Sunday, December 2, 2007
This is the Way the World Ends
After watching Richard Kelly’s newest sci-fi, time travel film, Southland Tales, I left the theater feeling a little sick to my stomach, my head hurt, and my heart was pounding. These were all for good reasons, I swear. I can’t explain what Southland Tales invoked in me, but it was exhilarating.
Richard Kelly earned a cult following after writing and directing his sci-fi, time travel film, Donnie Darko. This movie gained little acclaim at the box office, but it skyrocketed the acting career of its star, Jake Gyllenhaal and fueled an underground fan base. Donnie Darko was a surreal story of a teenager’s journey through life (and time). I had to watch it five times to even start to get what was going on, but I absolutely loved it anyway. Southland Tales does the same thing.
Set in Los Angeles in the near future, Southland Tales tells of a nuclear attack hear on United States soil and the oppressive legislation that follow the tragic day. It also tells of a war machine running out of fuel, literally. It tells of a (mad) scientist who discovers how to harness the ocean’s constantly moving energy. And it tells of time travel and its potential effects on the end of the world.
T.S. Elliot wrote, “This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” Our narrator, played by a facially scared Justin Timberlake, relays the message that Elliot was wrong. The world ends with a big bang caused by a rift in the time/space continuum. Kelly’s vision of the end of existence is full of indecipherable messages and factions of wing nuts who all want to run the country their own way.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who just goes by Dwayne Johnson for this movie, plays a high profile action star and husband to a republican presidential candidate’s daughter (Mandy Moore) who goes missing for three days and awakes in the desert with amnesia. He hooks up with a porn star turned talk show host played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. Johnson’s character, Boxer Santaros, writes a screenplay about the end of the world, not realizing how real his fiction tale is.
At the same time, in another part of town Roland Taverner, played by Seann William Scott, is experiencing amnesia as well. He is helping the neo-Marxist group stage a murder that they plan to use as blackmail. He had to be reminded by members of the neo-Marxists that he has taken the identity of his twin brother as a police officer in order to trick Santaros into being involved in the crime. The two unwittingly end up staging the events that end the world.
As the events of the story unfold, so does all ability to understand the plot at all. But it is still a wonderful movie. Like David Lynch or Federico Fellini, Kelly’s film is an abstract art, beautiful to look at, emotionally stirring, but impossible to understand. The artist will tell you that his intent was clearly laid out with that brush stroke up in the left corner, but you will still walk away from it wondering what it was you were looking at. The important thing to remember when watching Southland Tales is not to try to understand the details, but to soak in the stunning canvas and let your emotions guide you through.