Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Rhinoceros Eyes (2003)

It's a shame how underrated this movie is (a measly 45% at Rotten Tomatoes). Despite having some flaws, it's an offbeat and magnetic film that did a lot with a rather limited budget. The story revolves around Chep, a young, voyeuristic, chronic escapist, and his obsessions over a woman who one day comes into the prop house where he works with an unusual request. His imagination takes over and things soon begin to spiral out of his control. Before I go any further, I'd like to talk about some of the major themes of the film: escapism and fantasy.

Escapism is a strange thing and a bit of a touchy subject. It's something that I've become very familiar with over the course of my life. Most of us as modern Americans are unconsciously accustomed to it; some of us in more extreme, blatant ways than others, some of us do it more often than others. Some of us escape through drugs or alcohol. Some of us do it by indulging in entertainment, whether it be living vicariously through a novel, or becoming immersed in the artificial universe of a movie or video game, or like millions of Americans, coming home to be distracted by turning on the tube or in more recent years one's computer (internet addiction and virtual reality are very prominent forms of escapism for our generation). In essence, many ways of dealing with conscious existence could be construed as escaping, depending on your perspective. Either way, it has become central in our culture, and many would argue that it's a detrimental thing.

At the same time, many others would argue that it's a necessary thing. There are many things to escape from: the world itself (which is a home to death, destruction, conflict, cruelty, chaos, and uncertainty), a monotonous life of drudgery and seemingly never ending menial labors (which for many of us, who are not rich and fortunate, is our daily lives), or sometimes simply even from yourself (being trapped in the same fleshy box for decades on end can get to some people). Our imaginations take us outside of ourselves, outside of our world, outside of our tedious daily repetitions and make life okay. Things are often simplified or made linear...more manageable. That's why the entertainment industry is such a humongous and rapidly growing business - people desire distractions.

I feel like at this point in my life, having been sequestered by anxiety and depression, I've been escaping too much and for that reason I can really relate to Chep and his reclusiveness, social awkwardness and the reliance he has on his imagination. Although a bit one dimensional, he's a superbly well-developed character and his childlike naivety and schizophrenic tendencies come off as more endearing than annoying due to Michael Pitt's acting, which is so good, I might add, that between this and Funny Games, I'm almost starting to develop a man-crush on him.

It's hard to pinpoint a distinct tone of the film, because its both disturbing and simultaneously captivating and oddly humorous. Although a large portion of the film is serious, certain scenes are downright hilarious, which make for some good comic relief. The cinematography is well-shot and makes the prop house really come to life as Woodley intended. The soundtrack, aided by John Cale, is also quite good, as are the stop animation sequences. If I had to sum the film up with a cliche, I'd say it's "wildly imaginative." Its a unique vision that definitely deserves a lot more acclaim than it received.

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