Sunday, 16 November 2008

Sunday Night at the Movies - 16 November

The Last Temptation of Harold Crick

I return to my reviews after several weeks of finding myself too exhausted to use my leisure time to do more writing. I have been writing, and revising, and editing so much lately that I would usually catch myself just staring at a wall (or the television) when I was not required to do anything else. Last night we were spending a quiet evening at home, Isabel was puttering away with her blocks, and books, and puzzles; so Helen and I decided to watch Stranger Than Fiction, which was playing on one of our several movie channels. We both quite enjoyed the film, and I felt it deserved a review. My list for tonight comprises my top five horror films. Enjoy!

Top Five Horror Films
1. The Exorcist
2. Rosemary's Baby
3. Alien
4. Dawn of the Dead
5. Evil Dead II

Let me first say, that I loved Stranger Than Fiction. I found this unabashedly absurd film quite enjoyable from beginning to end. It tells the story of Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), an IRS agent who suddenly begins hearing a British woman (Emma Thompson) narrate his life. Harold is a rather fastidious individual who finds the constant narration unnerving, and begins to think he may be going crazy. But Harold doesn't begin to seriously worry about the narrator until, in a moment of foreshadowing, Harold hears, "Little did he know, Harold was about to die." He then goes on a search to discover the source of this narration, and in the process discovers love, life, and himself.

Harold's journey is analogous with the search for answers many people undertake upon a true realization of one's own mortality. He discovers that he is the protagonist in a narrative by author Karen Eiffel (said British woman). In finding a suitable ending for Harold's story, Eiffel has contracted writers block. She is obsessed with finding the perfect way to kill off the Harold character, but is unable to satisfactorily construct his demise. While furiously chain-smoking, Eiffel discusses her intentions with assistant Penny (Queen Latifah).

As Harold searches for his "creator" he finds meaning beyond his mundane, lonely, work centered life. On his search for the narrator, Harold meets Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), professor of literary theory. As an expert on other narratives, Hilbert is able to provide Harold direction on his quest to meet the narrator. Harold also develops a magnetic infatuation with Ana (Maggie Gyllenhall), whose emotional warmth and flippant regard for IRS tax laws make her Harold's polar opposite.

This eclectic cast of characters provide an effective backdrop for Harold's story. The location shooting, in Chicago, and production design by Kevin Thompson also add a certain flair to this unique picture. Although quite enjoyable on the surface, I believe the religio-moral undertones also add great depth to Stranger Than Fiction. Karen Eiffel, as a metaphor for God, is usually shown laboring over Harold's death in her airy white-walled apartment. Her haggard demeanor and macabre outlook betray a once loving deity now obsessed with man's destruction. Hilbert, as God's prophet, is an expert on Karen Eiffel, and very passionate about her writings. Although he exudes an aloofness, he guides Harold to Eiffel, and helps the two come together. Harold represents the common man, unaware of the beauty around him and the greatness within him, until the day he realizes he is going to die. His search for God is a hopeful journey; a quest the filmmakers assert is ultimately worthwhile. By the film's conclusion, Harold has embodied Messianic features, as he knowingly, and willfully, accepts his future.

In its exploration of the nature of man and power/impotence of God, Stranger Than Fiction is a superb film and would make for an appropriately quirky segment of a film festival sandwiched in between The Seventh Seal and The Last Temptation of Christ (and maybe washed down with a bit of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy just for good measure). Fans of the Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman collaborations will find obvious parallels between their work and Stranger Than Fiction as both examine self consciousness. But there is an undeniable warmth and humanness in this film that is lacking from Jonze/Kaufman. Stranger Than Fiction, as a pleasant return to the absurd, should be considered one of the finest films of the past few years.
*** 1/2 Stars

- by dallas

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