30 March 2004 | sdluthier
This is an absolutely marvelous film. Director Michael Petroni has given us a thickly layered story that begs a second watching, if only to appreciate the nuanced placement of clues to a possible interpretation of the main concept; and here is one of the ideas that makes the film so powerful. The best films cause in us a desire to find meaning and intent, and the very best ones allow the engaged viewer to do so through their own looking glass, coming out the other side somehow transfixed and urged to look at their own lives with new tools of understanding. Perhaps one has to have done some personal work with psychiatry or at least psychology to appreciate some of the concepts explored, but at the very least the film is a touching testimony to self-exploration.
If you have not seen this movie, please don't read on. It's worth seeing without any precept. My take on the film is just that, and I hope perhaps it resonates with others. The lead character (Pearce) is a psychoanalyst who himself is troubled by a life yet unresolved, haunted by the repression of an event that changed his approach to life. There is so much to talk about here, but I will try and keep it simple. When the death of him father requires him to visit the town he spent his summers in during childhood (with his father), he is forced, or forces himself, to confront the aforementioned event involving his teen love, Sylvia. When floating in the river at night together, she somehow slips from his cluth and disappears. It's only later that her body is found. The character development leading up to the tragedy, and the moving between present and past is well executed.
The telling of the teen romance, and the appearance of a woman in the town where he is burying his father, and their subsequent realationship, are interwoven in an engaging fashion. The interpretation of the woman's existance is I believe not a fixed one. I notice the reference to 'ghost' in other posts, but I believe he has conjured her essence, and proceeds to relive numerous events the two experienced together as children, but this time with her as a contemporary. The whole is an exercise and/or ritual to allow him to release her from his psyche, so that he might be healed from the guilt and confusion that has since colored his life. There as countless clues to all of this-the pulling of her from the river and bringing her back to life after she jumped from the bridge, the reply 'you brought me here' when she was asked by him 'how did you get here', the evening scene when they revisit the crazy old woman's place where her breath was visible and his was not, and many more too numerous to mention.
There are also several other layers that are interesting and deliberate as plot concepts. In the opening of the film he is teaching a class and refers to three types of memory loss; amnesia, neurosis, and repression. He tells the class that that day they will be focusing on repression, and the story begins with that prologue, a story about revisiting the cause of his own repression and his endeavor to move through it. Another concept is the one of his father and their relationship. This is told sparingly yet adequately as a son with a father with whom he was not close. Even after the girl's drowning and disappearance the father can't hold his son, but can only shhhhhh him, modeling for him the precursors of repression. On the dock that the young Sam and Sylvia referred to as 'our place', young Sam removed his own name carved in the wood, not hers, after her death.
The appearance and the reappearance of TS Elliot's 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' is a fitting device. It's adds a mysterious element that reinforces the somewhat ethereal nature of Sam's journey through his own psyche.
The acting was superb, and Guy Pearce inhabits his character with sublety and confidence. Helena Bonham Carter also delivers a convincing pallor-clad performance. But the more deserving of attention is the acting of the young couple. Lindley Joyner and Brooke Harmon are simply perfect as young adults in love. I belive a movie like this will succeed or fail for several reasons, one of which is the musical score. The music was appropriately atmospheric whithout being trite, and the pacing of the film was great. If you are used to, and expect, the sort of product coming out of Hollywood, you might be bored. But if a film with the potential for powerful insight and transformation interests you, this Australian movie will stay with you for days, if not longer. It is wonderfully nuanced. See it and discuss it.