Title: “William Vincent”
Language and Run Time: English, 104 minutes
Director: Jay Anania
Writer: Jay Anania
Cast: James Franco (William Vincent), Julianne Nicholson (Ann), Josh Lucas (Boss), Martin Donovan (Victor)
Technically this movie was incredible. From dreary gray, low lighting to camera cuts and shot planning to depressing emotions evoked in the audience, William Vincent was a superb film. The only aspect in which it was lacking? The experience. It was awful and all I could think about was how badly I wanted to get out of that theater.
I understand that films should be both technically excellent as well as entertaining and enjoyable for moviegoers, but if you can only have one or the other then the film should at least be entertaining. After all, that is the point of the medium and that is why we call it the “entertainment industry”. The high technical quality, but poor entertainment quality of this film highlights the unfortunate trade off that is almost always present in our less than perfect world. Even more unfortunate is the air of superiority that many self-righteous directors carry about them somehow thinking that the technical side of a film deserves more effort than the entertaining aspect of the movie. While I have no desire to sit through a poorly created film with nothing but special effects to carry the experience, I have to at least have some hook to keep me in the theater. Since there is no hope for enjoying this movie, I would like to focus the rest of my discussion on salvaging the worthwhile aspects of the film, which include the cinematography and heavy atmosphere so effectively imposed upon the audience.
As for the technical expertise, the film employed long, still camera shots that effectively conveyed a sense of quiet loneliness. Intense stares from an unmoving James Franco drew a cloud of heavy despair over the audience that in the end sent a strong message about the difficulty of life and the emotionless shell that we can become after being worn down. However, this was one approach of many possibilities that could have communicated such a grave message. For example, I believe that a more active dialog could have served the same purpose. More hectic scenes of frustration, pain, and despair could have killed two birds with one stone, illuminating the pain that comes from the hollowness of hard world we live in while providing some sort of material for the audience to grasp for entertainment.
To give full credit where credit is due I must take a moment to focus on further aspects of the film that created an effective presentation. One unifying symbolic element of the film was that of the flashbacks William Vincent experienced throughout the film. Throughout the movie Vincent has various flashbacks of two boys in various settings and activities. As the movie progresses, we find that the atmosphere and physical actions of these boys gives us helpful insight into what is to come. When Vincent was with Ann the boys were sitting happily in the sunshine, but when things began to take a dark turn we see the boys sitting together, downtrodden and drenched in the rain. Then, just before the final act of defiance that leads to his death (trying to contact Ann via letter after being forbidden), we find one of the boys struggling up a steep hill on his bike all-alone in the rain. These flashbacks provide a silent, but powerful reinforcement of the despair permeating the film and surrounding his rapidly deteriorating situation.
If you’re trying to get a good idea about tone of this movie imagine a modernist poet, T.S. Elliott would be perfect, put into film form. Immediately, I thought of Elliott’s “The Hollow Men,” with the droning solitude and incessant images of despair. The mood of the poem and the movie is gravely monotonous emphasized during the movie by extended camera time devoted to Vincent’s motionless stares and very long pauses between toneless, simple dialog responses. He never seemed to change facial expressions or tones, never made any sudden movements except for killing a debtor with an ashtray, and taking forever to respond in dialog, if at all. The whole ambiance creates a sense of hollowness, that one is just an empty shell in the world where the best we can do is to go through the motions until our short lives come to a miserable end. “This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.” While Vincent’s life may have ended with a literal bang (he was shot in the head), the termination of his life was but a whimper in the cold world that goes on without a hiccup at the loss of one insignificant life.
I did enjoy the interesting intellectual observations about various creatures throughout the film. Oddly enough, I believe more dialog happened during these short segments than throughout the rest of the movie combined. The clear dedication to studying these creatures indicates that this hobby is the only thing that seems interesting or life-like in Vincent’s life. Amidst his Spartan room the most homely feeling addition to the room happens to be his computer with underwater screen savers or the online research into the subjects of his study.
For those that crave technical expertise over entertainment this movie will be the perfect experience for you. The camera strategy, pauses, and script will easily transport you to the depressing world of the masses that live as a shell gliding through their lives. If you need some compelling motion, dialog, plot, or action then quickly get up and walk out of the theater, or better yet, save your time and money and stay at home to enjoy a good tv show.