So the last few weeks have been a little rough. What I initially thought was a cold turned out to be a full-blown upper respiratory infection, which did wonders to explain why I’d devolved from a productive member of society into a depressed, unproductive sack of Not Giving a Shit.
So you’d think in this weakened state I’d want to expose myself to happiness and joy, maybe an uplifting family movie or something involving something other than loneliness and social isolation. Instead I watched Love, an indie movie by first time director William Eubank, which concerns a man trapped on the International Space Station losing his mind from lack of social stimulation, because I’m nothing if not a rampant contrarian who takes great pleasure into digging deeper into whatever hole he’s gotten into like a Minecraft player with a diamond fetish.
Of course, Love isn’t all doom and gloom, the first few minutes are more confusion and bewilderment, since it starts off in the fucking Civil War of all things, with a bunch of actors and extras in costumes they borrowed from the local reenactment troupe sending some guy in a tank top (and I don’t know if they had tank tops in the Civil War) off to see something no one ever properly explains, just some thing someone found somewhere.
Flash forward a few centuries to the actual story, where astronaut Lee Miller (played by Gunner Wright) loses all contact with Earth during a lone stint on the International Space Station. Left to his own devices, Lee does what I’d expect anyone would do in this situation, that being go a bit loony. He forms an attachment to a photo of a former station inhabitant, who as luck would have it looks like an underwear model, replays the few video and sound clips he has access to over and over again like a teenage boy endless rewinding that one scene with the sexy nurse from Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and obsesses over an old Civil War diary he found kicking around behind a wall panel. Two points if you can guess if it has any connection to that weird opening bit.
As snarky as I sound, the first two thirds or so of Love are actually pretty good, even if it is just Castaway in space except with a sexy Russian chick instead of a volleyball. When we first meet Miller he comes off as kind of straight-laced and dull, but the character becomes more sympathetic and human as we see the cracks start to show, and later see those cracks widen into great yawning chasms, like the one Simon Gruber throws Darth Vader into in that version of The Lion King that happens when you watch the whole thing with your eyes closed.
But like Icarus, Love winds up flying too close to the sun and goes down in flames, in that the third act turns into some weird, “It probably makes sense in the writer’s head” trippy metaphysical space odyssey, perhaps the kind that might have taken place in 2001 if you catch my drift. After spending enough years alone on the station to grow a rocking beard and get really, REALLY into self-tattooing, Lee encounters a giant floating time capsule thing that contains scores of interviews and information about the human race, most of which seems to consist of actors in a blank room talking about how important human connectivity is, and all of this links back to the Civil War thing, because the time capsule whatsit is the thing the guy from the beginning of the film was sent to find.
It’s around this point the film goes from a pretty solid little movie about loneliness and isolation to a pretty pretentious mess of sophomoric “all you need is love” sentiment, high-minded symbolism and narrative opacity that I’m sure makes some kind of sense logically, but feels more like the film makers planting a big ole’ wet one on Stanley Kubrick’s grave. That, or the last half hour or so is all Lee finally going as crazy as the March Hare having a ‘Nam flashback and dying while trying to make a deep spiritual connection with a power conduit.
And before this, I was really enjoying things, goddamit. The score by Angels and Airwaves gives everything a weird, haunting ambiance, the cramped sets and close angles amplify the sense of claustrophobia and allows the viewer to further empathize with Lee, and while Wright’s performance isn’t the stuff of legend, he pulls off “going slowly insane from isolation” pretty well. Aside from that weird Civil War opening, what we had up until that last bit was a very small, humble but interesting sci-fi flick. Sure, the meager budget is pretty evident, the Civil War scenes seem a tad cheap looking, and I’m sure anyone with knowledge of space travel would take one look at Lee’s space suit or the ISS interiors and laugh themselves into a coma, but it’s well-acted and has a good atmosphere and a decent hook.
But then you had to start wanking off 2001, didn’t you, movie? Had to have your space monument and your unclear ending that you really hope people will spend endless hours analyzing and interpreting, right? Except they won’t, because while 2001 gave the viewers enough information to start forming a hypothesis with, Love just feels opaque and vague for the sake of it.
So is Love a good movie? Well, parts of it are. When it’s all about the performance and the mood, I’d even say it’s damn good, but in the end it isn’t content with those and loses itself in pretentiousness and sentiment, and not even the good kind like Upstream Color did a few weeks back, but it’s really unfair to compare the two. I’m sure the director had good intentions and thinks his creation is beautiful and meaningful, but then again so did I that time in second grade art class when I made a clay mask of a troll with a really runny nose.