13 June 2002 | ddrucker-2
Compelling and much better 23 years later
I saw this movie years ago on a date while I was in college was completely baffled by it (although I think I was one of the few people who liked it a bit nevertheless). Now, with it on the Fox Movie channel, I had a chance to see it again. What a difference a couple of decades makes! In 1979 there was no concept of nuclear winter, but now we all too well have visions of the world dying in the grip of ice. (In fact, some have pointed out that the same emissions that are causing global warming may end up creating exactly the opposite effect; the continuous fouling of the atmosphere will eventually shut out the sun and a new, deadly ice age will engulf the earth.) That said, the idea of hoplessness - of people having nothing to look forward to except the thrill of their game, makes the actions of the game players understandable, even if they are not sympathetic. In this sense, the movie is oddly like other apocalyptic movies like 'On the Beach', where survivors indulge in the ultimate decadence - willful ignorance of survival, a warped echo of their humanity. This is a movie about intrigue, very much like the spy movie involving double agents and double-crossing, but this is also a movie (like the more recent 'Sixth Sense' which also has a clear set of symbolic imagery) about a pervasive set of symbols. Everywhere you see the number 5. Everything comes in fives or pentagrams. There is a marvelous shot of a woman's face in a mirror, framed by a pentagram. The church scene where 'Saint Christopher' is speaking of the 5 stages of life is a droll parody of Christian orthodoxy, a sort of post-nuclear take on predestination, our lot in life, and the futitility of our existence, all ornamented with Latin and ritual. Far less subtle scenes like the 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes' scene where they worship an atomic bomb come to mind. The musical score is also constantly using the rhythm of 5. I found the music as well as the sound design (the constant howling of the wind, and groaning of ice) extraordinary. The ending, in which there are 4 orchestral strikes - the fifth is left out (perhaps symbolizing the fact that the story is left hanging) is suitably unsettling. My only criticism is the acting . Nearly all of he actors (except for Paul Newman) are not native English speakers, and their accents make many lines nearly incomprehensible. This is a shame, given that so many nuances of the plot are dependent on a line here or there. I'm not sure this film would be good remade by David Lynch (as one reviewer has suggested), but I now wonder what re-dubbing actors voices might do for it! Also, the entire film is shot with vaseline around the edges of the lens. While this technique may work as a special effect (and a clichéed one at that!) doing it for the entire movie is just distracting. I'll bet that Altman regretted that decision. 'Quintet' does not deserve the scorn that has been laid on it. It is not Altman's worst film; it is not a mistake. It is instead, an essay regarding what it is to be human, and an experiment in cold claustrophobic tone. In some ways, the experiment is a success - I found many of the images, sounds and music and ideas very memorable. In fact, I'll bet that the movie has had more influence on some filmmakers than we may realise. I'll bet Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and Alex Proyas like this movie. They all have that sensitivity to consistency of tone and vision that this movie has.