Number One at the Box Office
some synopses of films about the lives of numbers
and other things
Multiplicative Identity (R), 2005, 98 min.
1 is a secret agent, a talented assassin and dashing young
gentleman. An avid gambler and car aficionado, the film starts
with him winning a hand of poker while racing down the freeway
at 110 mph in pursuit of a dangerous but beautiful woman,
armed to the teeth. Throughout, they alternately have sex with
and shoot one another until there is little difference between
bullets and people, numbers and violence.
Lion and the Lampshade (G), 2008, 88 min.
An unlikely pair is thrown together in the ultimate attempt to
go from point A to point B. This fun family adventure throws
an uproarious spotlight on the power of friendship. The bond
shared between the lion, a grumpy but goodhearted killer, and
the lamp shade, a depressed but able mover-and-shaker, will
remind us all what it means to fight for what is right. On
their way to B, they must use their wits to climb a steep
mountain across enemy lines, meeting great characters along
the way. In the journey into the unknown, they discover that
the only variable you really need is hope! Parents and
children will have much to discuss when the film culminates in
the realization that B is really just the same as A!
Additive Identity (PG-13), 1981, 2 h: 21 min.
Zero wants nothing more than to be somebody. In a harrowing
tale of determination, perseverance, and will, Zero fights his
way to the top of the boxing world with no hands or feet --
just an immense desire to win, vindicating the belief we all
hold that if you want something badly enough you will get it.
And if you don't get it, you didn't want it badly enough. Zero
knocks out fighter after fighter in a parade of slow-motion
head-turns and tear-filled training montages, all bare
knuckles and blank biceps. Zero's will cannot change him or
anyone else, though. A winner is just a winner, and Zero is
nothing else. Medals slung about his neck, the credits run
over Zero stumbling through the city unnoticed, untouched, and
unheard. He reaches out and his hands go right through people
and things. The same triumphant music never stops playing.
at Monty Hall (PG-13), 1999, 122 min.
Detective Hower thinks he's on vacation at Monty Hall, but
when the resort becomes a murder scene, he's back in
palm-frond action. Hot in pursuit of the unlikely murderer,
66%, whose trademark move involves a game of deadly dice, the
action gets improbably thick. And when he meets the voluptuous
33%, whose waist, bust and hips move in waves, the romance
gets a chance more steamy. But when he learns that 33 is 66
and 66 is 33 -- and that in life, trading one for the other is
always better than staying with what you've got -- Detective
Hower doesn't hesitate. He shoots the girl point blank and
kisses the villain in the face. With a crescendo of cinematic
fireworks, the film ends by zooming into the dead woman's body
-- where deep inside of her is a brand new car. What's inside
the villain? Two goats.
(R), 2004, 101 min.
Eleanor is a maid in the house of Mersenne, a wealthy lineage
of Prime Ministers and dukes. She carries a secret, however --
one sought by throngs of power-hungry upstarts. Her blood
cures cancer -- and the Mersennes have selfishly kept it from
the world for uncertain political advantages. Yet, even inside
the house, she is not entirely safe. 127, an older member of
the family, hounds Eleanor, harassing and leering at her,
cornering her in rooms and breathing on her neck. If a voice
didn't call her at just the right moment or if a phone rang
just a second later -- something untoward would certainly
happen there in the corners. Yet, voices call and phones do
ring. All else is reasonably comfortable -- until the drills
come up through the floor and the androids attack. The first
hour of the film details how the Mersenne family fights back,
the aristocrats battling the humanoid robots. The Mersennes
ultimately lose. The family dies. Fortunately, so do the
androids. All lay about the great marble staircase and atrium
where the last battle takes place.
Except Eleanor and 127, the lecherous old man -- who has saved
her life by fighting off the android hordes, keeping her
sheltered and never letting them pass. 127 professes his
simple and pure love for her, something he could see only in
the face of death, and he swears to keep protecting her.
Knowing the androids were after her secret blood, he believes
they will be back with stronger forces, and he begs her to let
him morph his body into her shape, to let him be a decoy, a
protective reflection, a distraction that will keep the
androids off her scent. This is a request she can only grant
by scraping the tissue from her cheeks and submitting it to a
chamber. The honesty in his eyes and how honorably he has
fought makes her consent -- and he uses the house's body
morphing tubes to change slowly into her. When 127 finally
becomes an exact body double of Eleanor, there amongst his
dead family and scattered electronic limbs, he strips off his
clothes and stares. Eleanor backs away, watching her body be
molested under the hands of the old man -- her own hands,
there is no difference, but she searches for the difference
with darting eyes.
Function (NC-17), 1928, 29 min., silent
None of them had anything in common. Some were long, others
short. Some lived in the far quadrant, others the near, and
even some toward the center. Each of them started somewhere
and, presumably, ended somewhere as well. Yet, they weren't
satisfied with this. They spent years and days and months and
seconds and eons devising a way of connecting their finite and
discriminate parts. They managed to string some ideas together
that made them happy. It described how they fit, what made
them connect. It was a thesis on what they had in common. Yet,
if you plotted it out, if you really sat down and thought
about it, it was simply a detailed and efficient description
of how they could never connect. It's the only thing holding
The Origin (R), 1977, 103 min.
The film opens on X determinedly moving in one direction. She
treks forward, rucksack over her shoulder and pants dragging
behind. Y, meanwhile, travels in another direction --
reluctant but directly, hair long and beard scruffy. The film
attempts to make a statement about the world by comparing the
trajectories of the two travelers. When Y is on the farm, X
takes the subway. The images overlay to display pigs on
concrete, cows on rails. When X swims the ocean, Y rakes the
desert. The cacti dive through the reefs, the sand sifts
through fish. The film alludes to a single place where they
both come from, and we imagine it to be true. The images lend
themselves to the belief that at one time, X and Y met and
were indistinguishable. Still, there is no trace of that
anymore. Only a feeling. Yet, long after we leave the theater,
we keep feeling it.
(PG-13), 2007, 3 hr: 58 min.
This movie is terrible. N walks on screen, kicking dried
leaves with his scuffed-up loafers. By coincidence he bumps
into S, spilling her bags and coffee. After treating her to a
new cup, they fall quickly in love. The film is simply a
series of scenes describing their absurd closeness and the
beauty of their relationship. Soon, though, we see N growing a
sort of uneasiness, just as S starts to have an air of
apprehension as well. They go through the attentive motions,
but something is clearly missing. As the film probes their
inner thoughts, we find that the two of them are dealing with
the very same problem: they aren't tired of one another at
all, but rather are frustrated by not being able to get any
closer. We see shots of them embracing, pressing their bodies
as hard as they possibly can against one another. N and S
grate haltingly one upon the other like sandpaper and rock.
"I love you," they tell each other, but feel as if
they love maybe only "a shell of a projection of an idea
of each other." In the final scenes, we see them smashing
their heads together, kissing through broken teeth and
fractured skulls, blood and neurons slipping from one body to
another. Is this an action movie or romance? we wonder,
hearing their thoughts tossed together. We zoom in on a
closeup of the cells and synapses to see them not entwined but
still bouncing against each other, their frames colliding but
not melding -- like sandpaper and rock. Far be it from some
ethereal amalgamation, some romantic chimera letter or sum: N
plus S can only, ultimately, equal N plus S.
Gale (G), 1995, 2 min.
Mr. Martin Gale is an avid horse enthusiast with a
predilection for gambling. It is no small wonder then that
most of the film takes place at the races. Set in late 18th
century France, the film at first details Mr. Martin Gale's
attempts to find and hone the perfect betting strategy, but
after Mr. Martin Gale discovers the safest and most profitable
bet is a bet made against oneself, he tracks a sub-Martin Gale
down. The remainder of the film focuses on one night's series
of intense wagers, all made in the deserted moonlight of
Longchamp track. He starts with a simple one Franc bet, but he
doubles every subsequent wager, the amounts progressively
reaching higher and higher -- eventually heading towards
wholly inconceivable amounts that only exist as a sort of
gesture or abstraction agreed upon between the two Martin
Gales. In the film, we see these as bursts of color and sound.
Even the two gamblers start to lose track of much else besides
the fact that they are doubling. Each bet in this way becomes
equal to every other bet -- all are simply double the last bet
made -- but what was the last bet made? How much was it for?
Just keep betting, the Martin Gales decide. Facing each other,
they double and double and double.
Then, as if at the eye of a storm, their betting suddenly
stops. The colors fade and sounds give way. Mr. Martin Gale
checks the bet in hand: one Franc. Looking about, we see that
he is the only Martin Gale at the tracks. Longchamp is empty
and Mr. Martin Gale is left wondering which Gale he is -- the
one that stayed or the one that blew away. And we are left
wondering whether or not it matters. The credits roll over the
images of people screaming at horses running in circles, anger
and elation melting together into a roar -- a roar in which
these emotions are little more than sudden bursts of color or
sound, muted gestures and dumb abstractions.
Destiny (X), 2009, 89 min.
A period piece set in early America, we see a group of
pioneers arrive at the Californian coast. They are worn out
from the cross-country journey, emotionally drained from the
loss of family and friends, yet hopeful at the sight of the
Pacific Ocean breaking against the edge of North America --
wearing away the land in much the same way that these men and
women envision hard work can slowly erode the obstacles in
their lives. They form a small town, fall into a routine, till
the land and enjoy the bounty of their efforts. Yet, each in
turn finds they are wandering alone towards the ocean --
staring into it, across it, and above it. By chance, or
perhaps design, the whole town one day happens to stumble to
the ocean at the same time, surprised and embarrassed,
awkwardly moving their fingers and feet. "We should just
keep going," one finally says to the rest. "But
there's nowhere to go," says another. "Follow
me," says yet another as he trudges into the water. No
one follows but all watch. Eventually, his body washes up on
the shore, some seaweed trailing about his ankles.
For a time they give up, heading back to their routine, but
all of them keep thinking about how much they miss the
prospect of getting somewhere, of moving toward something, of
finding new space. By candlelight, an old man works on charts
and maps, trying to find a path. A meeting is called and the
man presents his findings. Using over a thousand maps arranged
in the shape of a sphere, he has constructed a path that seems
to cut through space to uncharted territory. The people pack
their wagons, harness and yoke their oxen, and parade across
the California sand. As they approach the water, they don't
disappear so much as something else becomes visible. All
around them streets and paths and meandering roads appear,
soaring up and over the waves. Their wagons split apart,
taking all the paths possible, settling towns across nothing.
Later, each of these settlements in turn tires of waiting and
settling. They draw up new charts and pack their wagons. They
surround their town in an enormous circle. They aim at each
other and move toward the center. More settlements and more
journeys are made. With each subsequent journey, they lose
family and friends, and though they claim it is the need to
travel and seek new places that keeps them going, it is really
the need to get away from each other, the need to lose each
other that keeps them going -- whether packed together or not.
They move forward as far as they can go, each furiously
waiting for the others to be picked off by age, disease or
vultures -- all while they sing, dance and cry, smiling arm in
arm with an ancient blood in their teeth, cannibals of
Open Road (PG-13), 1983, 77 min.
In this film, 36 steals his mother's car, picks up his best
friend, 90, from work, and heads out across the country. Along
the way, they discover a series of important things about
themselves, each other, the world, women, fertility, futility,
love, and friendship. Mostly, though, it's just futility.
Function (PG), 1999, 6 d: 3 hr: 4 min.
In this picture, a young number 10 -- just out of college --
finds himself freshly employed with a large publishing company
in New York. On his first day, Human Resources hounds him
about attending some upcoming functions. "They're
mandatory," bespectacled men and women say through their
wrinkles, "but you can pick and choose which ones you
want -- so long as you go to something. You can take your time
signing up if you'd like." And he does. 10 deems it best
to get acclimated to his routine and coworkers before jumping
in. When, at the office, HR exhausts the means to corner and
berate him about filling out the proper forms, he is woken up
in the darkness of his room by a polite, suspender-clad and
overweight gentleman. He introduces himself as a member of
HR, understandably one that 10 has never met given that he
works the late shift, apologizes for waking him, and reasserts
the importance of taking part in the functions the company
offers. When 10 begins to protest, "on principle,"
as he puts it, another man appears in the doorway -- and a
woman crawls like a worm through the window, whispering,
"Apologies, Mr. 10, but we're just doing our job. Nobody
likes the late shift." For the first time, 10 notices
that each of them has something resembling gills pulsating on
their throats. They bounce pipes and boards in their palms --
gently, but all the more menacing for it. He signs up for a
Saturday slot, and HR bids him farewell. On the Friday before,
he receives a fruit basket with a heartfelt apology card.
Despite the surreal events of that night, his work is not
merely mundane or normal, but invigorating and assuring.
On that Saturday, 10 reports to the address he's been given.
The function is boring but luckily quite short. He learns a
few tips about marketing and design elements that he hadn't
considered before -- but listens to quite a few more that he
had. Afterward, 10 reads, showers, has a short date with a
woman he met at a regrettable yoga class, then retires to his
apartment after a quick meal, and -- while changing for bed --
notices that his left foot is covered entirely in a thick
black fur. He immediately goes to see a doctor, of course. In
the meantime, though, HR is back on his trail, trying to sign
him up for ever more functions. The pattern thus continues. He
enjoys his job and his life, signs up for functions, and
subsequently finds some small deformity on his person -- a
patch of hair here, some scales there, a new bone under this,
or a chunk of flesh over that. Doctors find no causes or
cures. He is simply different. When 10 goes into a function,
he comes out as something slightly other, without explanation.
10, confused and irritated, starts to investigate the pattern.
Spying on the people at work while in the bathroom or covertly
peeking under desks, he begins to trace other deformities
hidden beneath skirts or behind facial hair, under watches and
beyond knee socks. Breaking into the records department after
hours, he finds a list of all the iterations of functions his
coworkers have attended. Given a well-maintained list of
distortions for each worker, he can trace their histories back
to the beginning, stretch their shapes toward an original
form. Comparing N's foot-eye back through two window-display
and fifteen editing functions, he finds that it leads toward,
confusingly, the number 10. Yes, one after another, he follows
the path of the functions backwards only to find one source:
10, again and again. In the dim red glow of an exit light, we
see 10 for the first time more as a 28 -- something emerging
through his gills just doesn't settle as 10 anymore.
The film ends with numbers walking into buildings and coming
out as fish; fish entering rooms and returning as deer or elk
-- deer or elk that quickly enter large carpeted halls only to
come back as confused fractions and roots: reductions and
expansions of one singular thing that we struggle out here in
the audience to even name, though we all agree we feel it --
like a vice to the chest or down-comforter at night. It's
there somewhere, this one thing -- of that much we're sure --
but what it's for? No, we can't remember.
(PG), 2002, 34 min.
With an accuracy mocking measurability, X and Y return home at
the exact same moment, each taking the other by complete
surprise. They both have traveled infinitely to get here (and
that only after having gone equally as far to leave home, long
ago). Walking into their shared home, a home remarkable only
in its being so unremarkable, the two look each other over,
contemplating whether or not X is really X, whether or not Y
has become some other Y. It having been so long since they've
seen each other, they can't come to any conclusions, but
refuse to move on until they put it all together. Both of them
are stopping home only briefly, just picking something up
before checking out the other side of eternity -- but neither
will leave until the other reveals something true, something
that confirms or disproves their assumptions and suspicions.
They sit down at the table to think, waiting for clarity.
Soon, though, their minds begin to wander. They imagine what
lays before them on their journeys, what they might discover
once they've figured it all out. Their speculations about the
future move onward, in different directions, across Z, a lost
love, and toward forever. Once they've imagined that far,
their minds turn back and eventually arrive home again, just
as confused as when they left, but maybe better for it. Either
way, X and Y sit together, impossibly close, trying to know
each other, succeeding only in correctly guessing the other is
just as clueless.
and Mandelbrot (Unrated), 2001, 49 min.
This documentary probes the remarkable lives of impossible
twins, Julia and Mandelbrot. As tests show, on the genetic
level these two are almost exactly the same, every nucleotide
mirroring the other's. Yet, it is just one small difference in
DNA that makes their relationship so magical. In Mandelbrot's
DNA there is but a single nucleotide that changes each day --
causing all sorts of strange growths and aberrations on his
body and in his mind. Julia also, like her brother, has but a
single nucleotide that varies with every passing day. And
though they do share this remarkable genetic feature, they do
not have in common which nucleotide varies. So, here's how it
pans out: these two siblings look exactly alike -- but only
underneath the ballooning limbs and twisting muscles that
manifest all over their bodies. Yet, beyond this phenomenon,
the documentary shows the twins to be even more remarkable:
though their mutations and contortions are never the same, there is a direct relationship between how they are
When Mandelbrot's head enlarges, Julia's feet shrink. When
Julia's mind wraps around her head like a blanket,
Mandelbrot's hands are sucked into his organs. And when
Mandelbrot's body is transformed into an emotion floating in
the room like a gas, Julia's head is filled with more organic
tissue than it can hold, flesh and teeth and hair spilling
from her ears like fine puree.
Some scientists speculate that they are not even twins, but
triplets, the relationship they share a third, living,
breathing thing. Still others believe that this relationship
is all that they are -- that they aren't triplets or twins at
all, but really just one person living as a pattern between
two people that aren't actually there. As the documentary
demonstrates, in fact, no one really talks to or sees Julia or
Mandelbrot -- at least not so much as they see and obsess over
what happens between them. Their exchange is monitored, but
neither one of them alone is ever watched. We are shown, with
increasing regularity, detailed images and computer
simulations of the pattern that bounces back and forth from
one twin to the other -- and increasingly fewer images of Julia
and Mandelbrot themselves. The film goes on to show how this
is true in your life as well, but it's all kind of lost on you
really because by the time the movie is over, you've already
forgotten exactly how to distinguish your life from the person
next to you -- or why you (who?) would even bother in the first
Average Hero (PG), BC 1302, 86 min.
This film valiantly takes on the lives of twelve monumental
figures at once. By taking their lives individually and
molding them together into one entirely fabricated life, we
are given secrets and new insights about each. The story
details how they all, whether they did or not, rose from an
impoverished background, fashioned their abusive childhood
into great art and strong politics, let their ego get the
better of them, fell prey to drugs, passed out on stage, and
eventually lead the hordes in a fight for freedom in the open
fields of their country -- and will forever be immortalized on
a t-shirt that at once displays their glory and their
unrequited love for the one that got away. Interviews with
family members are well shot but boring and unnecessary. The
film score is available at local record stores and consists of
a series of mistakes that can't be forgiven. You are not
featured in the film.
(G), 1987, 99 min.
14 has money and suits and cars and style and a great gleaming
smile. His hair is like a scoop of fudge -- you just want to
eat it up. In fact, the man might as well be candy -- he looks
like he belongs in your mouth. In an early scene, a woman asks
14 if he "uses that line on all the girls." While
the camera scours the stubble around his smile, either
sardonic or bored, 14's voice-over tells us that, "No, of
course I don't use that dumb line on every girl. You
see," he continues, "these lines? They have to vary
from person to person, from girl to girl, you can't use the
same one again and again. But all that aside -- I do use the
same line on every girl, without fail exactly the same, but it
takes me months to say it. I use my car and my absence and
whole conversations, long email exchanges, weekend trips, and
the rhythm of weekly temperaments, to say it slowly and in as
many languages as I can. It always works."
We expect the movie to be about 14's encounter with a woman
that challenges his methods, shows him up at his own game or
simply breaks him down with romance and love, but nothing of
the sort happens at all. Rather, the entire film is simply a
series of vignettes in which 14's intricate web works again
and again. The matrices in which he traps women do not come
crumbling down around him -- no, it's simple math and it never
fails. We've known this to be true, we realize, all along and
wanted vainly for this film to redeem the world in our own
image. As pretty as we are, there's no redemption because
there's nothing to redeem. Hell, you try redeeming a web.
(PG-13), 1911, 105 min.
A group of people living on an enormous abstract curve have
established a way of life. When, disillusioned by the inequity
prescribed by the curve, a group of teenagers begin rebelling,
the people of the curve banish them further out along the
bell. 33, the son of a wealthy arc-magnate, finds himself
entwined with the outliers when he falls for a girl from the
outer banks. After a disagreement with his father over corrupt
management of the curve, 33 slides downward into a world of
long views and flattened ambitions. The film offers glorious
panoramas of the enormous curve -- which towers over the
plains and lowlands that the outliers call home.
Their troubled lives and 33's self discovery are continuously
overwhelmed by the omnipresence of the steep slope. For all
their talk, mischief, fun and love, the outliers' bohemian and
idealist existence is further and further marginalized by the
growing curve. It is both immovable, unchangeable -- and
forever racing upward. Today's nobility are shuffled hastily
aside to become tomorrow's second-class and next week's
unmentionables. Many on the curve call it progress until time
pushes them outward as well, leaving everyone to decry
progress as injustice. Above the bickering and in-fighting,
the film eloquently depicts it all as the selfish will of the
curve itself. Like a sink at capacity, the curve makes an
outlier of all its inhabitants, washing everything over to the
tiles below without discrimination or pause. We are left to
wonder how an abstraction could do so much, let alone anything
(R), 1964, 14.5 sec
Dr. Thirty P. Four, oncologist at Yale New Haven Hospital, is
a hot-headed but talented specialist. Despite his value in the
field, he constantly finds trouble because of his volatile
temper and resistance to authority. When he is presented with
the case of a young Miss Six and a Half, the doctor must face
down his flaws. The cancer in his new patient responds to the
doctor's anger, growing in direct proportion to his
temperament. Every time he gets upset, the tumors grow larger,
the cells reach further out into the body. Yet, calmness
doesn't make the beast recede. Rather, it simply plateaus,
waiting patiently for the next opportunity to grow. Nor do
traditional methods have any influence on the cancer or the
In desperation, the doctor tries to experience every emotion
separately and in combination, the process of which is
rigorous and mentally taxing. What he discovers, though, is
not that any emotion makes the patient's cancer recede, but
rather that each emotion makes someone else's worsen. That is,
every emotion he has corresponds and contributes directly to
the exacerbation of some patient's cancer. Though he has
devoted his life to fighting this illness, it appears that the
doctor is a cause of it, that he is in some way a root of it.
However much good he may have done is dwarfed easily by the
sheer number of people he must have hurt, even killed. There
have been so many ups and downs in life. He tries not feeling
anything at all, but this too kills people.
He begins to wonder: if he is the cause of cancer, then on
some level -- through some lens -- might he not be considered
a part of the cancer as well? And if he's a part of it,
shouldn't he be growing too in response to his own emotions?
Research confirms it: in the phonebook in New Haven there are
over 300 Thirty Fours. As a test, he tries feeling a few
emotions and then rechecking the books -- and yes, there are
more of him after the fact. National research matches up. Not
only is he the cause of cancer, he is the cause of himself.
And Thirty Four is left wondering -- was he the originator of
all this, or is he just one more product of some carcinogenic
emotion? That is, is he the cause of himself -- or was he
merely caused by himself? And if so, which emotion is he? And
if he is so dangerous, shouldn't he go about the country
hunting himself down? Or worse -- was some other him already
doing it? And could he soon be the next to go? Or would he
always be able to elude himself?
One (G), 2008, 16 min.
In a dystopian future, society has collapsed into perfection.
The air is a camera that watches itself, and the plants are
recording your every thought, vision and feeling. Everyone is
a grocery store clerk, selling non-perishable goods to one
another forever. There are two shifts, night and day. Each
clerk shops while the other works. No one remembers sleep. The
trucks deliver and unload themselves, rumbling quietly to and
from a distant and unknown factory. In this world, there is
only one who can change the fate of humanity, one lowly
grocery clerk destined to rise up above the rest and save them
all. This film details his rise to power, his journey into the
distance and triumphant victory over unseen forces. And then
it details the next One's journey, and the next, until every
One has vindicated humanity and individuality and narcissistic
fantasy until only you are the one, The One selling groceries
to the rest, watching the trucks roll in and out like trucks
from a grocery store.
Cave 2: Continuum (Unknown), 12:15 p.m., 72 yr: 154 d: 11 hr: 32
This film does not begin. Or at least, it does not begin just
once. It begins constantly and in as many ways as possible.
When you start watching it, you realize you can't remember
sitting down to do so, but instead that you only remember
being there. Of course, you still remember being other places
before hand -- but when was that? And why did you come to this
movie? What was the first scene? Every time you try to recall
it, you remember another earlier one. It can't possibly go on
forever, though, because you are not infinitely old, but in
fact much younger than that. We use your age, therefore, as a
temporary cap on how long this movie has been so far. Okay,
when was your last birthday? How old did you turn? Right, that
was a good party. And only six months ago, roughly. Let's cap
the length of this movie so far at no more than six months
then. That's as accurate as you can get though, and you are
plagued by the feeling that you are forgetting something
important and that this brief attempt at logic is doomed by
something you don't understand. You remember that this is how
you usually feel and decide to think about something else.
The movie seems apt. It's here and easy enough to think about.
Or is it? In fact, a better question might be: where is it?
The movie could be anywhere you realize. You are in a dark
room, yes, with other people, yes, and you are all seated,
sure, and there is sound and light, but it's hard to focus.
Where is it coming from? That wall? This wall? Which way is
everyone else looking? What a great question, you think. If
we're all watching a movie, surely you can just look in the
same direction as everyone else -- but what's this, people are
looking in every direction? Or is it no direction? Either way,
you have no idea which way to look and join the ranks of
people not looking at anything. You realize that even though
you haven't learned anything, you've fallen into step somehow
with what's happening here. Anyone else wondering what to do
could look to you, just as much as they could look to anyone
else, and they'd be prepared to fit in here. And you don't
even know what you're doing or looking at!
And then the film ends. You aren't sure exactly how you know,
but you are certain that you do. But, at the same time, it
ends again. And again. The thing just keeps ending. You can
tell, perhaps, by the rapturous applause or the ushers coming
to clean things up or the house lights coming on. But people
hush, the ushers leave, and things get dirty and dark again.
It's still ending. The ending is longer than the movie itself
you think, if that's possible, which it is, you realize,
because it's happening just that way right now. My god.
Hesitantly, you act on an idea you aren't quite sure of yet,
but you believe you have to try it or you'll always regret it.
You sneak out. You leave the movie, right during the last
scene no less. It's an important one you bet, but you didn't
really understand it anyway. Outside the theater, your life is
waiting for you. You drive home, you eat, you work, you marry
and you love, all in a variety of orders. Then you sneak back
into the theater to see how things have come along. Still
ending! You watch for a bit and then head back out.
Eventually you get pretty confident about this back and forth
thing. No longer hesitant, you come and go from the theater as
much as you'd like. You start to resent the gas prices,
though. You have to drive to and from over and over. And the
time wasted! You're either going to have to move that theater
into your house or your life into the theater. You aren't a
stakeholder in any cineplex, that's for sure, but you are
definitely a stakeholder in your family. So, you ship them all
off to the theater where you can all watch the movie together,
trying to figure out what the hell is going on. They are here
somewhere, you know, but somehow you've misplaced them. It's
dark in here, and everyone looks the same.
Secret Tangent (G/PG/PG-13/R/NC-17/XXX/Unrated/Unknown),
The film is about things in the normal way: there are
characters, 6 and 17 and 42 and others, and there is a
conflict and a climax. There is dialog and there are twists
and turns and surprises. Yet, though these events happen much
as they would in any other film, there are a number of things
that are touched on briefly, but significantly enough that we
begin to imagine other movies we are not seeing. In fact, the
bulk of the meaning and impact of the film happens in other,
as of yet unmade, films that we are subtly directed to through
the otherwise humdrum events of this mediocre film.
Though the central portion of the film may be trite and
reminiscent of so many other things, the glimpses of the films
we aren't watching are fantastic, groundbreaking even. Taken
as a whole, the many tangents constitute an oeuvre that rivals
many of the great auteurs of film, a body of work that,
despite being only a fleeting gesture of misdirection, is a
body of work rich in character, technical grace and universal
import. To that end, as well, we begin to see the way these
tangents thematically connect, and how they pay homage to a
whole history of movies and works that we can only pretend to
imagine. The tangents themselves form a kind of ring, a circle
of ideas, off of which we can think of ourselves envisioning
another work, a mirror image of the film we are actually,
physically sitting through with great pains. Somewhere on the
other side of these references and gestures is the inverse of
the mediocre movie we are laboring through, and if we can
connect the lines and measure the angles just right, we might
be able to deduce it, boil its greatness into a single
equation, a string of numbers imparting all the things we've
not experienced throughout the course of the film.
(PG), Now, 65 min.
Harry, the film's protagonist, is an introspective fisherman,
often alone, but by no means a hermit. That he is a fisherman
is incidental so far as the plot is concerned, but with regard
to its themes, the fisherman "angle" is more an
unfortunate and unnecessary play on words, one that the film
would simply be better off without. That aside, though, the
movie beguiles and entertains. It follows Harry's newfound
obsession with his social relationships. He imagines himself
and others as two points, though not connected by a straight
line. He is a spiritual man and believes in a higher power.
Harry imagines that what binds him to other people must in
fact be a vertex, a point somewhere off to the left or right
of his relationships, the central hub of an angle on which he
and his friends, family, and lovers might exist. It looks
great on screen.
Next, Harry decides to find these mysterious third points, and
each vertex proves stranger than the next. Through deep
meditation, a lot of advanced geometry, and some religious
guidance, Harry is able to deduce the location of what binds
him to other people -- for his mother, he finds that the
vertex is a pair of old Nikes left in a parking lot just
outside a nearby city. For his son, Harry discovers the vertex
to be a young girl working the cash register of a major
department store. The vertex of his past girlfriends turn out
to be, in order of appearance in Harry's life: a Toyota
Corolla, a section of open field in Ohio, the third window to
the left on the second floor of the Flat Iron Building facing
east, a cat's grave abreast a child's playground, and a series
of peppers strung about a Spanish deli.
Eventually, Harry realizes that as a relationship changes, so
does the vertex! Through trial and error, Harry manages to
morph his uncle's vertex, a fern located within a national
preserve, into a deck of cards for sale at the pharmacy; Harry
not only changes the vertex he shares with his dog, the breast
of an elderly woman up the street, into an entire supermarket
-- but he also shifts it back.
Harry spends an increasing amount of time with the vertexes
themselves. Alone and removed from his real relationships,
however, the vertexes begin to change. Calculations reveal
that he can no longer sit by the orchard to be near the vertex
of his father, but instead must travel across the state to a
paper factory. Each one continues to change again and again,
and Harry continues to track them, to watch what they become
as he leaves behind the actual lives of his friends and
family. In time, however, each vertex stops changing, settles
on a final form. They halt when Harry's relationships with
other people reach a state of meaninglessness from disuse,
weakly bound only in that there once was something meaningful.
And as each one finds its final vertex, it is without fail the
same: untraceable ocean waves. Like numbers, at once the same
and different, immutable but exchangeable, each one rolls off
to lap an unknown shore.
The film ends as you begin to swim.