Sublime: We Are What We Believe
We see castles in the distance and leave the plains for cities. We claim our land and spend our lives protecting it. We build homes that shield us yet become our prisons. We build fences isolating us and now log on, desperate for connection. And in our quiet desperation, we find only what we believe exists: horror, depravity, and danger.
And in the life of every white, middle aged man married with children, there will come a time when nothing seems right; the world shrinks around him, suffocating his existence, until there is nowhere stable enough to stand. Everything breathes danger, everyone breeds evil. The stories we hear, the news we watch, the neighborhoods we avoid, and the conversations we ignore act as incubators, feeding the anxiety and doubt until it bubbles over. The fantasy crumbles, and the fear takes control. This is where television producer turned director Tony Krantz begins his first feature.
Sublime opens on a painting, using the “epic of nature as an expression of the sublime,” filling the screen with blues, greens, and a rainbow cutting the sky from mountaintop to mountaintop. A bird explores the imagery, flying slowly across the screen. A flash of light against the brightly colored blue sky is followed by a trail of lighting. Moving in closer, we see a man falling through the surreal scenery.
George awakens. He sits at the end of the bed. His wife stirs. “I was dreaming of falling,” he says. “You know what they say,” she replies. “Our brains protect us from death by preventing us from seeing ourselves die in our dreams,” George answers. “Maybe people who die in their sleep hit bottom,” she concludes before laying atop his chest and whispering, “Everyone’s coming, their coming for you,” she tells him.
It is George’s 40th birthday. Nervous about tomorrow’s scheduled colonoscopy and prodded by his brother to re-evaluate his marriage, career, and surroundings, George, Ed’s Tom Cavanaugh, is perpetually nervous, always trying to be the perfect man. But life is moving quickly, and the realization of his current situation creates an anxiety and paranoia magnified by the pending procedure. At party’s end, the group poses for a photo recreation of the last supper. Who is Judas, one calls out. “I am Judas,” his wife playfully retorts. George is Jesus, of course.
In the hospital the next morning, we meet the nurse; Krantz’s camera wraps tightly on her full, artificially red lips. “Hello, I’m Zoe,” the lips say. Enter Dr. Shirazze. “Hello, Mr. Grievous,” he says. “Welcome to the Outback Steakhouse,” one of many gastroenterologist jokes. George gets the joke, but there is no laughing.
Instead, George corrects him. “It’s Grieves.” Something in this hospital just doesn’t seem right. And when George nicks his leg on the wheelchair, the blood bubbling from the wound indicates serious trouble ahead. Krantz plays on our fears of hospitals, on the stories that we have all undoubtedly heard about hospital incompetence. There is an immediate suspicion drawn from the white walls, the white uniforms, the foreign doctor who thinks he soothes George by telling him his degree is not from Tehran, and the mispronounced names.
In any other environment, these are all just moments, fleeting exchanges leading us forward or back, side to side, randomly about our environment. Life in this other environment is truly sublime. But in a hospital, at 40, with a mortgage, the doubt of a wife’s love, the fear of influences upon the children, the world closing in and the 24 hour news stations laying their hooks in, each of these exchanges creates more fear, and fear breeds paranoia. And so the premise of Sublime is laid out.
From here on, things grow increasingly convoluted. When George awakens, he is in pain, sweaty, and wearing a 3 inch incision on his right side. Impaired by medication, he struggles to communicate a clear thought, an increasingly frustrating plot device used to build tension. Clearly though, we now understand that something was done to George that should not have been.
Sublime is really a mystery, in the same way that Jacob’s Ladder is. Krantz wants us to spend the movie questioning the events; and by cutting back and forth between last night’s party conversation and the present situation, he succeeds for a while. Many of the incidents and ideas discussed at the party occur in the hospital. We are invited to piece the puzzle together through George’s flashbacks to the night before. In one of the films most beautiful moments, his teenage daughter stands at the edge of his hospital bed and asks him what he meant 10 years ago when he turned to her and said, “Yes.” His answer is beautiful, like nothing I have seen. And skillfully, Krantz is able to turn this most beautiful moment into the film’s most shocking as well.
Each conversation from the previous night unravels more clues, and the conversation is interesting enough. But as the movie progresses, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any way to figure it out, and it slowly grows tiresome. There are many moments in Sublime, but they do not make the whole. As a first effort, Sublime shows Krantz to be a capable director with a unique voice. His desire to explore the lives of the middle class white man through the darker side of film is his niche, and with Otis, his second feature, he is wildly successful. But with Sublime, he manages only to bait the hook. And so by the end, it doesn’t matter that George lies in bed, bleeding from his hands and feet, crucified. It only matters that it is finally over.
Note: Darker Side of Film’s review of Sublime was originally posted at Beyond the Dark Horizon on July 7, 2010.