The Limits of an Audience’s Endurance

Limits_of_ControlYou’re either a Jarmusch fan or you’re not; there’s not much of a middle ground in rating the value of his work, and his most recent release isn’t going to change that trend. The Limits of Control dabbles in the realm between the real and surreal with a heavy hand of allegory, depicting a representative struggle between the powers that be and the more humanist forces in the world.

The pacing of this film is slow and drawn out, half of its running time being dedicated to watching Isaach De Bankolé (Lone Man) [above left, with Tilda Swinton] sit and drink two espressos in separate cups, a quirk which he repeatedly insists upon. This device of deliberate pacing is consistent and probably the most effective feature of the film, successfully creating a lingering sense of limbo that will follow the viewer out of the theater. However, the purpose of this induced state is thoroughly vague, and since the film’s contrived plot leaves little ground to be covered in discussion, the feeling fades quickly.

Cinematographer Christopher Doyle seems to have captured the look that Jarmusch is going for, with shots focused more on the expansive nature of the issue rather than detail. Much like the script, the images are more about potential destinations than concrete arrivals. Doyle’s work is broad in both color and scope, successfully matching this theme, while hinting at the possibility that everything being depicted may be a dream that the characters are experiencing collectively.

The biggest problem with the film is that Jarmusch’s characters exist only as mouthpieces for the arts, sciences, and philosophies that they represent and are archetypes at best. After spoon-feeding the Lone Man with what they have to say, their purpose for being quickly vanishes before they do. Of all these characters John Hurt (Guitar) is the only one able to muster some humanity in his performance, finding a way to wiggle some inflections of personality into his scripted diatribe. Even Bill Murray (American), who has become famous pulling memorable performances out of cameos, draws a blank this time around. Overall, this reducing of characters to one-word descriptions is more irritating than anything else, and the story of this struggle is trite despite the natural significance of the subject matter.

In an era of sound bites and YouTube, Jarmusch has taken a big chance making a film completely devoid of immediate gratification. Though he must be credited for taking the risk, it would be difficult to reward him with praise for its success. Though the challenge is welcomed, it is the pay-off that is in question. - C. Jefferson Thom

cj_thom

Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.

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