Saturday, December 20, 2014
ONE HOUR PHOTO
(September 2002, U.S.)
This is the first Robin Williams film I'm posting since his tragic death last August. Normally, celebrity deaths don't phase me too much. Celebrities die all the time for many different reasons. Robin Williams' suicide affected me in the most unexpected way. His comedy styles and his unique ability to make us laugh meant so much to me, and despite the severe depression he was suffering from and despite the medical facts behind why he did what he did, to this day, I still can't get the idea of why he would take his own life out of my mind. I still can't wrap my head around why a man who took so much pleasure in making others laugh would want to end all of that. Like I said, I know there were complex medical reasons, but that doesn't mean I accept them, nor will I ever accept them. But that's just me.
And so it's with a small sense of irony that the first film I discuss following his death is one in which his principal role is anything but funny. ONE HOUR PHOTO was released during a year in which Robin Williams had accepted roles that explored his much darker side, including DEATH TO SMOOCHY and Christopher Nolan's remake of INSOMNIA (a great remake, by the way!). Even his look is far from the traditional and somewhat more disturbing to look at...
What's actually more disturbing about ONE HOUR PHOTO is not so much the sad, lonely and violently unstable character that Williams plays, but rather the profession he practices and the dark implications of our lack of privacy that it ultimately implies...but more on that later. As Sy Parrish, the photo technician at a local "Walmart" type establishment, he leads a solitary life outside of the hyperreality atmosphere of the department store. Every day he labors to ensure his customers get the best quality photos possible. His work is clearly his whole life, as he has no one and nothing to go home to at the end of each day. He's chosen as his favorite customers the Yorkin family of husband Will (played by Michael Vartan), wife Nina (played by Connie Nielsen), and their son Jake (played by Dylan Smith), having developed their photos for years and obsessing over idolizing their affluence and happiness, memorizing every personal detail about them through their photographs. Painfully shy and socially inept, he attempts to become closer to the family, but of course, is gently rebuffed. To the Yorkin family, Sy is just simply a nice man they refer to as "Sy the photo guy". The dangers of any idolization, however, is when you inevitably discover that those you worship as perfect are not so perfect, after all. When Sy discovers that Michael is cheating on his wife, he chooses to take the betrayal personally and reacts with unexpected actions. Despite the fact that he hurts no one, there is a frightening and violent measure to the way he simply "just takes pictures". Even so, by the time Sy has been caught and made his confession, we get a sense of who he was in his past life and the sexual abuse he endured from (very likely) his own parents. Having learned that at the end, it's perhaps no wonder Sy Parrish didn't turn out to be a full-fledged serial killer!
Williams proves he's just as versatile an actor as he ever was by taking on such a dark role. But as previously mentioned, it's the profession of his character that truly gives one pause for thought. Although we live in the digital age where many of our own photo tasks and techniques can be mastered in the privacy of our own homes with our own computers and printers, it wasn't so long ago that the art of film and the process of sending our film out to be processed and developed by others was still the norm. How many years of our lives have we been taking pictures, sending them out and getting them back (I started at the age of ten with a simple Kodak instamatic camera and the local Fotomat)? How many times have we ever really considered the fact that our private lives were being closely examined and studied by strangers on the outside before we got our pictures back? How many times have we ever really considered the possibility that maybe someone out there who was studying our lives so closely may not be altogether stable? Novelist Thomas Harris considered that question decades ago when he wrote the first Hannibal Lecter book RED DRAGON in which the serial killer was also a photo lab technician who was choosing his victims through their family photos. Sy, in a way, is a creepier notion because he doesn't keep himself so much buried in the shadows of his obsessions. He actually tries to make close contact with the family in question even to the point of feeling a lot like "Uncle Sy". The family, as expected, would never consider such an outsider as part of their own. This film also gives us pause to consider just how sloppy one can get with their photos and the secrets they willingly reveal. Remember, this is a film made before the introduction of Facebook and Instagram, where private photos are like a plague of death for those who want their secrets kept secret. As a man cheating on his wife, Michael doesn't seem to have enough brains to keep himself from being photographed in compromising positions with his mistress. He also doesn't have the brains to see to it that his mistress keeps the roll of film that those pictures are on away from the local photo developer (honestly, Michael deserves to get caught with his pants down!). The point is that our photos are also betrayals of our privacy if we carelessly allow them to be exposed to the public without any discrimination on our part - and this is coming from a man who doesn't own a smart phone and still uses an actual camera (digital) to take his photos. Perhaps this is why my photos tend to come out a lot better and clearer than those taken by people who need to have their hands surgically removed from their smart phones! Just sayin'...
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sy Parrish (voice-over): "And if these pictures have anything important to say to future generations, it's this: I was here. I existed. I was young, I was happy, and someone cared enough about me in this world to take my picture."