With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.
Friday night. Movie night. An early dinner and a quick film. We thumbed through my movie collection, offering small synopses of films she might like. When her eyes alighted on One Hour Photo I knew. I talked a lot about that film when Robin Williams first died, mentioning to family members recently that when I heard of his passing (as I did with Philip Seymour Hoffman) I returned to his body of work. Except I didn’t have much of Williams’ work, save for One Hour Photo and The Birdcage (which everyone should have in their collection, like Some Like it Hot, although with Birdcage director Mike Nichols sudden passing on Wednesday it would add a new layer of poignancy).
The sandwiches and leek soup prepared, the lights came down and we curled up for the subdued, unshowy, tense, almost French film in how the suspense slowly ratchets up, one click at a time until the inevitable terrifying reveal. And like more European films than American ones, the film remains open, ambiguous as to what is really going on, provoking discussion. It’s a tight bank job of a film, resting in just under 90 minutes. It doesn’t try to do too much and stays just as small as the larger than life Robin Williams shrunk down.
For me, this was his last great role. Most of the roles Williams has done haven’t been great performances but memorable scenes. Robin Williams has so much energy it almost seems too much at times, which is why his quiet nuanced performance in One Hour Photo was about the actor we know, disappearing.
My wife liked the film, for the discussion provoked and the subtleties leading your thoughts one way only to be repeatedly surprised another way. And I tell her about Mark Romanek the writer and director. I tell her it was primarily Romanek and my love of his videos that compelled me to see this film when it first came out. Romanek, the MTV dream weaver of videos like Nine Inch Nails’ Closer, Johnny Cash’s Hurt, and my personal favorite: Fiona Apple’s Criminal.
Romanek already had an appreciation for the look of a video and so I knew watching the film would be special. Having written the story as well brought in a simple exercise with three acts. A man, an untouchable though inhabiting two different worlds, and what happens when one world isn’t what he thought it was. Sometimes the most mundane situations can have so much depth. (Another example would be the quiet and extraordinary Winter’s Bone)
The loss of an American treasure like Robin Williams is still felt. Williams and Romanek did an interview on Charlie Rose (and yes, Dan, this interview will not endear you any closer to the often grating Charlie Rose) and it is included on the DVD extras. Williams spends most of the time being Robin Williams and yet immediately shuts it down in talking about the film and the great opportunity he was given to challenge himself and his audiences’ expectations. It is ultimately sad as he talks about how he hoped to continue to challenge himself and instead wound up doing more side-splitting comedy.
Perceptions are a funny thing. They aren’t reality but merely one beam of reality. Depending on how bright it shines dictates what we ultimately believe. Every day we are hit with a new reality coming in direct conflict with our perceptions. That is one of the many wonderful things about art. We allow ourselves to feel more comfortable with reaching inside and finding something new. When things aren’t what they seem it gives us freedom to realize we don’t have to always have our minds made up. There’s always room for growth.