I happened on this fantastic film yesterday having never heard anything about it in advance. Similarities to my mind: The old film "Slaughterhouse Five" from the Kurt Vonnegut story about an individual who's 'come unstuck in time'. The not widely seen Alain Resnais film "Je t'aime je t'aime". And the interviewnarration by a very old man with which Jack Crabb bookends "Little Big Man".
What are the themes? Real and deep (for a movie) and current science, especially about motivations, behavior and habits, and the physics of time. The importance of (fragmented and nonlinear) memory. Ennui once you meet all your life goals (goal too low? too materialistic? too silly and unrealistic?...?). The obstacles of people and emotions that don't quite fit overcome for now, yet resurfacing in baleful form years later. What if some of the possible freak accidents all around all the time actually happened? How the most trivial incident can determine an entire life: 'how would my life have been different if I'd missed that train?'. So long as one doesn't choose, both possibilities remain open. What we call reality is really just someone's imagination - an author typing away, or a child mapping his future. What's the purpose of time's arrow? Now stir them all together so nothing predominates.
The film is endlessly visually inventive. Sudden close-ups, episodes of slo-mo in the midst of the action, showing things backward. Even a self-referential display of a DVD freezing and skipping was so realistic I was about to summon the theater staff. Sometimes the effects are unobtrusively motivated by the story line, other times they call attention to themselves. Sometimes they're physics stills come to life, as in the rather famous freezes of a drop of water hitting the surface of a pond here shown in full motion. Sometimes they're unique: although I've seen lots of sex scenes, I've never before seen a closeup of skin hairs standing up indicating arousal. Every scale and sensibility is probed: from the mundane smallness of an auto instrument panel to huge structures careening through outer space. Moving displays routinely occupy any large flattish surface -even clear or curved ones; an interior wall becomes a soothing pattern of constantly moving ocean waves. After a while, as an elaborate joke, we see helicopters submerging those wave walls back into the real ocean.
The astounding makeup is much more than the convincing age of the protagonist (including a few long wispy white hairs growing out of the baldness). Television announcers have microphones surgically embedded in their cheeks. We see the protagonist with an injured face immediately after an explosion - later his face carries a slight scar in that same place. Along with traditional tattoos, we see believable 3D ones. A seriously injured hospital patient has a bruise around his trach tube.
Much is very funny, in a cool ironic way that passes right by. Different couples explaining why they wanted a baby had me in stitches. The parody of live news is priceless. Non sequiturs and double entendres abound, making mulling the dialog a delight. A lost sneaker reappears later at giant size.And there's lots of subtle unreality. Accents come and go. Immediately after a pool rescue the pool is covered.
There are special effects galore. But they're unobtrusive to the point of being invisible. A few in service of the storyline are fairly obvious: an auto accident, an explosion, space travel, etc. But most are hidden. Just one example: a couple will be pouring morning coffee in their kitchen, hug, and in one continuous movement fall on the bed in their bedroom. It feels and looks so natural, until you think 'there was a wall there!' and 'that bed headboard was a kitchen table a moment ago!'. Counting all those, this movie has more special effects than any other I've ever seen.
Visual themes recur. A slick leaf on the pavement is responsible for at least three different accidents and life paths. And we see that leaf yet again as a child contemplates it. A bad dream about space travel shows up again much later as reality. A promise between teenage lovers seems hopelessly romantic at the time, yet many years later it's really carried out. Sometimes we see the same event from a different point of view; other times the event starts exactly the same, but then turns out differently, an alternate reality. Locations recur too, again sometimes from a different point of view. An imagined accident happens at a railroad grade crossing, a train station platform is shown several times, and a child trying to decide which way to run on the railroad tracks winds up running down the road instead. Near the end the camera pulls back and we realize they're all the same place.
Although sometimes tongue in cheek and almost never calling attention to itself, the science seems accurate. For example transport from a spaceship to the surface of a planet is shown by 'space elevator'. Yet it's never called out or named or explained, and mostly we only see parts of it. It's just assumed. The animal behavior experiments seem pretty current. The time the characters live in seems consistent with some interpretations of quantum physics. The wildest futures -suspended animation for example- are thrown in with the rest, blurring the line between fiction and reality. Then, just when you think this might be an episode of Mr. Science, something truly goofy appears: when the 'big crunch' happens, clockworks stop, then restart, except backward!
It sounds crazily fragmented, but marvelously it all hangs together emotionally. The film must have been created as much in the editing room as behind the camera. Never before have I seen an end credit thanking all the participants in scenes which were cut and never made it into the final movie.
Review by chuck-526 from the Internet Movie Database.