Directed and co-written by Rick Alverson
Starring Tye Sheridan, Jeff Goldblum, Hannah Gross and Denis Lavant
Not rated, but there’s a bit of nudity, swearing and some disturbing images of lobotomies
Running time: 1 hour and 46 minutes
by Benjamin Leonard, Best Boy
This is the first film I’ve watched by Alverson and I’d heard his earlier work (Entertainment and The Comedy) proved to be “difficult” for many. The quick and dirty on this film is that it stars Jeff Goldblum as one of the few remaining doctors in the early 1950s to be a proponent of lobotomy and Tye Sheridan plays his photodocumentarian. So I wasn’t exactly sure what to think going into this. My only expectation was that it might be overwhelming at times. For better or worse, that wasn’t the case.
The film opens with Andy (Sheridan) in his small room in father’s (Udo Kier) home. The film is presented in 4:3 aspect ratio (classic TV fullscreen format) and gives the feeling of being cramped, uncomfortable. The picture here is a perfect example of the way many of the shots are framed. Tye’s head is almost scraping the top of the picture. In other shots, he is hunched to fit the frame. This is a quiet young man that is confined by his surroundings. He has a small room where the walls are papered with a collage of pornographic pictures of (what, for the most part, appear to be) women but at the center is an image of a person that was (what at the time and in the film was referred to as) a hermaphrodite (and we would now say is intersex).
Andy goes to have breakfast with his father and describes a dream he had, where there were two bodies, one male and the other female, and he couldn’t tell the difference between the two. His father seemingly ignores the story and goes on to tell him that when Andy was a child, he never thought he’d stop growing, but now he is like his mother (seemingly an insult). A short time after, his father dies. The film doesn’t revisit Andy’s sexuality until much later on.
Instead, we are introduced to Dr. Wallace “Wally” Fiennes (Goldblum). Wally is the opposite of Andy. He is gregarious and always flirting with all sorts of women wherever he goes. He knows his place in the world and it’s pretty close to the top. We learn that he performed a lobotomy on Andy’s mother several years back and that she is in an institution. Andy asks if Wally can take him to visit her, but instead Wally offers him the job of tagging along and photographing the patients before, during and after the lobotomies that Wally performs.
Eventually, Andy meets and falls for one of Wally’s future patients (Hannah Gross). He visits her at her father’s (Denis Lavant) home and they end up having sex. Later, we get to witness Lavant (Holy Motors) in a couple of scenes where he gets pretty wild (which I’m sure will appeal to fans of him). From there, there are several other plot points that I think would be giving too much away to discuss here.
Instead, what I’ve given you is just enough to make an informed decision as to whether or not you might want to see this. Because I have no clue if I should recommend it or not. It’s very slow and deliberate in its pacing. It’s not a comfortable or enjoyable thing to see, but it requires your focus in order to truly take it in. This isn’t going to be a film for a lot of people (maybe not even me), but I think it was quite well done. The set design, decoration and costuming is great for the period. The casting was inventive but perfect. Goldblum was playing to his type, but without chewing up the scenery and taking away from the rest of the film.
It is playing in NY and LA now, will be coming to The Ritz Theaters in Philly shortly and is making its way around the country in the coming weeks. If you think this might be up your alley, you can check for local availability here.