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Vincenzo Natali: Splice Me Up

May 27, 2009
the visionary

the visionary

I saw Cube back in 1998; I picked up this little movie at the Hollywood Video near my two bedroom townhouse on the recommendation of Fangoria magazine.  I had just begun my teaching career, high school Language Arts, and was living alone in my recently purchased two bedroom “villa.”  I watched a lot of movies in that place; it was my own little horror cinema.

I will never forget the opening five minutes of Vincenzo Natali’s Cube, though.  A bald, fairly unique looking man opening a small sliding door, the sound of air pressure releasing, bare feet landing on the colored floor, a moment’s pause, then a violent snapping sound, and slowly, suddenly, lines of red blood begin to ooze from the tiny gashes apparently made by almost invisible steel wires when piece by piece, this man’s body begins to fall away, in slow motion.  We see the steel frames folding themselves up, hear the sounds of steel cracking steel, and the movie begins.

Later, I would learn about the making of Cube, and how the entire movie was shot in just one of these cubes.  It is a true miracle of film. The story centers on a group of people seemingly randomly selected and ripped from their lives to be dumped into a giant cube. Each named after a state prison, the victims in this plight must work together to solve the riddle of the cube. 

Mathematics, human nature, love, anger, hatred, abuse, government conspiracy, police brutality, and mental illness are explored through lots of talking, but the movie works as a horrific, mysterious, dramatic dialogue because of Vincenzo Natali’s writing and direction.  Each time I see Cube, and I have seen it a lot, I cannot stop watching.  There is a lot to ponder, and the Cube is a perfect catalyst for the philosophical musings and biting humor of the cast. 

becoming Jack Thursby

becoming Jack Thursby

If you are reading this, chances are you have seen Cube.  If not, I hope that you will pick it up in time to gain an appreciation for its brilliance.  But this is not all. Natali’s next feature would be another small film, Cypher.  Starring Jeremy Northam and Lucy Liu, Cypher is the story of Morgan Sullivan, a hi tech corporate spy for Digicorp technologies, who is sent on a series of mundane scouting expeditions for the purpose of stealing secrets from rival corporation, Sunways.  Although the two corporations central to the plot of the film are constantly referenced, they are never detailed and may as well be any major corporation anywhere in the world.  And this is the territory we are exploring in Natali’s world.

Like Cube, the opening of Cypher is hypnotic as we follow Northam’s Morgan Sullivan through a series of surreal interview questions designed to dig for the truth.  Everything is shiny and clean, silver and white, and just a tad askew.  At one point during this opening scene, Northam’s Sullivan is asked if he would mind lying to his wife.  He looks up slowly, allows the makings of a smile to cross his lips, and replies, “No.”  It is brilliant.  And from here we are off.  Morgan Sullivan flies across the country recording mind numbing corporate lectures looking for hidden subtext and secrets.  

Cypher is smart, complex, visually stunning, and at times darkly humorous.  For me, it cemented Vincenzo Natali as a filmmaker to watch.  His third movie, a deeply personal and experimental film, is Nothing.  Again, showing his affinity for philosophical wonderings and the recurring brightness of white – he uses white-outs often in Cube and Cypher – Nothing is literally this.  David Hewlett returns in the lead role along with Andrew Miller.  These two characters awake to find a world of nothing, literally. Outside there door is a world of white.  It is Natali’s ode to Terry Gilliam, whom he would eventually record a documentary of during Gilliam’s filming of Tideland.  See Nothing, but only after seeing Cube and Cypher. 

And so I wait for Splice and then for High Rise, both story lines that seem to lend themselves perfectly to Vincenzo Natali’s sensibilities.  And I wait…

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