The Limits of Control

Most films are lucky to succeed in one way. Sophomoric gross out comedies succeed in making one laugh and cringe. “Based on true events” prestige films succeed in conveying a sense of the importance of certain historical events and how they’ve shaped the present (generally in progressive ways according to western standards.) Slasher horror films make you jump and recoil at the sight of their gore. Many films that succeed in only one manner can be quite good. Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control is a film that succeeds in three ways.

Its visuals are gorgeous and very striking and meticulously arranged in a technical sense – it’s an unusually painterly piece of work that I applaud the DP for without reservation. The sound production approaches the levels of achievement of a master like David Lynch (to say nothing of the excellent multiple uses of a song by the noisy soundscape band Boris) – it’s use of low-pitched background noise and the resonant twang of a guitar as it’s case is closed is quite stunning. And the flat, emotionless tone of the film is adhered to with intense discipline, specifically by the stone-face of Issach de Bankole’s Lone Man. Nonetheless, the film fails for me on almost every other level. Perhaps I am the butt of Jarmusch’s joke that is the title of the film: The control of all of the technical aspects and the doggedly ascetic nature of the film has removed any and all resonance on a level beyond the intellectual. Moreover, its tossed-off philosophical conceits seem to mistake laziness for meaningfulness. (While this aspect may be superficially similar to the navel-gazing dialogue and playful, stoned meanderings in Waking Life, Jarmusch’s wankery is significantly more pretentious and less fun.)

The penultimate scene, sort of the opposite of a Grand Inquisitor’s scene, is especially offensive in that it tries to throw some contemporary (or, perhaps just past it’s time) politics into the mix completely out of nowhere. It seemed pretty clear to me that Bill Murray’s character is intended to be Dick Cheney (who calls out to his aide David Addington once The Lone Man’s intentions become clear.) The intended catharsis of this scene isn’t earned as this film is not political in any sense that justifies bringing in the global and moral issues that Cheney evokes.

What this film may be able to give on repeated viewings is a good excuse for a drinking game. Take a shot every time one of it’s recurring themes is spotted: the repeated dialogue that repeated like ritual, the references to obscured, false images or unusual perspectives, and the visual motif of eyes and the symmetry of two objects, demonstrated in scene after scene by cups of espresso, streetlamps, car headlights and (in a demonstration of a lack of symmetry that perhaps turns off The Lone Man) breasts. And boy, was that one sexy Spanish vixen!

PS: I suppose that somehow, even though I really didn’t care much for this film as a whole, the fact that I was able to write a 500 word blog post about it says more for it than, say, the perfectly adequate but less interesting and less ambitious Bright Star, which I saw recently as well and just yawned my way through.

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