Friday, July 14, 2006
JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO
JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO (1990, USA, John Patrick Shanley)
Do you believe in God?
I believe in myself.
What does that mean?
I have confidence in myself.
I've been doing some soul searching lately, asking myself some pretty tough questions. You know what I found out? I have no interest in myself. I start thinking about myself, I get bored out of my mind.
You know the Tom Hanks – Meg Ryan romcom you never rented because you thought you didn't really need to see Tom and Meg do their thing again, and besides you thought it might be a little weird? Well, you thought wrong: it's a lot weird, it's like no other romantic comedy you'll ever see, and you do need to see it.
John Patrick Shanley is one of America's most widely produced playwrights, and his writing and directing for the theatre has kept his imagination alive in a way that frees him from the genre restrictions and market orientation of so much commercial screenwriting. There's a whimsical imagination at play here that goes way beyond the conventions of what's supposed to pass for realism in standard issue romantic comedy: painting with freer, broader strokes and wildly vivid colors, he gives us something that's both more romantic and more comic than any dozen SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLEs or YOU'VE GOT MAILs.
It's also more substantial, in its own whimsical, wacky sort of way. Shanley also penned MOONSTRUCK, which makes all kinds of sense, but it's even more telling that he won the Pulitzer for DOUBT, a preconception-defying investigation of possible sexual abuse in a religious school where the tough-as-nails conservative-as-all-get-out Mother Superior gets to be the good guy. (Or does she? It's too subtle and true a play to hand us such white-hat black-hat answers. Suffice it to say, the Catholic- educated Shanley dedicated the work to "the many orders of Catholic nuns who have devoted their lives to serving others… Though they have been much maligned and ridiculed, who among us has been so generous?")
Did you ever hear something called a "joe job?" Joe's got one; mindless, purposeless, and terminally tedious, he orders (or doesn't order) stationery at the whim and mercy of his whining monstrosity of a supervisor, lost in the dingiest fluorescent-lit corner of the dreariest factory industrial capitalism has to offer – the American Parascope Company, "Home Of The Rectal Probe!" Think METROPOLIS, think Kafka, think ERASERHEAD – only greyer, cheaper, and less interesting – and you'll be in the right neighborhood.
Joe is a walking dead man, so when his doctor tells him he's got only months to live, he's ecstatic. Anything, we suppose, would be an improvement. With nothing to lose, he quickly works his way up the scale of "wild and crazy," starting by asking the typist out for dinner and ending up agreeing to throw himself into an active volcano to save the mysterious and fabulously weathly Mr Graynamore's superconductor conglomerate. (Hmmm, there's something about that name…)
Obviously not your ordinary chick flick. Obviously not your ordinary any kind of flick. Roger Ebert, who arguably sees more movies than any person alive, wrote "Gradually during the opening scenes, my heart began to quicken, until finally I realized a wonderous thing: I had not seen this movie before. Most movies, I have seen before… constructed out of bits and pieces of other movies, like little engines built from cinematic Erector sets. But not JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO…"
It is truly meet, right and salutary that Rodge's heart should have started beating faster since, when it all comes down to it, that's what John Patrick Shanley's oddest, sweetest movie is really all about. Hearts beating faster. The dead coming back to life. When Joe finds himself adrift in the middle of the sea, dying of thirst and scanning for some sort of human signal on his radio, it's the Dell-Vikings he finds, and the goofy, awkward, nobody's-looking-at-me-so-I-might-as-well-dance dance that he dances alone under the moon and stars, away from the things of man, is something they'll never see back at the American Parascope Company. "Come Go With Me" indeed.
HAROLD & MAUDE, IKIRU, THE IDIOT, DOUBT
Available at Videomatica