Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Movie Log: Wristcutters

Most movies can be described pretty quickly, in filmic shorthand. Why, even something as odd and individual as Wristcutters: A Love Story could be called an existential afterlife romantic comedy. But, in this case, that wouldn't explain much.

You see, it's set entirely in the next world -- well, one of the next worlds, I guess: the one that you go to when you kill yourself. Everything is a little dingier and a little worse than our world, and no one can ever smile. There's not much sense of the larger world, but that's probably lousy as well -- the movie focuses on a few characters, mostly heading through hot, barren landscapes.

Zia (Patrick Fugit) is a young man who cut his wrists over a bad breakup with his girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb), and found that it didn't make anything better -- he ended up working at Kamikaze Pizza and living with a persnickety roommate. His only friend is Eugene (Shea Wigham), a moody Russian in the unique position of living with his entire family. (Being a moody, suicidal Russian is hereditary -- luckily, or unluckily, take your pick.)

When Zia learns that Desiree is somewhere in this world -- she committed suicide a month after he did -- he immediately wants to go find her and patch things up. Eugene doesn't need much convincing for a road trip -- this is the kind of place where doing anything, no matter how stupid, is preferable to just sticking around. So they drive to the east, vaguely following where Zia thinks Desiree might be, and pick up hitchhiker Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who claims that she's there as a mistake, and is determined to find and confront the People In Charge.

And the three of them driving in the car together leads to the romantic comedy part -- except for the minor points that no one can smile (let alone laugh), so it's not all that comedic. And there's not a whole lot of romance in what may be hell, or at least purgatory. Even meeting Kneller (Tom Waits), the leader of a group of relatively happy and well-organized folks, can't stop their searching for long.

Wristcutters was based on a short story, and there's been some controversy about changes to the ending. It's a good ending, but it's definitely a movie ending. And the movie's cosmology doesn't completely come into focus -- devoted followers of religion and dyed-in-the-wool humanists alike will find things to be annoyed about. But it tells an interesting story and has some good characters -- and it's not as bleak as you might think. Can love survive suicide? Maybe, sometimes, it can.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Etgar Keret, who wrote the original short story, is a livin' genius of the prosaic and surreal, and this story (Kneller's Happy Campers) is one of his most celebrated. I'd be interested in how they changed the ending; will have to get the video out I guess!

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