Oh my word. Franklyn!
I knew I had to see this film; what I didn’t realise was how quick I had to be. It suffers from that curse of anyone trying something new: the film only seems to be in six theatres, and only for a week or so. (Rather obviously given I was alone in the cinema. Catch it TONIGHT in Greenwich, Liverpool, or Manchester.) But I’m very glad I caught it on the big screen. (DVDs later on are never the same.)
I liked it because it’s that rare pleasure in today’s films: delayed gratification. For most of its length, the film isn’t really that enjoyable. The visuals are brilliant, but the plot moves at glacial pace, even punctuated by some nifty krav maga by the masked protagonist against the religious police. (There’s Matrix and Equilibrium in the film’s DNA, but only as recessive genes.)
The threads of the story – present day London, alternate reality Meanwhile City – don’t marry up until the last half hour, and nor do the different paths of the characters. But it’s obvious early on that there’s something connecting these characters: each has a person missing from their lives.
Jilted Milo and his childhood friend Sally, odd Emilia and the father-shaped gap that prevents her getting on with her Mum, gentle Esser and his missing son David, vigilante Preest and his dead sister. And I’ve no idea who the guy scrubbing floors at St Thomas’ Hospital was. But everything (nearly) fits together in the end.
It also contains one of the best movie quotes of all time: “Religion is believed, by the commoners; rejected, by the wise; and useful, to those in power.” Sums up the god theories without further ado I think. But this isn’t a film about religion; it’s a film about belief. And how real some beliefs can be.
What I enjoyed most, though, were the visuals of Meanwhile City: a gothic steampunk cityscape where Brazil meets Blade Runner, streets and brickwork held together by a tangled multiplicity of religions. (You can believe anything you like as long as you believe something – it’s the law.) Watch carefully, for everything’s a symbol here: masks, offices of state, institutions, prison sentences. And when the walls between worlds crumble, the plot threads start making sense in a nice sequence.
It’s almost a classic. Almost. But not quite. It’s just a bit too weird.