. Nothing can move us like a story can. Just look at what The Suicide Squad moved in me! This happened as a direct result of the story James Gunn told and how Daniela Melchior brought Cleo Cazo to life.
What once was impossible became very real. The very thing which once caused utter revulsion and fear to instinctively bubble up inside me became a beautiful creature I cared for. “UGH”s and “FUCK”s were replaced with “Awwwwww”s. A character who caused me to cringe in the theatre when she was introduced in Belle Reve stole my whole heart and became my – hands down, far and away – favorite character in the film (which, rats aside, is an impressive feat given the deep love and respect I have for Harley Quinn (which you can read more about here and here and here if you’d like). Daniela Melchior and James Gunn made this happen. The impossible became possible! And how cool is that?!?
Every so often we experience a story which truly reminds us what a story can do and I found this with Ratcatcher 2 in The Suicide Squad. As I drove home from the theatre after seeing the movie I kept thinking of one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes. In “The Shakespeare Code,” the Tenth Doctor takes Martha Jones to the Globe Theatre to see one of Shakespeare’s plays. Of course, because it’s Doctor Who, the Doctor and Martha are soon wrapped up in a mystery involving witches. As their investigation brings them back to the Globe, the Doctor tells Shakespeare, “Ah, but the theatre’s magic, isn’t it? You should know. Stand on this stage, say the right words with the right emphasis at the right time, oh, you can make men weep. Or cry with joy. Change them. You can change people’s minds just with words in this place.”
I’ve never had a more immediate nor more far-reaching experience of that sort of change in my own life than I did watching Cleo Cazo in The Suicide Squad. But how couldn’t I love Cleo, Sebastian, and the other rats she called her friends?!? As a head’s up, light spoilers will be in the next paragraph. I’d only say you need avoid this if, like me, you prefer to go into a movie knowing NOTHING.
Cleo is full of compassion, standing at the Suicide Squad’s center, creating real bonds with those around her. When the team becomes worried Nanaue/King Shark will eat them – as it’s very evident humans are his favorite “num-nums” – Cleo puts their minds at ease by befriending him. Robert DuBois/Bloodsport, reluctantly a part of the mission only to help his daughter, soon drops his guard with Cleo and they develop a sincere connection. He sees his own daughter in her and she, perhaps, sees a bit of her father in him. Cleo listens. Cleo cares. Unlike many on the Suicide Squad, she’s interested in doing the right thing because it’s the right thing. She found herself in Belle Reve because she came to the U.S. after the death of her father, seeking the promise of a better life. When she encountered the difficulties so many immigrants face in gaining residency and finding a job and affordable housing, she followed her father’s model and used some of her rats to rob a bank. The rats were deemed a superweapon and she was sent to Belle Reve. It’s clear she isn’t a “bad person” in any way. She was trapped in a shitty situation and used the only means she had to try and get out…and the system struck back. Yet she doesn’t carry what would be a very understandable chip on her shoulder. She is so caring, radiating warmth and welcome. When she befriends Nanaue it’s clear Bloodsport and Peacemaker don’t trust him and they caution Cleo not to trust him either. With a smile on her face she tells them, “If I die ’cause I gambled on love, it will be a worthy death.”
How do you not empathize with such a beautiful character? I saw how sincerely she loved everyone, how open to life she was and I couldn’t help but connect with her. And, in that connection, I saw how much she loved her rats, too…and they found their way into my heart on Cleo’s heels. This next paragraph discussed the scene which moved me to tears with its beauty. As a result, there are MORE SERIOUS SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH. It’s no major plot twists or anything but the scene is a key emotional moment and it’s revealed closer to the end of the film so I don’t just want to go throwing it at you without you knowing. So you can read it OR skip the next paragraph and read the rest of this without fear of any more spoilers, large or small.
We get flashback where we see a young Cleo (Maya Le Clark) growing up with her father (Taika Waititi). Her father is unnamed so we know him only as “Ratcatcher.” In her youth, he taught his daughter to tame, train, and control rats. Despite developing the technology to help them control rats as they do, they were homeless and he struggled with addiction. He would ultimately die of an overdose. We see the most beautiful scene where, sitting with her father on a roof, Cleo asks, “Why rats, Papa?” He replies, “Because, my love, rats are the lowliest and most despised of all creatures, and if they have purpose, then so do we all.” I started crying right there. Yep. Hello. I couldn’t’ve despised them more. But here I was, seeing my point of view through the eyes of Ratcatcher and it felt…wrong. I could see, what embracing his point of view helped his daughter grow into, too. It was all so beautiful and I just thought…I was wrong.
I was wrong. I was wrong about mice and rats. There is very real beauty to these creatures. Sharing this revelation with those who know me elicited shocked stares alongside the presumption they misheard me and/or the immediate affirmation they need to see this movie, too. Because if The Suicide Squad can make ME have warm thoughts of love and affection towards mice and rats than it has to be one helluva story.
Now, if you’ve been anywhere near the internet in the last few days you know I’m far from the only one who’s fallen in love with Daniela Melchior’s Cleo Cazo. As I write this, it’s 10:26 pm on Friday, 6 August and I just glanced at the #Ratcatcher2 hashtag on Twitter. Here’s a very small sampling of the love pouring out there:
It’s not just social media, either. An equally lazy Google search shows all sorts of articles popping up about her saying the same. Tracy Brown’s piece for The Los Angeles Times is titled “Meet Daniela Melchior, the heart of James Gunn’s ‘The Suicide Squad’.” Christopher Rosa’s Glamour piece agrees, “Daniela Melchior Is the Heart of the New Suicide Squad Movie.” Aaron Couch’s piece in The Hollywood Reporter proclaims, “Next Big Thing: ‘The Suicide Squad’ Star Daniela Melchior Goes From Regional Fame to Global Reach” and Jessica Baker discusses how, “Everyone Is Talking About This Breakout Star From The Suicide Squad” on Yahoo! Life.
So she’s CLEARLY AMAZING and the fact that I was so moved by how James Gunn wrote and how Daniela Melchior played Cleo Cazo is in no way unique. And that makes me happy! The Suicide Squad deserves all the rave reviews its getting and Ratcatcher 2 deserves to be credited as its heart! In an age when “fandom” is so often a dirty word connotating a space rife with angry divisions, I love to see everyone lovin’ up on Cleo Cazo.
What was born in Daniela Mechior’s Cleo Cazo inside James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad was legitimately miraculous for me, making the impossible possible. The right people saying the right words with the right emphasis at the right time can change people’s minds. That is the power of a story. They can change us. Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher 2 changed me and The Suicide Squad will always be a poignant, personal reminder for me that everyone can change and we can always change for the better.