One of my favourite films of all times couldn’t go without a review.
Marc Foster’s 2005 high-impact drama was very much overlooked upon release. Scripted by David Benioff (The 25th Hour, Game of Thrones), arguably one of the finest young writers out there, and starring Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Bob Hoskins and the more recently celebrated Ryan Gosling, the psychological thriller category under which falls this gem of a film belies the visually stunning poetry of its cinematography.
Sam Foster (McGregor) and his partner Lila (Watts) live a comfortable life in New York, each of them dedicated to their passion and career, psychiatry and painting respectively. When Sam takes on suicidal patient Henry (Gosling), unsettling thoughts, events and manifestations start seeping into his existence.
Is it a dream? Or a nightmare, more like. Is it madness we’re dealing with? Whose madness? The therapist’s? Or his patient’s, drawing the therapist into his own world? Or is it us he’s drawing in? We hear Lila call Sam “Henry”: is then she the one who’s mad? We, the audience, know she called him that, we heard it, with our very own ears. So is the therapist drawing us into his madness? But he’s not the patient…
All throughout the film, there are signs – apart from the all-round fucked-up narrative – subtle signs that there’s something deeper going on. Something we can’t make sense of and something the character probably only senses without ever getting close to identifying. There are visual clues – all the things happening in doubles – the two girls, with the brown bob and yellow raincoat, simultaneously exiting opposite sides of the car, opening the boot, and simultaneously pulling out two identical suitcases. This, in a remote corner of the overall street view as it’s shot; easily missable, nagging at our subconscious nonetheless. The twins (or clones) passing Sam in the corridor. The omnipresent symmetry. And the cinematography – the staircase!! Everything leads to an explanation of the truth behind the story that we’re not equipped to decipher or even grasp – and so we’re contrived to sitting back and enjoying the aesthetics of it. The beauty of it.
And the final scene – and it is only in the very final scene – when everything falls into place, everything we’ve seen, everything we’ve questioned, everything we’ve noticed and even things we haven’t – it all flashes before our eyes, and it doesn’t make sense but we understand it. Just as our character does. The absoluteness of the tragedy grips us, while the promise of redemption in the form of a new beginning leaves us wondering whether we’re choking back tears of grief or joy.
Now that is cinematic genius.