25 May 2014 | dougdoepke
A Modern Faustian Tale in a Little Depth
I don't think the movie's definition of 'reborn' is exactly what the popular meaning has in mind. Nevertheless, it's a heckuva sci-fi movie from beginning to end. Frankenheimer pulls out all the stops in his camera work. The angles and effects are weird even for the close-ups, while that hectic bacchanal still has me panting for breath. We're kept off balance the whole time by those angles, which is as it should be. The style fits the material perfectly.
Poor Arthur (Randolph). He's a dutiful husband and breadwinner, but he's also terminally bored with his life and wife. It seems he's grown old, even at middle-age. So, now he's ready for the big change the Company provides for a price. Still, he should have known when he signed up that he was in for the wrong kind of rebirth. After all, he first has to go through an infernal steam cloud at the pants presser, then through carcass-strewn meat lockers in a slaughterhouse. It's all this just to get to the Company offices. That should have told him that the price of a new identity would be more hellish than the 30,000 in dollars.
But then, what guy wouldn't trade a 45-year old tired mug for Rock Hudson's handsome features and a new chance at life, especially the swinging kind. Okay, so maybe there's something sinister behind the smiling bureaucrats of The Company, especially when Mr. Ruby (Corey) scarfs down the fleshy edibles. But not to worry, they'll fake his death with some poor soul's cadaver and his unexciting former life will be left behind for good.
So, after a lot of bloody plastic surgery, Arthur gets his new chance with a handsome new face, reborn now as Tony Wilson (Hudson). Plus he gets to move from his boring old house in the suburbs to where else but swinging Malibu, CA. The Company, it seems, fixes up everything. Then there's that adoring young playmate to help (Jens) him settle in. She's sure a long way from the drab wife he's left behind. Okay, maybe there's something odd about John (Addy), the hovering house servant of his beach cottage. Nonetheless, he waits on Tony's every need, and now Tony can live life as a king.
And get a load of those merry- making hippies snaking up the canyon to their wine-soaked retreat that Nora's roped him into. Trouble is you can change a person outwardly, but it's not so easy inwardly. Besides, as Arthur, Tony has a whole lifetime of habits and hang-ups to overcome. So now he just sort of stands there, uptight, amid all the naked wine-stomping bodies. A real party-pooper until playmate Nora strong-arms him into drunken abandon. Now he's got what he thinks he wants, a new swinging life to replace the glum old businessman. At last, life is good, but is it.
I'm not surprised the film has a big cult following. On the whole, it's that good. The cast is superb, even Hudson who I suspect gives a career performance. That's along with the Walton's Will Geer as the kindly old head of The Company, his perpetual smile a mask for what turns out to be a Faustian bargain. To me, the movie's final third lacks the kind of clarity that's gone before. But maybe that's as it should be. That way the sinister undercurrents remain clouded in their exact depths.
It appears the plot pivots at this point on the question of personal choice, certainly a defining feature of personal fulfillment. But without giving away too much, it seems The Company has engineered everything, right down to guaranteed unhappiness. So the Company program perhaps amounts to a recycling of clients through pre-planned stages that Tony too must go through. The movie doesn't spell out what The Company is really up to; instead, we have to piece things together. I guess my only gripe is with the ending. Frankly, the kicking and screaming may raise the viewer's dread-level, but I think the ending should come as a sudden surprise with kindly old Will Geer looking on.
Nonetheless, the movie appears to be an original reworking of the Faustian legend of selling one's soul. But whether taken as a Faustian parable on middle- class discontent or not, it's still a riveting 100-minutes.