I’m going to simultaneously both recommend and warn about this film. If you go and see it and love it, then great – if you hate it (and many do) then please don’t insist that I recommended it to you – like Marmite you really need to decide for yourself.
Similarly I’m not going to try and explain what it’s about – other than I think it’s about coming to terms with the fact that one day you will die, but then again I can’t really be sure. There’s the possibility that it’s all an elaborately constructed series of dream sequences within dream sequences, or the last flash of a life that might have been from a man as he dies (an early scene where he has a fit actually being his death) – the wonderful thing about this film is that it’s so open to interpretation that there isn’t any right answer.
What I can instead focus on is the construction of the film and the performances, both of which are superb (provided that you are willing just to accept the film and go along with its dreamlike logic – resistance will lead to hatred, there is no middle ground). In terms of construction this has to be one of the most tightly constructed films / scripts for a long time as everything has the possibility of a meaning at a later date (or furthers the possibility of it all being an elaborate illusion). I want to see it again because I’m sure there are things that I’ve missed that become relevant at a later stage, but also to see how it’s all been put together.
A film like this is sold on the strength of its performances and its here that it really comes alive. Philip Seymour Hoffmann is rarely off screen and is charged with ensuring that interest is maintained. More importantly because the film asks so many questions it’s important to have a character that you can root for even if he is essentially unlikeable (his fear of death getting in the way of everything else). It took me a while to realise that it was actually Samantha Morton and Emily Watson rather than trickery as both actresses seem to been made to look as deliberately like each other as possible – indeed it is possible that they swapped roles at one point although I can’t really be sure.
As I said at the start, I’m not going to recommend it as a film (even though I thought it was superb) because it is clearly such a love / hate experience, but the ending is one of the few for a long time that has reduced me to tears. A single word brings together the entire film and gives it a sort of sense that whilst not lacking, isn’t precisely clear until that point. Hopefully, despite it tanking at the box office Kaufmann will be allowed to make further films as original as this.