Directed By Charlie Kaufman
Starring – Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette
The Plot – Despite second thoughts about their relationship, a young woman (Jessie Buckley) takes a road trip with her new boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to his family farm. Trapped at the farm during a snowstorm with Jake’s mother (Toni Collette) and father (David Thewlis), the young woman begins to question the nature of everything she knew or understood about her boyfriend, herself, and the world. An exploration of regret, longing and the fragility of the human spirit.
Rated R for adult language including some sexual references
– Film psychosis. First and foremost, this is a subliminally complex narrative that springs from a minimalist plot, and requires you to study the complete picture before understanding what comes to light is in fact intentional. To anyone who has seen any of Kaufman’s previous films, this is very much par for the course, but what makes this movie’s ambition truly stand out is that all of the clues are scattered throughout the many conversations and set details that vividly paint the bigger picture, and hit on a wide pallet of thematic impulse that ranges anywhere between life, love, regret, subconscious, and obviously death. Most importantly, nothing ever felt too cryptic for my taste despite me not figuring out every single answer to every single subplot contained. This was a problem with a movie like “Tenet”, where much of what is elaborated at is still hypothetical at best. Kaufman’s narrative doesn’t require the same leaps of faith, instead deconstructing through a multi-layered psychological slowburn that is more rewarding with the more you pull from its memories.
– Beautifully dreary. As a visionary, Kaufman transfixes us with a lucidly surreal presentation that preserves alluring artistry in the cold, damp conditions that this movie takes us through. The 4:3 aspect ratio emits a fantastical approach that is similar to television production’s of the 60’s and 70’s, where each frame feels tailored for a singular character. Likewise, the drab of the movie’s subtle color scheme plays wholeheartedly into the transitional sequences that stylistically and intentionally play to an outdated quality within the film’s constant transformations, and often requires our eyes to adjust to the facial registries that glow in the darkness. Finally, the immersive cinematography from acclaimed technical master Lukasz Zal purchases depth to the film’s constant blizzard weather conditions, which occasionally bred a chill from within the endless flakes that blanket our characters and their conflicts continuously. There’s a constant isolation factor that washes over each of them in the deep freeze of a twilight chill, mirroring a self-loathing depression that is par for the course for the movie’s tonal capacity.
– Scene stealers. The work from Plemons, Buckley, Collette, and David Thewlis is simply phenomenal, showcasing each of them for distinctly different reasons that captivates with riveting results. For Collette and Thewlis’ married couple, we come to understand that a few floorboards aren’t the only thing with a few loose screws, particularly Toni’s mental frailty, which began in 2017’s “Hereditary”, and feels like the fully fledged evolution here before our very eyes. Her squealing deliveries and mental deficiencies illustrate a fine amount of empathy and pity for the character that chews up the scenery with every opportunity, and likewise within the struggling dementia of Thewlis’ husband character, we see the fledging struggle of a man desperately trying to hang on to his best memories. But the leads put the butts in the seats, and in that regard, it’s a plateau performance for Plemons, whose fragile nerves outline a man who constantly feels two seconds from snapping. The chemistry between he and Buckley is great for an entirely unconventional manner than we’re typically used to, in that they feel like opponents in a mental game of chess, where they are wearing each other down. It rounds out a talented ensemble who each bring their respective A-game’s, and cement the biggest threat for Netflix to make an awards push during a cinematically depleted year.
– Devil in the details. Easily the most impressive aspect to Kaufman’s script is the barrage of meaningful details that play into the hand of what this movie is trying to convey. The dialogue is entirely meaningful, not only harvesting an authentic quality of transition between each colorful topic, but also in the manner which each delivery overlaps the other one, thus granting meaning to the story’s carefully technique’d storytelling device. In addition to this, there’s small trinkets and zeroed-in background props that are given a bit too much attention and relevancy to feel like an afterthought, and inevitably weigh a heavier circumstance with future rewatches once you understand the game afoot. I give this production a lot of credit for adding meaning in the nuance of the things production designers often overlook, if only for the way there’s a bigger story attached to each of them. It forces you to pay attention more faithfully than you would during a scene of self-reflection, and cloaks much of the film’s backdrops with secret meaning that is anything but a one-off reflection in a series of crowded memories.
– Unnerving photography. Aside from his breathtaking aesthetics and cerebral screenwriting, Kaufman preserves his status as a triple threat with a complex shot composition that continuously alludes to this feeling of uncertainty plaguing the air. It starts with a diverse selection of unorthodox angles and depictions that constantly feel alienated by a frosty window or concealed facial registry. This sounds like a negative, but is positively reinforced within the framing device with some clever tricks of its own to mirror what is transpiring. Without spoiling anything, I will say to pay close attention to the shots involving Plemons and Buckley together, and see if anything stands out from the isolated personal shots between them with a more clear contrast. It’s devilishly clever creativity that springs from one of the more experimental filmmakers of our time, and cements depth in the many facets of this film’s production that lives and breathes as one cohesive unit.
– Sporadic musical cues. I’m blown away by the movie’s minimalist approach to musical accompaniment that only feels reserved for those moments of necessary authenticity. Every other moment void of music offers very little distraction or relief from the moments of thickly defined tension that reaches suffocating levels of exhaust before our transitional release. When the music reaches its peak importance during the third act it’s for an actual musical sequence, complete with expressionist dancing and stage-like effects that supplant what could be my single favorite scene for any movie in 2020. It’s dreamy, emotionally resonant, and invigorating in many well-rounded ways, and plays so effectively to the foreground of this story, which surprisingly we’re very rarely treated to.
– Strange editing. The cause of an intentionally disjointed editing scheme which consistently plays into the film’s story device offers a jarring effect in continuity, which often feels like gaps are frequently missing from this film. This certainly adds to the unnerving element of the movie’s production, but what truly allows it worthy of its own moment of recognition is the way it distorts between two respective arcs that are different in time frame, but simultaneously on a track towards burning through the same wick. Even for a brilliantly gifted mind like Kaufman’s this feels innovative for the weight of consequence it exerts on the film, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality seamlessly, all the while documenting the strange patterns of release in human interaction.
– Expansive title. It’s rare that I get to gush about a movie’s title, if only because it’s often overlooked by the ways studios throw literally any word or two words together to summarize the material, but author Iain Reid seems to have all of his ducks in a row, creating a title for his novel that succeeds on everything in the foreground, while also somehow complimenting what is present once the other shoe drops, and the material expands. Truth be told, I haven’t read the book that the movie is based on, but it’s my understanding that it better articulates the twist in question, and better elaborates on the central protagonist’s jaded disposition that led to such a mentality. As for the title, it takes on a dual meaning in a way that reshapes and redefines what those five words take on, and is every bit perfect for this story because it maintains ambiguity despite how much about it you may already assume.
– The big R. Even for a movie with this level of self-loathing and overall emphasis for the depression, there’s this optimistic note of consciousness attached to its message that outlined everything contained in the picture. Jake is very much a man who lived an inferior life unexplored. All of his attempts at art and science never came fully to fruition because of his anxiousness to pursue them, and in the end he becomes a character with only his memories to blanket him, and the messes of the past that he continuously must clean up in order to find solace in his past decisions. So the word in question here is certainly regret, and how it packs the pounds onto a subconscious that weighs heavily in the complexion of the foreground of the character. So as much as Kaufman puts his protagonist through the ringer of a life unfulfilled, his communication to the audience is to continuously reach for the tallest heights, and explore life with all of its circumstantial avenues. In the end, all any of us have are the memories of our past experiences and decisions, and those will be the ones that define us in the figure each of us becomes. Unsurprisingly hefty material for a contemporary genius of the silver screen.
– Accessibility. Even though I feel like I accurately picked up on everything that Kaufman was serving throughout this film, those who don’t are certainly at risk for feeling alienated by a film with sometimes bloated execution of its meaningful themes. For one, the 134 minute run time is more than enough to manufacture an antsy feeling for audiences who just want something fun and exciting thrown to the screen to reaffirm their ambitious investment in it. Likewise, some of the scenes could certainly be trimmed down without losing anything in translation. It’s the self-indulging side of Kaufman that sometimes gets the best of him, and will test the patience of anyone with even a slight distraction with their investment to the screen. Finally, those struggling to adapt to what Kaufman is throwing them would be better suited to read the novel of the same name before viewing the film. The problem with this logic is that films are their own form of media that live and die on their own, and shouldn’t require additional forms of art to decipher their material (See Southland Tales). This movie wasn’t necessarily a problem for me, but it’s easy to understand how others won’t as easily take to it because of these factors, and ultimately doom the film’s collective appeal because it requires audiences to dig for the answers.
My Grade: 9/10 or A-