Sunday, September 16, 2018

Recent Films

I thought I would write some brief impressions of recent films. A version of these summaries appeared on the Facebook page for my recent novel, The Bigger Picture.
Leave No Trace is an independent movie that reminds one of Captain Fantastic released a few years back about a father keeping his family off of the grid. In this more somber new story, the focus is on a war veteran with PTSD who has raised his daughter in the woods because he no longer can function in society. The mainstream world seems restrictive and intrusive in this film, but there are those among the victims who try to help each other on the outskirts of civilization. Good acting and very involving.
Before seeing Hereditary I was expecting an interesting psychological and scary portrait of a warped family. It was that, but the movie was slow at the beginning, and did not engage my attention. There were huge gaps in the plot that didn't even attempt to shed light on the crazy actions that were occurring until a feeble bit of explanation was made at the end. I really can't recommend this one.
I looked forward to seeing The Equalizer II since I enjoyed the first entry in this series, and, again, Denzel Washington delivers. Has this actor ever been less than excellent? Yes, the film has the usual amount of violence and mayhem that we see in action movies. Here, however, the story takes the time to show supporting characters who are struggling to make their lives better despite the punishing realities they must face. There is the alcoholic trying to stay sober, the Holocaust survivor searching for a long lost relative, and the youth with artistic talent being sucked into the gang culture in his neighborhood. Washington's character, who has suffered the loss of people he loves, is a control freak, lining up his fruit in formation and constantly checking his watch to make sure he meets his self-imposed time limits. But, there is one scene where his inner demons break loose, and we see that he is as tortured as those he tries to help. There is an actual hurricane in the movie (and Washington starred in the film The Hurricane). It is symbolic of the uncontrollable forces that seem to batter all of us on the outside and also on the inside.
If you want action, great stunts, digital or otherwise, Mission Impossible: Fallout delivers. It would help to have seen previous entries in this series concerning the characters, but it is not essential. There are many plot twists, maybe too many, because it is not easy to follow all of the scams being perpetrated. But, the plot keeps the audience alert with its many surprises.
I was skeptical of how successful the remake of Murder on the Orient Express would be. The plot in the newer version was changed enough to make it interesting to watch even if you saw the earlier Sidney Lumet directed movie. The cast was good, but it didn't top the previous one headed by Albert Finney as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot with Ingrid Bergman’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar performance. If you haven't watched the first one, try viewing it and then compare it to the recent one. Then, decide for yourselves which you prefer.
I noticed that the movie Tully came out on DVD. If you get a chance to see this movie, it's well worth it. Charlize Theron is great in this film, and should get an Oscar nomination. The film does not idealize motherhood, showing how tough modern times are on being a female parent. If you're observant, you'll see the plot twist that will come at the end of the story.
BlacKkKlansman is a powerful film that gets its message across using humor mixed with deadly serious drama. Spike Lee is not a subtle filmmaker, but he is a very accomplished one. The thrust here is story and theme, not character development. He uses his movie history knowledge to comment on how racism in the motion picture industry has existed since the original "Birth of a Nation," through the Tarzan films, and in the stereotypes portrayed in  Shaft and Super Fly. This story is based on an almost unbelievable true story about a black policeman who infiltrates the KKK on the phone, and then sends a white cop to meetings in person to be his alter ego. Lee uses phrases such as "America first," and the desire to start another "Tea Party," as ways of connecting the story to current times. He shows how the white supremacists used fear of immigrants to further their cause, obviously making a reference to recent events. In the end, he uses footage of the Charlottesville, VA riot to cement his argument that racism has a long and unhealthy history in the USA.
Maybe you haven't heard of the recent film Eighth Grade, but it received great critical response, and rightly so. Those middle years have always been rough for unpopular or socially-challenged youths. This movie brings that struggle up to the current day when cell phones and social media play a part, for better and for worse. The main character basically talks to herself through supposedly shared video posts. She is really revealing her true nature below the shy exterior shown in public. Through these posts, she is actually urging herself to come out of her shell and make more of her life. The movie also shows when adults don’t act their age, trying to relate to kids by using youthful words and actions, they come off looking lame.
The Meg is what a friend of mine would call a “no zzz movie.” There is so much action that if you fell asleep during this one, you should check yourself into a narcolepsy clinic. Jason Statham plays a wisecracking testosterone-fueled character (you expected something else?), as he reluctantly gets involved in saving others from the prehistoric supersized shark that humans released from under an ice covered ocean bottom natural aquarium. It’s sort of payback for science messing too much with mother nature. Good special effects, but no real character development. Probably the fourth best shark film I have seen after Jaws (of course), The Shallows, and Deep Blue Sea. Actually, fifth best if you include Open Water, but that’s more about abandonment than sharks. Because of another recent film, when I saw the shark attacking eastern tourists at an upscale beach, I thought of a mash-up: Crazy, Rich Tasty Asians.
I was just watching Schindler’s List again for my next post. It was interesting to see Ben Kingsley portray a Jewish business manager helping Jews escape occupied Poland in that film, and then watch him in the polar opposite role of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Operation Finale. I remember as a child watching excerpts of the trial of Eichmann on television, showing him housed in a bulletproof transparent cage in the courtroom. It was the only time I saw a Nazi who was involved in the Holocaust, and it was chilling to see him even at an early age. The recent film references Eichmann’s role of being in charge of transporting Jewish prisoners to ghettos and concentration camps for eventual extermination. Israeli agents, headed by one played by Oscar Isaac, go to Argentina (whose compromised law enforcement departments protected the Nazis) to extract Eichmann, not assassinate him. The goal was to have the world witness his trial and remember the atrocities that Hitler’s Germany inflicted on millions. The best scenes are between Kingsley and Isaac, as Eichmann tries to present himself as not really believing in the “superior race” concept, since none of the Nazi leaders looked Aryan, including the dark-haired Hitler. He also argues that he actually tried to save some Jews. One flaw in the film is that it doesn’t deliver on the danger built up surrounding what might happen to the Israeli agents if they didn’t get on the plane to Israel with Eichmann. Also, Argo is more effective in dramatizing a real life escape from a hostile country, and the fictional film The Debt is more intense and dramatically satisfying depicting a similar story of Israeli agents capturing a Nazi criminal and trying to bring him to justice.

The next film to be analyzed is Schindler’s List.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Hell or High Water

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
One of the best movie scripts, written by Taylor Sheridan, in recent years is the basis for this 2016 film. The title usually refers to a task that must be completed no matter what obstacles are in the way. IMDb also notes that it refers to language that was used in a lease contract, which stipulated that the occupant must make his or her payments without exception. The general and the specific references of the phrase fit this story, as two brothers rob banks to make a payment on a ranch in West Texas. Also, this movie is sort of a male companion piece to Thelma and Louise, recently analyzed here, about crime, the ends justifying the means, and hitting the road.
Actor Gil Birmingham, who plays Texas Ranger Alberto Parker, the partner of Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), said that the film is about two contentious pairs of brothers, one connected by blood, the other by vocation. As we see, the brothers in crime are mirrored by the two men on the side of the law. The movie opens with plaintive string instrument music in the background, reminiscent of another crime in the heartland film, Fargo. The first shot is of a rural, desolate town with old pickup trucks and run down houses. There are these words written on the side of a building: “3 tours in Iraq, but no bailout for people like us.” Of course the graffiti refers to the 2008 government bailout of the Wall Street investment banks after they put people in huge debt by selling them inflated mortgages that the owners could not pay off. These multi-billion dollar financial institutions were deemed “too big to fail.” But, the thrust of the writing on the wall here is that soldiers who put their lives on the line, and came home damaged physically and psychologically, were too small to worry about. Right away we know that even though this movie centers on two brothers robbing banks for relatively small amounts, the real criminals are considered the economy destroying banks.
A car pulls up to a branch of the Texas Midland Bank (so we know where we are without some intrusive titles pasted on the screen). The building is across from a Goodyear tire store which has a brick wall formation that looks like three crosses. The image contrasts religious and profane visuals in the same shot, and suggests the conflicted feelings we will have as we witness the actions and motives of the two brothers. (IMDb suggests the crosses refer to the three law-abiding people later killed in the story). Brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster, in a performance that should have earned him an Oscar nomination) approach the bank wearing ski masks as the female teller opens the door. She says the money is in the safe and not the drawer. She lectures the two men by saying they should leave now, and then would be “only guilty of being stupid.” Tanner shows he is a hothead, daring her to stay he’s stupid again. (The teller’s assessment is wrong, as we learn during the course of the film that these two are anything but stupid). Toby is more calm and quiet, and only wants to know when the bank manager will arrive since he is the one with the safe combination. The manger enters, sees his teller on the floor and then hears a gun cock. He knows what’s happening, but still says, comically, given the circumstances, in a Texas folksy manner, “Good Morning.” Tanner whacks the manager across the nose with his gun, showing the two Texas elements standing side by side, one being courtesy and the other violence. This combination is repeated in the rest of the movie.
As they drive away, Toby’s cautious and restrained personality is seen when he tells Tanner that he didn’t have to hit the bank manager, and says his brother  should stop speeding. Tanner is more carefree, assuring Toby he doesn’t have to worry. They drive their dusty sports sedan past some oil fields, which is a foreshadowing of what will figure into the story later. There is an older man at the next Midland branch depositing a large number of coins in wrappers which he found underneath some sacks of feed. He says he didn’t know he had some extra money sitting there while he lived off an “inmate’s diet.” The metaphor likens his impoverished life to serving a sentence in a prison. It’s as if the poor are already in jail without committing a crime, except being guilty of not having any money and the power that derives from it. The brothers burst in, and there is a Bonnie and Clyde feel to their robbery as Toby tells the old man, “We ain’t stealing from you. We’re stealing from the bank.” Just like Bonnie and Clyde, these brothers don’t go after poor people. Keeping that “bailout” sign in mind, it appears that Toby and Tanner are getting their share from those who received it from the government. In essence, they are robbing the middleman in order to get restitution for crimes committed against them. Tanner asks only for smaller bills, and not bundles, so the money won’t be traced. Since they are not directly stealing his coins, the old man, like the bank manager, is mannerly and says, “Much obliged.” Toby says “Sorry,” also being courteous, but it also shows the contrast in the brothers’ temperaments. Then that contrasting violence inserts itself. You know it’s Texas when they ask the old man if he has a gun, and he says, “You’re goddamn right I got a gun.” As they leave, the old man shifts into angry mode, calling the robbers bastards, and starts shooting at them. Tanner yells at Toby for not taking the old guy’s gun, but Toby says they were not robbing an old man, just a place. His statement shows how he cares about individuals, not the exploitative institutions. Tanner whoops it up, and says they are like Comanches, raiding where they please, He calls the Native Americans the “Lord of the Plains.” It is an ironic statement, since Native Americans were vanquished, but Tanner seems to want to hearken back to a time when the individual wasn’t intimidated by those with power. To show how they have thought things out, they drive their car into a huge hole and have a backhoe to bury it.

We then cut to Ranger Marcus who has a supply of ethnic insults for his half-Native American, half- Mexican partner, Alberto. Marcus asks why does Alberto wear the same clothes as him, and implies imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so he must be complementing Marcus. Alberto says they have to wear a uniform and have only three types of shirts to choose from, so sometimes they will wear the same outfit. Alberto then says either Marcus should hear about the recent robberies, or, “Let Alzheimer’s run its course.” This dialogue establishes the relationship between the two. Marcus, brought up to show affection not through warmth, but like the way a boy gets the attention of a girl, which is usually by pulling her hair. He isn’t allowed to be unmanly, so he gets closer to his partner by being humorously aggressive. Marcus considers how the two thieves just hit Texas Midland branches, and not for large amounts or denominations. He points out that they didn’t cross state lines, and that, with the the smaller heists, eliminates bringing in the FBI. Also, “tweakers” rob convenience stores, smaller establishments, not banks. So, Marcus concludes that these crimes are thought out, and not the efforts of impulsive drug users, as Alberto suggests. Alberto says Marcus may get in some fun before they send him to the rocking chair. So, we find out that Marcus is very close to retirement.
Back at the the family ranch, we get to know more about the brothers and their family. Toby is again the responsible one, telling Tanner to stop drinking because he needs him sober. Tanner’s response is to say a person can’t get drunk on beer, which shows how his defiance even challenges the laws of chemistry. His statement also shows cowboy macho swagger, which is evident among the male population here. Tanner complains that the place looks bad, and Toby says while his brother was in jail he had to take care of their mother before she recently died, so Tanner should “go f... yourself.” This bickering mirrors that of Marcus and Alberto, and, like the law officers, there is true affection underneath between the two brothers. They look at the room where their mother was sick. It contains a hospital bed and IV pole. Tanner says he could have helped clean up at the end and feed the skinny cows, but Toby says they were so poor they didn’t have any feed for the animals. Tanner admits it doesn’t matter, because their mother wrote him off and didn't want to have anything to do with him. He basically has already given up on making anything worthwhile out of his life since his mother gave up on him long ago. He accepts his wild ways that aren’t compatible with civilized life. Tanner asks if he was in the mother’s will. Toby admits that she left everything to Toby, but all of it is going to his boys on Friday. His statement not only shows that they have a plan with a deadline, but it also shows Toby is not looking to enrich himself. Tanner says that their mother didn’t protect them, and didn’t like it that he fought their loser, abusive father. Toby says that the more Tanner fought, the more beatings he took. That’s why Tanner says he shot “that son-of-a-bitch.” As the story unfolds, we are of two minds when it comes to Tanner, understanding his desire for independence and anger, but also frightened by his violent ways.

After the brothers switch to another car, we see the two of them drive by a billboard that asks “In Debt?” in big letters next to a farm. The pervasiveness of financial collapse is everywhere, and spawns businesses that profit from those owing money. Meanwhile, Marcus stops a man in a pick-up and gives him a card, saying if he sees anyone that looks “sideways” to give him a call. The cowboy says “sideways” doesn’t want to run into him or that person will find himself on “the wrong end of a short rope.” Marcus says that would simplify things except for the cowboy, who then says, “only if you can find the tree.” Marcus then says “God, I love West Texas.” In this exchange we see the tough male individuality and boastfulness that persists in the cowboy persona even to the present day.

Marcus asks the teller of the first bank if the robbers were black or white. She asks if he is referring to the color of their souls. Her view is that they are evil men, but the story argues the opposite, that people many times can’t be so simply judged. Marcus also concludes that the men are not done yet, since they are taking a series of smaller amounts to reach a certain total. The fact that they hit Texas Midland branches at this time is because the bank is switching over from tape surveillance to digital, so there would be no recording of perpetrators. This fact again shows how the crimes were well thought out ahead of time.
At a restaurant, Tanner asks Toby if his boys know how rich they’re going to be. Based on the small amounts stolen, his statement implies that there must be some other part of the scheme that the audience must still discover. Toby hasn’t told them anything, not even about their grandmother passing away. He hasn’t seen them in a year, and has only talked to his sons on the phone. Since Toby owes his ex-wife child support money, Tanner tells him to settle up with what they have stolen. However, that’s not what the robberies are about. It sounds to Toby that Tanner doesn’t think they’re going to “get away” with their plans which would provide financial security for Toby’s family. Tanner says, “I’ve never met nobody who got away with anything, ever.” His statement again shows how Tanner has a defeatist view concerning the hopes of poor people. The only reason he went along with Toby on his plan was because Toby asked, which shows how love bonds family together, even to the point of self-sacrifice.

Tanner says he has to go to the bathroom, but improvises, and leaves to rob a bank across from the restaurant which is not one belonging to Texas Midland. His action is reckless, since the cops will then ask questions of those in the restaurant where they ate. The waitress, Jenny Ann (Katy Mixon) is nice to Toby, saying she’ll wait around for him to finish his meal since she has to be there all day anyway. Toby answers her question about his type of work by saying he drilled for natural gas, was laid off, and can’t seem to get a job drilling oil, even though, as Jenny Ann points out, the jobs seem to require the same skills. Their conversation  emphasizes the sometimes bizarre fate of the unemployed. She tells him they need a cook, speaking as one low wage earner trying to help out another looking for a job. He leaves her a $200 tip, which, of course, will draw curiosity given what his brother is doing. Tanner, dropping bills while running, yells to Toby outside the restaurant to start the car. He tells Toby afterwards that he just stole extra money beyond what they need for their plan so his brother can pay his child support. But Toby is upset by Tanner’s risky activity which now requires that they bury their current car ahead of schedule, and he has made it difficult to get to a Native American casino on time. Toby’s plan is obviously an intricate one. They drive to a trailer where Tanner picks up quite an arsenal of guns, which makes Toby apprehensive as he tries to exert calm control in the presence of Tanner’s dangerous ways.

We learn more about the two Rangers as they continue to bicker with each other in a humorous way. Alberto says he knows that Marcus will go crazy in retirement without confronting someone to outsmart, which shows Marcus’ crime solving abilities. But, it also reveals how Marcus wants to feel superior to his situation by controlling it. Alberto says Marcus will need a hobby, and suggests horses. Marcus says that was his wife’s thing, and it would only remind him of her. We now know that his wife died, so retirement will be an especially trying experience for someone alone who has left an adrenalin and cerebral centered job. Marcus says maybe he’ll go out in a blaze of glory in a shootout with the robbers (which is ironic, since it is not he who will get shot). Alberto wittily says he knows the way Marcus shoots, so there won’t be much “glory” in it. Marcus retaliates by making a racial slur saying he’ll at least have a half-breed to avenge him, although he’s not sure since Indians have a reputation for drinking too much.

On the road, the Rangers encounter a cattle rancher who is having a difficult time herding cattle away from a fire. He complains that it’s the 21st century, but  modern technology hasn’t aided him as he still must protect his cattle the old fashioned way in a new world with its punishing economy. He says you may as well turn him into ashes and put him out of his misery, and knows why his “kids won’t do this shit for a living.” Marcus practically writes an epitaph for the cowboy lifestyle, which tries to hang on with Texas grit, when he says there’s nobody around to help the ranchers, and “these boys are on their own.”

The Rangers find out from the teller at the bank that Tanner robbed that there was only one thief, who ran to a car parked at the diner. There is video here, and Marcus rightly concludes that the man’s partner may have been in the restaurant, didn’t know what the other was doing, and the heist was an improvisation. Marcus shows the shared animosity toward the predatory banking industry when he sees a guy in a suit and says there is a fellow who looks like he can foreclose on a house. Marcus goes to the restaurant and the anti-banking sentiment continues. When he asks if the men sitting at a booth had been there for a while, one guy says long enough to see the bank get robbed that’s been robbing him for thirty years. Marcus, showing his insight into people, says to the waitress Jenny Ann that he wants to ask her about the handsome bank robbers she waited on. She says how come handsome, and Marcus says because she didn’t rush to meet him in the parking lot to offer him information about the robbery. He finds out about her large tip, and says that’s evidence, wanting to try and trace the bills. But, after talking with Toby and seeing his sad and struggling nature, she feels a rebellious kinship with the robbers who are trying to take some power back from those rich folk in charge. She says she will only turn over the money if the two she waited on are proven to be the bank robbers; otherwise, she needs the money to pay her mortgage and keep a roof over her daughter’s head. She says until then, they should come back with a warrant. We almost have here a Robin Hood situation of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. The Rangers, however, find that the clothes of the thief in the video match those of a customer in the restaurant, adding weight to Marcus’ theory.

As Toby goes into a convenience store, there is a cowboy with a horse near the car where Tanner waits for his brother. We then have a juxtaposition of images (similar to one in Easy Rider, where there is a shot of a horse in contrast with that of a motorcycle).The Old West visual is blotted out by young guys in a sports car blaring rock music. Tanner gives one of the youths a look and the driver says what’s the problem while pulling out a gun. Tanner shows his contempt for the inferior version of this new kind of cowboy when he says to the guy that “you think you were ten of me.” Toby comes over and beats the young man badly, intimidating the passenger into saying his pal had it coming. Tanner laughs, enjoying his brother’s violent action as a kind of fun thing to do, and tells him he still has some spunk in him. Toby remembers this time to throw the man’s gun away, as opposed to what happened with the old fellow at the second bank, of which Tanner jokingly reminds him. But, Toby wasn’t showing off his macho abilities. We again see the differences between them, because Toby is upset that his brother invited a confrontation, and tells Tanner that the other man could have killed him. But his brother is arrogantly boastful about his toughness, saying “that’s not how it would have gone.” Toby gets in a funny line here at his brother’s expense because the store was out of the Dr. Pepper Tanner wanted and only had Mr. Pibb. Tanner says, “Only assholes drink Mr. Pibb,” and Toby says, “Drink up.”
The brothers arrive at the casino. Toby has smartly planned to exchange the stolen money for gambling chips and then cash in the chips for new bills that can’t be traced to the robberies. Tanner decides to play some poker and there is a Native American there at the table. Tanner asks him if he is a Comanche, and the man (Gregory Cruz) says yes. Tanner says then he is a “Lord of the Planes.” But, the man, adding to the theme in the film of how things have changed for the worse, says he is “Lord of Nothing.” He says that Comanche means “Enemy to everyone.” Tanner, with a look of understanding and defiance says, “Do you know what that makes me? A Comanche.” Tanner acknowledges that he, too, is an outsider at war with the society in which they live, and the two are really comrades. A prostitute, seeing Toby’s stack of chips, propositions him. Tanner yanks her away and says that she would probably call her pimp and they would have tried to rob Toby. He is rough with her, and she goes off saying he’s crazy, with Tanner comically saying, “Call me.” Toby asks how did he stay out of jail for a year, and jokingly Tanner says, “it’s been difficult,” His natural inclination is to break the law, not abide by it. They cash in the chips, keeping some money for Toby’s support payments, and strangely, the rest is in a check made payable to Texas Midland Bank, the outfit they are robbing, which is another clue as to their grand plan.

Tanner tells the receptionist that she will giggle when she is in the nursing home many years later, that’s what an amazing impression he will make on her. While the brothers check in at the nice casino, we see that the thieves are able to live it up better than the Rangers, who are staying at The Sunset Motel. (The name may point to Marcus’ inescapable retirement). Marcus continues with the Native American cliches, saying why isn’t Alberto burning sage and dancing around the bed like a bee stung him. He then starts in on Alberto’s Mexican heritage by saying they’ll put soccer on the TV soon, which Aztecs probably invented when they started kicking skulls around. He tells Alberto in a year he’ll miss his insults and think of them at Marcus’ grave (which turns out to be a tragically ironic comment). Alberto comes back by saying he wishes that were tomorrow, causing Marcus to laugh and say that his partner is getting the hang of trading insults. Alberto asks if it’s getting “late for him,” and Marcus says yeah, which it is in terms of Marcus’ impending retirement, but even more so as it turns out for Alberto. Marcus can’t sleep, wraps a blanket around himself, and sits outside all night. In the morning he tells Alberto he’s practicing sleeping on his porch for when he retires. Alberto, trying to comfort his cantankerous partner about finishing his career, says they have a dangerous job and Marcus is lucky he got through it. The film layers on the irony when Alberto says he hopes he will be that lucky.
We cut to the office of a lawyer where we learn of Toby and Tanner’s scheme. The brothers are trying to steal just enough money to pay off the reverse mortgage plus back taxes owed on their mother’s land at the time of her death. That is why Toby wanted the casino check made out to Texas Midland, which granted her just enough money to keep her impoverished so that they could obtain the property when she passed away with her terminal illness. The bank discovered there was oil on the ranch and they would then be legally entitled to take possession of the land and the wealth derived from the drilling. Toby signs papers to appoint the attorney executor of a trust which will ensure that the land, which he is signing over to his sons, can’t be sold. He doesn’t want the boys to sell the farm for short term gain and jeopardize future income. But, he also wants to keep the ranch in the family as a symbol of defiance against the powerful interests plundering the land of struggling people. It’s also Toby’s way of making restitution for not being able to take care of his children while they were growing up. It will appear as if the men were lucky at the casino and used gambling winnings to settle the debt. The police will not be able to prove otherwise, so no matter what happens to Toby or Tanner, the boys’ future will be secure. The lawyer comments about paying off those “bastards” with their own money: “Well, if that ain’t Texan, I don’t know what is.” His words embody the frontier independence of the American Old West that pits the individual against tyranny. The lawyer reminds the brothers that the bank loan officer has to fax him a release of the lien on the property once they pay it off. The bank will try to foreclose, so they have to get there on Friday, “come hell or high water,” to reach their goal, thus stressing the desperate situation of these men referenced in the title of the movie. They also talk about getting a lease agreement to Chevron to insure the income from the oil company. In order to really cement the deal, the lawyer advises that, ironically, Toby should have Texas Midland handle the trust, since it would be in their best financial interest not to want any subsequent questioning of how the debt was paid off.
We have more humor as the Rangers stake out a Texas Midland branch office that Marcus suspects will be the next one to be robbed. At a local restaurant, an older, tough looking waitress (Margaret Bowman) approaches Marcus and Alberto. In response to the question about how she is doing she says “hot, and I don’t mean the good kind.” She asks the men what don’t they want, and they are confused. As to the menu choices, she says that for her 44 years of waitressing at this establishment everybody has ordered T-Bone steak and a baked potato, “except this one asshole from New York tried to order trout back in 1987. We don’t sell no goddamned trout.” So, the only choice they really have is either they don’t want green beans or don’t want corn on the cob. Marcus says, seeing how mean the waitress is, that nobody is going to rob this place, and Alberto later says that the town has a rattlesnake for a waitress. So, it’s not only the men who are old-fashioned tough in this part of the country.
The brothers get a truck so Toby can go to pay his ex-wife and Tanner can get the lease agreement to Chevron. Toby says don’t treat the oil company as the enemy. Tanner says they are (they wouldn’t give Toby a job and are reducing the number of farms and ranches), they’re just not their enemy right now. To emphasize the growing tentacles of the industry, Toby drives by the oil refineries that have made their huge profits there. Toby visits his ex-wife, Debbie (Marin Ireland), and informs her that his mother died. Her reaction is to say “good riddance,” since she knew how the woman enabled her mean husband. Toby says he’s not selling the ranch but is giving it to their boys, and putting it in a trust so nobody can sell it. Debbie says it’s just another thing to have to take care of, because she doesn’t know Toby’s scheme, and he doesn’t want her to know too much before it’s done so as not to implicate her. Toby goes outside to talk to his oldest son, Justin (John-Paul Howard). Toby offers him a beer, and tells him his grandmother died. He also let’s Justin know that he is giving the ranch to him and his brother, and they won’t have to worry about money no more since oil was found on it. Toby says Justin will be hearing bad things about his dad and Tanner, and all of it is true. He advises his son to not be like them. Justin says Toby said don’t be like him, and then offered him a beer. Toby says “Good boy,” for realizing the contradiction, the difference between the right and wrong paths.
The Rangers indulge in more arguing, as Alberto questions just sitting around waiting for the two guys to rob the Texas Midland branch across the street. Marcus says they won’t find any fingerprints at the crime scenes (the men wore latex gloves), and there’s no point driving to look at mugshots that nobody will ID. Alberto says Marcus just wants to make the investigation last to put off his retirement, which is probably partly true. Alberto complains about staying in the town, which he says is a loser place to be in. Marcus says the people there have learned to survive despite the obstacles, but Alberto questions the quality of that survival. He says that all the land as far as the eye can see used to belong to Native Americans. Then the town’s ancestors took it away from his people, and now it’s being taken from the white man’s descendents. But, Alberto says “cept it ain’t no army doin’ it. It’s those sons of bitches right there,” pointing at the bank. Greed has now replaced invading troops as the new vanquisher.
Again, we have a parallel scene where the brothers talk, which mirrors how the Rangers were conversing with each other. Tanner says how come the sweet girls (the receptionist at the hotel he persuaded to have sex with him) turn out to be the wild ones. Toby says he wouldn’t know, because he never was with a sweet woman. Tanner, laughing, says that Toby seems to likes his women angry, looking for someone to blame. Toby, smiling at his brother’s insight, says it does seem to be that way. Even though Tanner scares and frustrates Toby, they share these funny moments which shows the affection they feel for each other. Tanner says seriously that it’s a good thing Toby is doing, and Toby, generously including his brother in the plan, adds, “What we’re doing.” But, the film puts forth the question of whether the ends justify the means. The scene ends with the brothers drinking and horsing around (which fits, since they are Texans) as the sun sets.

Early the next morning, the brothers plan to hit two more branches to get the money they need. They go to a branch that is locked, which alters their plans. Tanner, despite Toby’s objections, pushes his brother to rob the bank in the town of Post because it is bigger, and will get them the money they need. Alberto ticks off Marcus by bringing up the fact that the men hadn’t rob the bank in the town which they staked out. In a cantankerous way, Marcus says that they should go to Post because it fits the pattern.
Because they are running late, when the brothers get to the Post branch office there are a lot of customers in it, a situation Toby wanted to avoid to prevent possible casualties. As they start their heist, one female customer secretly texts 911. Another pulls out his gun and starts shooting. Toby gets hit, and then a guard starts firing. Tanner shoots them both dead. A bunch of locals packing firearms start shooting at them, taking the law into their own hands, as the brothers get away. The proliferation of guns here escalates the violence since no one would have gotten hurt if the customer hadn’t started shooting. Tanner comically yells that concealed permits complicate things, and he justifies his shootings since “it was either them or us.” Toby is shaken up because he says nobody was supposed to get hurt. Tanner assesses Toby’s wound and says he will be okay. He then says he needs Toby to reach down into his cowboy roots, and, for the sake of his boys, he must be “mountain lion mean.”
The townspeople are in pursuit and, after the Rangers hear about the robbery, they head for Post. Tanner stops their truck, pulls out a high powered assault rifle, and scares off the citizens with a volley of bullets. These ammunition fueled scenes appear to want to undermine the NRA argument that a good person with a gun will defeat a bad person with a gun. In this story, it’s difficult to clearly define who is the good guy and who is the bad one. Also, when such lethal arsenals are available, it’s easy for the “bad” guy to be better armed. What you wind up with here is an all out war that has the potential to create lots of collateral damage.

The brothers stop at the other car, and Tanner tells Toby to exchange the rest of the money at the casino, since it was Toby’s plan, and he should stick with it, since, he says, it was a good one. The brothers are really saying goodbye here. Tanner wants to split up and sacrifice himself, never having seen himself as being socially redeemable. The heat is on and he wants to ensure Toby’s sons’ well being. The men say they love each other, but then cut the sentimentality by manning up, each telling the other to “Go f… yourself,” as they laugh.

The police follow Tanner, since his truck was the one that was involved in the robbery, and Toby drives past the cops in the other car. Marcus boasts to Alberto that he knew about the bank in Post, as he was using “White man’s intuition.” Alberto won’t allow Marcus the satisfaction of being right by saying “Sometimes a blind pig finds a truffle,” basically calling Marcus a lowly animal who got lucky. Their humor will contrast with what happens next. As a parallel example of the calm before the storm, Tanner sings cowboy songs just before his deadly encounter. Tanner sets his truck on fire while up on a hilly road, and makes it head down and explode against the cop car that is approaching, blocking access further up. Tanner has a rifle and opens up on the police. As they take cover behind the police vehicles, Marcus rightly observes there should be two robbers, not one. In the middle of insultingly telling Alberto that he should go up there and tomahawk Tanner, Alberto is shot to death. We can see how much Marcus truly cared for his partner as he tears up and is momentarily distraught. But then he is on a determined path, getting the civilians to back up their trucks and asking one to get him on higher ground so he can shoot Tanner. Being in typical vigilante Texan mode, the man says he will have the guy field dressed and on his hood. But, Marcus wants to do it himself, keeping the desire for justice (and revenge) legal.

Toby, bleeding, approaches a cop roadblock, and covers up his wound. He, unlike his brother, can play it cool. He has no record, so after his license and registration are checked, he is able to pass through. Back at the shootout, the cowboy helping Marcus says the Ranger is pretty winded and he offers to take out Tanner for him. “Not on your life. He’s mine,” says Marcus. Just before Marcus shoots him dead, Tanner says, “Lord of the Plains. That’s me.” He sees himself as a free renegade until the end. But, the film shows that despite the allure of having no restraints on one’s freedom, and even if one is involved in a just cause, we live in a society, and when the individual brings harm upon others, that person must suffer the consequences. Marcus is thrilled that he got his man, but he then cries because Tanner’s death doesn’t make up for the loss of his partner.

Toby sees what happened to his brother on the TV at the casino. He has the chips next to him and goes to cash them in. He shows up at the bank where the loan officer says he’s a lucky guy, having enough casino winnings, to “just in the nick of time,” pay off the debt before the sleazy bank could foreclose and own the land with its newly found oil. Toby pressures the loan officer to send the lien release that day. Heeding the advice of the lawyer, Toby asks about making the ethically challenged  bank complicit in his plan by setting it up as the trust manager. That way, Toby gets the bad guys to protect the property for his boys that they tried to take.

Even though he is now retired, Marcus still looks up Tanner’s record of being incarcerated, for among other charges, bank robbery. It appears as if the law, knowing how bad Tanner’s father was, let his son off for shooting his dad, blaming it instead on the flimsy possibility that it was an accident. There was nothing linking Toby to the robberies. The waitress, Jenny Ann, said she couldn’t identify Toby, obviously protecting him. The District Attorney didn’t want to pursue a case against Toby, who has no record, and who logically had no motive since his property will be making more money from the oil company than what was stolen. The bank at this point runs the trust, and gets paid fees, so they don’t want to rock the boat.
Marcus carries his concealed pistol and visits Toby’s ranch. Toby is there with a rifle. Men are always confrontational and armed here. Marcus says flat out he’s the man that killed Toby’s brother. Toby knows about him and says he’s retired and is trespassing, and knows Marcus also is probably armed. Still, ironically, given the circumstances, he shows Southern hospitality by offering Marcus a beer, while continuing to hold his rifle. The scene emphasizes the duality of nicety and menace noted before that is present in this culture. Marcus says Tanner liked robbing banks and shooting it up. He says that he would have spent all the money from the heists just so he could rob again. But, not Toby. Marcus observes that there was nothing newly bought at the ranch, the only new things there being the oil rigs. Marcus, even though he can’t prove it, wants to know why Toby participated in the crimes. Toby asks if Marcus has a family, but the now ex-Ranger says his partner did. Marcus wants to make the point that by Toby putting his own family first, he harmed another’s. Toby says he didn’t kill his partner, but Marcus disagrees because Toby was the planner and set it all in motion. Toby says his grandparents were poor, so were his parents, and he had always been poor. He says that poverty “is like a disease passing from generation to generation. But not my boys, not anymore.” Toby wanted to break the cycle, and he did it the only way he knew he could, outside of the law. He says he never killed anyone but he’ll start with Marcus if he wants to try and grab his pistol before he can shoot him with the rifle.

Luckily for both men, Debbie shows up with the boys. Marcus says he will be leaving and Toby says so will he. Marcus seems surprised that Toby doesn’t live there, and we assume he sees that Toby has not committed these acts for personal gain. Toby says he just helps fix up the place and will be there the next day to help his son with homework, showing his attempts to make up for his past neglect. Toby tells Marcus he has a house in town if he wants to finish this conversation, which means if he wants to shoot it out. Toby wants to be done with the aftermath of the robberies and deaths. Marcus says he’ll never be done with it. Marcus says what Toby has done will haunt him until he dies. But, he says Toby won’t be alone, because it will haunt him, too. Toby’s intimidating response is, “If you stop by, maybe I’ll give you peace.” Marcus, also standing his ground, says, “Maybe. Maybe I’ll give it to you.” Perhaps Tanner was right when he said nobody gets away with anything, ever. There is always a price to be paid when we do harm to each other.

The next post will take a quick look at some recent films.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Blow-Up

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
Director Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 movie primarily deals with the nature of reality and the the artist’s perception and interpretation of the world. Antonioni summed up what the film is about when he said the photographer in the story wants “to see things closer up.” In a way, he is trying to intensely, almost microscopically, understand what most people would not perceive as they go through life. As he enlarges his photographs, there is a moment where he grasps reality, but by blowing up the picture so much, “the object decomposes and disappears,” and “then the moment passes.” The photographer can stand for any artist, including a painter, or a filmmaker, like Antonioni, who tries to view and and pass on what he insightfully observes. But, humans, even talented artists, are limited in their capacity to truly unravel the mysteries of existence, and sometimes by delving too deeply into a narrow aspect of the world, there is a loss of general perspective.

The first shot in the movie is of a patch of green landscape, a park, a locale which is important to the the story. The titles are displayed, but inside the titles are images. This unique presentation suggests that there are secrets, a mysterious world beneath surface perceptions. Art attempts to expose that hidden reality.
The film is contemporaneously set in London during the 1960’s. At that time, there was a great deal of questioning of the established ways of thinking since the world had produced the unpopular Vietnam War and racism. England was a center for a new wave of music, fashion and art. The film opens with a jeep careening around the concrete, stagnant buildings of the city. The vehicle is filled, almost to the point of overflowing, with young people, some wearing mime makeup. The almost surrealistic image implies that youths and artists are here to disrupt and challenge the inert, resistant ways of the traditional view of the world.

We then have a cut to what looks like working class men coming out of the “National Assistance Board” office. These sad looking males are on welfare. Thomas (David Hemmings) appears to be an impoverished derelict, but as the group of men move away from the building, Thomas sneaks away from them, and then drives away in a Rolls Royce. He has an expensive camera that he puts in his glove compartment. Thomas turns out to be a respected photographer who was passing as a street person in order to take pictures of the seedier side of London. Thomas seeks to reveal the underside of things, but he does it in an exploitative way. He has no sympathy for his subjects, but only sees them as food to feed his artistic appetite.

We return to the youths who now loudly run on the streets. We get another surrealistic shot as they rush past some nuns and an out-of-place Buckingham Palace Guard, marching on the sidewalk. This scene is symbolic of the culture clash between religious and government establishments and the rebellious youth. But, it also is a sort of pictorial collage of the elements composing the modern world. Thomas, while smiling, gives some money to the youths as they accost his car. It is an interesting shot. Is Thomas sympathetic to their anarchistic approach, and encouraging their street theater action? But, at the same time, is Antonioni being satiric of Thomas, who has money, and is just showing token interest by dispensing some of his monetary gains derived from using his subjects?
Thomas reaches his studio and tells an assistant that he wants some film developed “right away.” He is very demanding and condescending toward his staff. There is a foreign model in a skimpy outfit who complains about waiting for him, and he tells her, “Good,” as if his inconsiderate action will deflate her self-importance, and help with their session. She says she has to leave soon for Paris, but he is dismissive of her problem. They do the shoot, as he bosses her around. He urges her to do different poses, and stands on top of her looking down. This visual implies sexual domination, with the lens appearing phallic. He says, “Yeah, make it come!” and then says “Yes, yes!” which sound like orgasmic exclamations. After he’s “finished” he sits, looking spent, and she rests on the floor, as if they just had intercourse. The result is the feeling that artistic fulfillment can be as physically satisfying as sexual release. But, the artist’s pursuit of that consummation here is metaphorically compared to sexual abuse.
Thomas then looks at his photos of the men on welfare. He is happy with them, and then tells an assistant to burn the crappy clothes he was wearing to blend in with the men. He then bullies other female models, telling one to “get rid” of her chewing gum, but “not on my floor.” He manhandles one model by grabbing her leg forward after saying “terrible!” To Thomas, the women are like puppets which he manipulates. He tells another that she should thank her lucky stars she is working for him. He is abusive while at the same time he, ironically, yells at them to “Smile!” He tells the models to close their eyes, as if they are not alive, when he leaves. It’s as if they don’t exist outside of his artistic realm. The implication here is that artists insensitively use people for their own purposes.
Thomas does seem to be respectful toward a fellow artist, his painter neighbor, Bill (John Castle). Bill says that when he completes his work he doesn’t appreciate it at first, but later a part of it emerges and “it sorts itself out and it adds up. It’s like finding a clue in a detective story.” His statement foreshadows what occurs later, but it also shows how trying to understand art is like trying to unravel a puzzle, which mimics the artist’s attempt to solve the truth behind what he or she has depicted. Bill says he hasn’t figured out one of his paintings, like it is a subconscious expression that he hasn’t consciously understood yet. Thomas wants to buy that work, or have Bill give it to him, but he tells Thomas no. Thomas’ zeal for discovery makes him want to solve the riddle himself, but he would be usurping Bill’s position, and he has to make his own breakthroughs.
Thomas returns to his studio where there are two girls who jump as soon as he enters, like windup dolls, wanting a chance to be models. He is dismissive of them, continuing his lack of concern for the feelings of others. He drives around, observing, looking for new subjects to explore through the lens of his camera, which is like an enhanced mechanical version of his inquisitive artistic eye. He stops at an antique store bursting with items. The proprietor acts like he doesn’t really want customers, as if he wishes to hold onto his artwork, saying there are no bargains here. Thomas says he’s looking for pictures, but the man says he has “no pictures.” Then, in a reversal of what he just said, asks Thomas what kind of pictures are he looking for. Thomas says landscapes, but the man says there are “no landscapes.” However, there is one on the wall. The man says they are all sold. Maybe all artistic types are protective of their pieces. But, the scene also shows how Thomas, the artist, goes beyond what is told to seek out the reality of the situation. Later, when he returns to the shop, he sees an airplane propeller, and feels compelled to buy it. The antique store is a sort of metaphor for the collage art in fashion at the time. But, modern art, in the form of cubism, tried to say that there was an enhanced reality beyond what the eye saw, and it attempted to present all facets and angles of objects at one time. In this chaotic presentation that overwhelms the senses, we, the observers of this artistic form, zero in on a familiar object to gain a foothold on the unfamiliar reality presented before us. In a way, Thomas’ wanting the propeller is his attempt to anchor himself in the refracted perception of his present existence.
Thomas walks around and comes across a park. He sees a man and a woman going up a hill. Thomas runs up some steps playfully, his photographer’s inquisitiveness making him act like an exuberant child having fun. The man and the woman are in in front of a fence and a building, and the scene looks like a tableau as the two are motionless for a while. Antonioni poses his subjects in a story about a photographer, who also wants to crate art through contrivance with the use of altering lenses, staging, and lighting. Thomas is like a voyeur with the couple, as are filmmakers and their audiences. The couple kiss. The woman, Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), sees Thomas as he goes away and she chases him, saying he can’t just photograph people without consent (what a contrast to today’s world where all are under surveillance). He says he’s just doing his job, which for him selfishly justifies any invasion of privacy. She says it’s a public place where one should be able to be left in peace. He says, “it’s not my fault there is no peace.” His response reflects the tumultuous world of the time where there was no refuge. She tries to grab his camera, but then runs away.
Thomas meets his agent, Ron (Peter Bowles) in a restaurant and shows the shots of the men on welfare. They are black and white shots revealing depressing impoverishment. Thomas is compiling shots for a book and wants to finish it with the green park and the couple so it will end peacefully in contrast to the “violence” of the earlier pictures. Ron says that the ordering seems more real, but it isn’t because, again, it’s manipulated. The artist’s job is to highlight aspects of the world, not reproduce visual replicas. As the two discuss whether having lots of money is the key to freedom, which is antithetical to the prevailing hippie philosophy of the time, Thomas, ever observant, sees a man checking out his Rolls. There are protesters walking in the street with signs advocating nuclear disarmament but there is a policeman walking next to them, again showing different social elements in the same film frame, and stressing the prevailing culture clash. The protestors put one of their signs in Thomas’ Rolls, which gets blown away and left in the street, emphasizing that Thomas cares more about how his photography captures, in a way owns, the outside world, without his becoming involved in its struggles.
Jane, from the park, shows up at Thomas’ flat/studio asking for the film he shot of her and the man she was with. He says he “needs” the pictures, like his demands as a photographer come first. She says her life is already a disaster, and the pictures will make it worse. His response is an uncaring “So what?” He insightfully adds that one needs a little disaster to sort things out, which hearkens back to what his painter neighbor said about how eventually one can make sense out of nonsense. He then says that he thinks she can do modeling, which implies reducing her into another object for his lens. The phone rings and Thomas acts it’s for Jane. But then he says it’s his wife and he tells his wife that the woman he’s with doesn’t want to talk with her, which again shows his insensitivity. He then goes on with a series of contradictions, saying it was not his wife, but he has kids with her. He then says that’s not true, he doesn’t have children. He says that she is easy to live with, then says no, and actually doesn’t live with her. This short speech seems to reinforce the the movie’s theme about how difficult it is to get to the reality beneath appearances. While they listen to jazz, Jane moves to the music. Thomas then directs her, manipulates her, and he becomes a surrogate for Antonioni, wanting her to move the way he wants her to. She tries to defy his manipulation by attempting to leave with the camera when he is not in the room, but he is waiting for her in the hallway, saying he is “not a fool.” Many artists, because they create, think of themselves as gods, having power over the subjects in their work. She assumes he wants sex before he will release the film, so she takes off her top. But, he is emotionally detached and tells her to get dressed. He says he’ll give the film to her, but provides her with a different roll, again controlling the situation for his purposes.

Thomas develops the film. He blows up the shots, and his magnified scrutiny changes what the average person might see, just as the filmmaker’s use of varying camera angles, focus, lighting, etc., change the nature of reality. Thomas sees that Jane is looking off to the side and appears alarmed while hugging the man. He calls Jane, but she gave him a fake number. (Which shows how one must be careful because a deceiver can also be deceived, and which confirms how difficult it is to unearth what is buried beneath the surface). He discovers that there is a man in the trees in one picture holding a gun (possibly the same man who was checking out his Rolls?). He calls Ron, his agent, and says he came upon somebody trying to kill someone, and he probably stopped it from happening by butting in. He appears to be trying to justify his intrusive ways by arguing that art can rescue the living. However, all he is really excited about is discovering some truth in what he caught on film.
The two girls, who previously appeared hoping for a chance at modeling, show up at Thomas’ flat. They go through the models’ outfits. One tries to put on a dress, and Thomas tussles with her. Then the other girl becomes jealous of Thomas’ attention, and then they have a raucous fight, knocking over his photo backdrop. The scene is the opposite of the kind of control Thomas likes to exert, but even in this chaotic scene, he has orchestrated the mayhem. He looks at the photos blown up on the wall again, and now, obsessed with his craft, seems to be oblivious of the women. He then dismisses the girls so he can scrutinize the pictures, unsure of what he sees, but it appears that he did not prevent the crime because there is a form that looks like a body on the ground.
Thomas drives at night back to where he photographed Jane and the man. He finds a dead man near the trees. He appears to be the guy Jane was with. He hears a twig snapping. Is he being followed? He runs back to his studio, which has been tossed, with the negatives and prints gone except for one large, unrevealing photograph of the park scene. Could his place have been broken into by the guy who was checking out his Rolls? Maybe the man is the murderer and is conspiring with Jane, looking for the film. Thomas visits the artist neighbor’s house again, but the man is making love with his girlfriend. Thomas looks at the painting Bill said didn’t make sense to him yet, which reflects how Thomas is trying to figure out what his photography might reveal. Bill’s lover then shows up at Thomas’ place. He says that he saw someone get shot. She looks at the remaining blown up photo, which is distorted, and she comments that it looks like one of the Bill’s paintings. Thomas agrees. She asks Thomas why did the man get shot? Thomas says he didn’t ask, and then she leaves. Life is enigmatic and it’s not the point of art to explain it, but only to present its possibilities.
Thomas searches for Ron, his agent. He goes to a club where a rock band plays, which turns out to be the real group, The Yardbirds, with then members Jimmy Page (later of Led Zeppelin), and Jeff Beck. The scene looks unreal, with audience members resembling mannequins, like Thomas’models, except for a couple dancing out of step. It’s as if the world has turned into one of Thomas’ creations, or more accurately Antonioni’s, and any attempt at mirroring what passes for mundane reality has disappeared. The band has their song interrupted by static in the speaker. Beck, angry with how his music is being subverted by outside problems, destroys his guitar, and throws it into the audience. (Peter Townsend of the rock group The Who, also exerting life and death over his art, but also performing an iconoclastic act of rebellion, used to destroy his guitars). The audience now becomes animated, and the scene turns into a riot as people try to get the remains of the instrument. Thomas, the photographic artist, a kindred spirit, appropriately, acquires the detached guitar neck and runs out with it. Perhaps in the moment it is like the propeller, an object used as a point of reference amid chaos. He tosses it away in front of a store window filled with mannequins, which again points to the artist turning people into a means to display his work (sort of like the way Daniel Day Lewis’ character uses women in Phantom Thread).
Thomas then arrives at a party where he finds Ron who is totally stoned, in his own way escaping reality. The first model we saw in the film is there, too. Thomas comments that she said she was supposed be in Paris. She says she is, which emphasizes that the movie is a work of art, and is not reflective of literal meaning. Thomas, struggling to find some ultimate truth behind the appearance of reality, says he wants to show Ron the corpse, possibly in an attempt to have someone verify his version of what he saw, and get a shot of it. He is not concerned about contacting the police, but only wants to use the death for his photography. After Ron questions him by asking, “What did you see in that park?” Thomas seems to give up trying to get help in understanding the overwhelming mystery of the external world, and says “nothing.” He seeks escape by going to sleep on a bed.
The next day, Thomas goes back to the park with his camera. However, the body is gone, as if he missed the moment of clarity. The film ends as it began with the return of the rowdy young people again overflowing the jeep, symbolizing a cyclical timeline which does not move toward a linear solution. They pass Thomas and invade a tennis court, where two of their group engage in mime tennis. They pretend to play with imaginary ball and rackets. They act like the “ball” was hit over the fence, and ask Thomas to retrieve it, He plays along, and the camera then focuses on Thomas’ face as he stares at where the “game” is taking place. However, we hear the rackets hitting the ball, so, for Thomas, and us, the game becomes real. Thomas is either delusional, or he is able, through imagination, to grasp the possibilities of other realities by using his artistic potential. Then the racket and ball sounds stop. Thomas picks up his camera, like a painter gathering up his brush, and disappears as the film ends. He, like the movie in which he appears, is an illusion, too, and we are left to contemplate the depth of what we have witnessed, wanting, like the artist, to grasp ultimate meaning, but are unable to do so.

The next film is Hell or High Water.