Andrew Garfield plays a paranoid trashbag hipster Redditor Philip Marlowe trying to solve a surreal Lynchian Lite shaggy dog mystery in a neo noir LA populated primarily by beautiful aspiring starlets and a handful of the kinds of men who could all be played by bearded Topher Grace (instead of just the one), and I just don’t know where I come down on this one! It’s a mix for me, my friends. And it’s not even as simple as “I liked these parts, I didn’t like these parts”, because there are fundamental elements to this movie’s, I don’t know, thesis? ethos? irony? that I feel like I flip on continuously, like closing one eye and then the other and watching something in your field of vision jump back and forth. One minute I really like that this is a movie about social & artistic conspiracy theories that’s deliberately stuffed with clues and patterns and easter eggs for the real life Sams to rabbit-hole through for weeks, and then the next minute I’ve cooled on that, dismissing it as too self-amused and recursive by half. Then I wonder if maybe that’s the point, a sort of indictment of the fanboy culture of trying to “solve” a movie, and we’re supposed to come out the other side of these 2.3 hours tired, having learned….something, about art & meaning.
On that metric I am more clear though: I do not think that worked. That being maybe the whole last third. I don’t think this movie could sustain trying to be Thoughtful for that long. Honestly, I think it wasn’t that deep, or even quite as weird as it thought it was, though maybe it could have been. One of them at least.
At the end of the day, I actually feel the real value in mixed movies like Under the Silver Lake are in what weirdo pictures they’ll inspire other people to make. Because you can watch this movie and just really mine material, because there is a lot in the frame and those frames are damn well put together—and not just the ones scrupulously recreating shots from other movies. It is just funny enough, just startling enough, and just off-putting enough to get your mind jumping a bit, and even if you’re jumping to what you would have made instead, well maybe that means more art will get out there in the world someday. Art that won’t be ghostwritten by the Songwriter.
So, spoiler line here….
…..what Emily and I would have done with our own Under the Silver Lake was super clear to both of us. For Emily, she would have carried through with Sam getting evicted and then show that this was all leading to him becoming the new Homeless King, that the role is Dread Pirate Roberts’ed onto each successive person who figures out the mystery. A resonant and satisfying ending from a real life playwright, that’s skill baby! And for me, I found the billionaires plot nearly more toothless than sexist, but both enough that I probably would have just ditched most of it to stay closer to the Dog Killer and the eyebrows man with the zine. No matter what though Sam would 100% die at my end, killed by The Owl’s Kiss of course. He’d only encounter her in person at the very end, in a scene where almost every strange character he’s come across throughout the movie seems to have appeared, converged more like, like all the curlicue mysteries are collapsing on themselves into a single point, and it culminates with him being murdered by an Old Hollywood cryptid of a naked woman wearing a taxidermy owl mask, never able to share with anyone that she exists. Now that’s my kind of ironic.