Sunday, October 11, 2009

Movie of the week: Slipstream

Anthony Hopkins directed it, hoping (at least what he says in the commentary) to provoke a reaction, to get some people to question the form of the movie itself, or at least step back and look at what they are doing, both with their lives and with the art of film. At least that's my impression of what he said.

Unless you are a Hopkins fanatic you probably did not see this movie in theatrical release -- even if you are it's unlikely you saw it in a theater, since its release was limited to a few film festivals, and a limited run before going to DVD. Which I find terribly sad, since it's one of the most inventive, interesting and risk-taking movies I've seen in years, especially if I limit that list to movies made in the Hollywood system, excluding European movies of the 60s and 70s. This is definitely not a typical Hollywood-style movie, and by Hollywood-stlye I mean the structure that tends to be imposed not just on cartoon adventure movies, but a great deal of the "indie" film making world as well, at this point in the adventure.

Still, I suppose this is to be expected, since the movie directly challenges in many ways the conventions of what a movie is and how it should operate. It's also one of those rare movies that doesn't feel obliged to offer an explicit road map to make the viewer more at ease with what transpires. It shocks, it confuses, and at the end you are left with many questions. Some of those questions can be answered by watching the movie closely again a second or a third time. I suspect a few may never be answerable, but when logic (or the human compulsion to impose "sense" on a random and unjust world) fails there is still the gorgeous camerawork to fall back on, as compensation for not getting all the answers in a simplistic little package -- if you actually think you need to be compensated for that, that is.

What struck me on watching Slipstream at first, without the amendments of explanation or intention, was the way in which it manages to represent, at least as well as something as mechanical and limited as a film can represent it: human consciousness. And perhaps that's where the negative reactions came from? From those who work hardest to avoid accepting how random and free of specific meanings or intentions our own stream of consciousness is?

I found it especially amusing to hear that critics had been upset about the color changes made in post-production to the Corvette that features in the introduction of the characters played by Christian Slater and Jeffrey Tambor. Apparently they'd been text messaging during the minutes that led up to that bit of signalling that, no, this is not your conventional narrative.

There's also a great deal here about the nature of conscience, and a commentary on the mostly American commonplace that we are somehow responsible for our fates, if not through dint of our personal will and good (or bad) deeds, then -- perhaps an even more pernicious notion -- through the workings of our subconscious. In other words, putting paid to the notion that if we "fail" it's somehow a product of our consciousness "creating" that failure.

This is put strongly, yet ambiguously, in an early scene where Hopkins' character is disoriented, while his gorgeous, yet mildly annoying young companion is going on about various New Age notions of past life regression, channeling and 12-step psychobabble, while the narrator's consciousness is flashing up images that counterpoint that sort of grandiose and ultimately egotistical claptrap -- images of the Holocaust, and mass evil from 20th century Nazism and Soviet terror, visited on people who are unlikely to have ever had the luxury to indulge in such fantasies of control.

I could discuss this movie at length, or I could encourage others to find a copy and experience it for themselves. I'm going with Option B.

After all, I can always write a follow-up piece. Unless I get hit by a bus.


  1. great review. I think this movie is more about feeling than understanding. And it worked that way for me.

    I would joke if my english wasn't so bad, so excuse me if I don't seem funny, because actually i'm very funny. I have to be able to laugh about everything, otherwise how could i survive having nicolas sarkozy as the president of my country?

  2. Thanks for the thoughts. You'd have my sympathies if I hadn't had to live through Bush the Lesser. ;)


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