Friday, 28 January 2011

Sofia Coppola's Somewhere

Somewhere tells the story (if it can be called that - very little actually happens in the film) of a man who seems to have stumbled into the role of a Hollywood movie star - and indeed appears to be stumbling blindly through his life.

We first clap eyes on him about ten minutes into the movie, emerging from a car we have just seen him drive around and around - and around and around and around and, yes, once again, around - a race track (the film is littered with similar lingering shots - people have compared them to the work of Antonioni, but they recalled to me very dim and distant memories of Jean Luc Godard films [which I saw thanks to the marvellous Colin Crisp, who inaugurated a French cinema course in the French department at Australian National University, before being whisked away to Queensland to become a professor of cinema studies there - he was a really tremendous and entertaining teacher]).

Anyway, the man driving the car, whose name is Johnnie Marko, appears on the far side of the vehicle, revealing himself slowly, moving dazedly, almost as if he is asleep. He takes two steps forward and then stands before us for a moment, looking off to the right, into a distance that is hidden from us. Through his posture alone, he manages to convey a weary disappointment, a stranded boredom, a sense that he is missing something.

Subsequent events appear to bear this out. We watch as he staggers on through various scenes, some more startling than others - he falls asleep while blonde twins pole-dance at the end of his bed, he falls downstairs drunk and fractures his arm, he passes out shortly after flopping into bed with a woman he has just met (before actually doing anything very much with her). Most of his time though is spent alone, indoors. During these periods of solitariness, he appears to have no clue about how to spend his time. As far as we can tell, he possesses no inner resources and has no clear ambition. He just sits on his own, drinking beer from a bottle and smoking, staring into space, like a child waiting to be told what to do next.

And from time to time he is, in fact, given instructions - and, to give him his due, he carries them out dutifully, fronting up for publicity events, ferrying his daughter to skating and, hilariously, allowing a full cast of his skull to be made for use as part of some future movie's special effects. This last activity involves his entire head being enveloped in a thick white goo, which has two holes made in it for him to breathe through. In a shot that does not move except to draw slowly closer to its subject, we watch as he sits patiently, docilely, submitting to this indignity without complaint.

And then his daughter - who has already won our hearts in a poignant scene in which she practises her ice dancing routine with a slightly clumsy seriousness (made all the more touching because of the way it echoes the jerks and grinds of the earlier, sleep-inducing pole dancers) - is thrust upon him for an extended stay. Like Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous, she turns out to have more of a grasp on reality than her parent. She is active and engaged. She is interested in testing herself and trying out new things. She cooks meals, rather than ordering room service. While her father lolls idly on the edge of an indoor pool, she dashes back and forth through the water. When there is nothing to do, she pulls out her sudoku book and diverts her mind. She does not just wait for things to happen to her. She does not submit to boredom.

The days pass. The pair go to Italy for a TV awards ceremony. They return. Their car breaks down and they have to call a mechanic. They lie by the pool of the hotel where Johnnie lives. They go to Las Vegas. The daughter leaves for summer camp. The film ends. Nothing dramatic occurs. There is no sparkly Hollywood epiphany. All the same, we realise that something has happened, although it is nothing spectacular. The daughter has coaxed her father out from behind the walls of the hotel into the sunlight for a brief time. In her company, he has become dimly aware that he is not just a mote of dust drifting through time and space.  What will come of this vague step towards understanding we cannot tell. There is no sense at the end of the film that a great redemption has taken place. He may not yet be ready to be master of his own destiny. All we can say is that, whereas at the beginning of the movie he emerged from his car after driving around and around in circles, in the closing scene, looking almost purposeful, he emerges from it after driving in a straight line.

Which is not to suggest that the film is pointless. While it is pretty uneventful and could not be said to move at breakneck speed, it is intriguing. Although some critics have argued that the main character is not only fairly unsympathetic, but also represents a tiny privileged elite and therefore has nothing to tell us, I disagree. Johnnie is certainly infuriating - has he never heard of reading a book (or even a newspaper or, indeed, an article on the internet - there is no sign that he has ever come across a computer) - but the irritating aspects of his personality are also the ones that connect him to the rest of the population. It is not only film stars who have been duped into believing that the meaning of life is to be found in material objects and distracted hedonism, in vivid sensation and high-speed cars. The irony is that Johnnie is part of the system of myth-making that has helped create the false assumptions that have led him to his current emotional dead end. In a similar irony, the film, while set in Hollywood and the shallow outposts of its empire, is itself a thoughtful alternative to the dangerous myths that Hollywood - with Johnnie's help - creates.

4 comments:

  1. I really didn't like this film

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  2. That's because you haven't got a sheep-pig in your life.

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  3. Haha..... but today I saw a movie I really loved. And, like Somewhere, nothing much happens. The camera lingers on faces and the characters have ordinary conversations..... but there's nothing self indulgent about Mike Leigh's film making. Go and see Another Year. Would love to know what you think of it.

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  4. Thanks for that - I've been having doubts about that one, but I will follow your recommendation, if it ever reaches the ACT (maybe it already has). I had been thinking it looked a bit indulgent - and the glamour of allotment life didn't especially appeal. The only recent film of Mike Leigh's that I've been really impressed by was Vera Drake.

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