I’ve been feeling unenthusiastic for a while now about modern movies.
Sometimes, I’ve thought this was because they all seem to follow the same pattern.
Other times, I’ve bemoaned the overuse of CGI; as good as digital special effects have gotten, the eye and brain can often still tell they aren’t real, and they fall into a sort of effects “uncanny valley” that makes suspension of disbelief and emotional investment more difficult than it was for some of their more low-tech, low-fidelity predecessors.
I’ve argued that the roughly two-hour time limitation imposed on films generally prevents them from doing the kind of in-depth exploration of character or theme that longer-running mediums can – novels, the trend in television towards long-form serialized storytelling, even comic books.
So the time had come to ask myself: what are movies best-suited for? What can they do better than any other medium?
Director Leos Carax and actor Denis Lavant’s Holy Motors (the incredibly versatile and physical Lavant, who astonishingly transforms himself into at least 10 very different characters, deserves nearly as much credit as the director) presents one possible answer, and it has restored my faith a little bit in the whole concept of movies.
The answer is – more than any other medium, movies can simulate dreams. They can dispense entirely with language and literal meaning, and instead free-associate at the level of symbol and metaphor. Their relatively short length is no longer a liability, but an asset.
I don’t pretend this is in any way an original insight, but it’s one I apparently need to be reminded of from time to time.
The oneiric Holy Motors is, among other things and as best as I can tell, a riff on art and creativity vs. commerce; a history of cinema, and a requiem for old-school filmmaking, in which costumes and makeup and prosthetics and human dexterity and grace were at least as transporting as zeroes and ones on a hard drive; and a meditation on identity, aging and loneliness.
Moreover, it’s all these things while still being relentlessly entertaining and quite funny (it positively delights in setting up narrative expectations, then perversely zagging just when you expect a zig).
It’s not a linear movie that makes literal sense, and there will be at least as many interpretations as there are viewers; and at the end you will have questions, at least one of which will be “What the HECK?!”
But you haven’t seen a movie like this before, and isn’t that reason enough to see it?
It’s streaming on Netflix Instant.