the success of the sort of blank generation, no wave, detachment from a world of white noise that has become the jim jarmusch trademark style essentially hinges on a rather gutsy bet. stylized minimalism, by its very nature, tends to eschew the conventions of narrative, instead choosing to systematically focus on the smaller details that make up our material world. this proves to be challenging as, without a story to fall back on, the film must make connections with the audience in different ways. the employment of such style forces the filmmaker to essentially bet that they can create a world so detailed, so interesting, and so idiosyncratic for its characters that the audience is forced to buy in and follow along with them, even if they are, in fact, going nowhere.
jim jarmusch's new film, the limits of control, does end up going somewhere, sort of.
the film essentially works like a labyrinth, in which our hero has to gain the approval of many gatekeepers to attain the keys to the next level along the way to his ultimate goal, which is never defined. it lingers about aimlessly observing the goings on while not providing much in the way of information about the plot to the audience. yet, along the way, jarmusch creates a world inhabited by quirky dialogue, un-verbalized espionage, and characters that act as if they are living, breathing, flesh and blood subjects from famous paintings that seem to chart the entire history of bohemian lifestyle. tilda swinton as a faux-glamour-puss old hollywood starlet type and john hurt as the "everything was better in the summer of love" type of aging hippie are quite magnetic and memorable, while gael garcia bernal reminds me of a joke i once heard about dirty hippies.* these are few of the many unique characters we meet on our journey through this surreal world.
and this world is so engrossing that one can't help but fall under its hypnotic spell, once we quit worrying about silly questions like, "what is happening?" this tale of a hitman's complicated path toward his target never really lets the viewer in on the plan while it is being executed, instead choosing to observe the odd traits of our solo wanderer. and it is here that we get involved, and we find that we want to watch isaach de bankole so that we can understand why he doesn't sleep with the beautiful naked girl following him around. even if we may never know, this film invites us to obsess over every detail to unlock the enigma that is this man and his circumstance.
the astute attention to detail, when combined with the ambient, hypno-guitar clashes and clangings of boris creates in its wake an almost dreamlike atmosphere that hints at our protagonists' disorientation with the unknowable world around him, its small details becoming alien although retaining slight familiarity. it is at this point that the post-modern pastiche, so adept at creating a mysterious text, also gives way to a rich subtext in which it gives a sort of symbolic nod to the day of the average workingman.
it is at the end of the film, when we see our hero return to his favored colorful zip-up jacket, shoulders loosening the tension previously carried, that we realize what a burden his sharp suits and massive responsibility carried with it. his work environment, so filled with people who all seem to be speaking their own coded language, releases from him in this one magical scene and we finally see a small glimpse of joy, or maybe relief, at a job well done. when it fades to black and the helicopter sound fills the room and, as bill murray predicted, another one(job) has filled its place, we understand that his respite will be all too brief, and he, like ourselves, will be back to the grind soon enough.
it's this ability to toe this very fine line that i find so compelling about this film, and jarmusch's work in general. while subverting standard forms of narrative (exposition and other systems of conveying information) and attempting to let the mundane features of life guide his rather flimsy stories, he still has the ability to have this over-arching bridge of symbolism that can almost be universally understood by anyone who has ever worked a day in their life. we understand the feeling that comes with being free from the control of labor. an epiphany which, ironically, bears the fruits of a small bit of labor.
by not telling us what is going on, and sometimes eschewing the idea that anything is going on at all, this film draws us in even more than most typical narrative driven films do because it makes us work for it, it makes us earn our comfort in its world. by demanding a larger investment from his viewer, jarmusch has rendered us completely willing to go all in.
*the joke: what kind of cigarettes do dirty hippies smoke?...yours.