If there is a common theme to Darren Aronofsky’s films it is obsession, in this case a doctor’s desperate drive to cure his wife’s cancer before it takes her, failing to spend time with her whilst she comes to accept her mortality. Rather than focus solely upon this personal drama, Aronofsky seeks to tackle the more profound nature of death through a separate fiction that mirrors the central narrative, with the same lead actors. This serves to depersonalise the characters, along with a brief running time reducing them to sketches, so that we understand them on an intellectual level but struggle particularly to empathise with them. From the opening ten minutes, spanning multiple eras with fantastic elements and a striking black and gold palette, I feared this would be a frustratingly inscrutable experience. Instead, once its structure emerges, The Fountain‘s ideas about death turn out to be surprisingly straightforward, with far less depth than its ambition.
“Do you know your place in the universe? Do you know where you are?”
Out of Blue is a mesmerising noir mystery that prizes atmosphere and a singular perspective over its meandering plot, calling to mind Donnie Darko (down to the soundtrack’s use of The Killing Moon) without quite descending into Lynchian madness. Director Carol Morley draws the female detective and cosmology elements as ingredients from Martin Amis’ Night Train, but mixes her own cocktail with a strong visual language and an unusually British lens on a New Orleans setting. Patricia Clarkson is perfect as detective Mike Hoolihan, comfortably wearing the typically male noir tropes whilst her character wryly wards off a complaint, “there’s many ways to be a woman.” Mike’s murder investigation draws parallels with the work of her theoretical physicist suspects, particularly the notion of observation changing results. Not only does observation alter Mike’s understanding of the present (she is routinely pictured closely observing evidence through a magnifying glass) and her own past, but one also reflects on whether the audience members, by observing different clues, each create a different a film. This idea fits with Morley’s desire to make the film “spacious enough that people can insert themselves”. There are definite parallels with True Detective‘s first season, with its similarly atmospheric take on Louisiana, its pervasive sense of dread, and the anticlimactic result of its more inscrutable fantastic imagery which never quite lands. And, just the same, Out of Blue lingers hauntingly afterward.
“You are more than just a weapon. You have a soul — a ghost. When we see our uniqueness as a virtue, only then will we find peace.”
Ghost in the Shell is a cultural phenomenon that has been adapted from the original manga into animated films and TV series, but its first live action feature comes from the USA rather than Japan. The result is undeniably visually stunning with extensive CGI bringing its future tech to life and illuminating it with colourful hues. Yet the franchise’s central question proves an apt analogy for the film: beneath the flawless exterior of this glossy shell there is no soul, no emotional weight. Accusations of Hollywood whitewashing are not resolved by the mere fact that Major’s mind is revealed to have come from an ethnically Japanese woman. If the film’s tacit suggestion is that the Western ideal of a “perfect” designer body would invariably look white, it fails to engage with this at all. The film’s most inspired casting is the legendary “Beat” Takeshi Kitano as Major’s boss, Aramaki.
It is unsurprising that, after the lukewarm reception of Warcraft, Duncan Jones chose to return to smaller scale sci-fi. The relative freedom of Netflix funding was squandered on the tale of a mute bartender searching for his missing girlfriend in near-future Berlin. Near-silent protagonists taking on criminal elements invariably means style over substance, though both Drive and Baby Driver have shown it can be successful. Although the cyberpunk visuals are impressive, they are little more than a painted backdrop for uninteresting characters in a messy story that veers into uncomfortable territory due to poor handling of its darker subject matter. The setting invites an unflattering comparison with Blade Runner, seeking to evoke its atmosphere without any world building (the best attempts being the nods to Mute existing in the same universe as Jones’ debut Moon).