Soft Power vs. Hard Power, Film As Medicine, D.I.Y. Crime Thriller Storytelling - Some thoughts on The Limits of Control
In The Limits of Control Jim Jarmusch has created a movie that contains elements of a hit man thriller film that, for those audience members who want to take the time & connect the dots, contains enough material that can be interpreted to create a normal hit man story. Simultaneously, LoC is also a parable - a symbolic story that attempts to impart wisdom or knowledge of some use to the community. LoC's greater value is beyond the escapism that can be provided by reflecting on the mission of the Lone Man & how he accomplishes it - the greater value of the film (and it is definitely possible that there are many valuable messages in the film, this is just one that I picked up on) is providing a fresh way to remind people that there are two kinds of power in this world - the kind that uses guns & kidnapping of people & murder, and the kind that uses science, art, meditation, focus, discipline. In a struggle both sides may use elements of both powers in order to try to accomplish their missions - as the Lone Man does (gathering clues from art, and also strangling his target). There is a third thing that LoC does (& a lot of Jarmusch movies do or attempt to do, LoC does it very well) - which is using music, length of shots, repeated events, light (intensity of light, flickers, etc.), and slow motion shots to induce a trance state/alternate consciousness in the viewer (temporarily - it wears off, this is not full on mind control, don't worry). LoC does, in a very small way, what peyote is supposed to do (a character talks about using peyote towards the end of the movie, also another talks about hallucinations at the beginning of the movie).
LoC does present an unusual challenge to reviewers - most movies are extroverted affairs - they go out of their way to present whatever it is that they are supposed to present quickly to the viewer, but LoC is introverted, & its story - outward elements of it - the hit man/Lone Man story - is the superficial layer that Jarmusch uses to guide his audience into an experience that could be described as trance like & maybe even related to something like ancient/tribal shamanistic healing (where rituals, dances, sounds, exhaustion are used to alter the brain chemicals of the patient). So, to attack LoC on the grounds that its main story is confusing is a little like saying that the narrative of the hero/leader that most religions use to impart values & ideas are not great from a storytelling perspective/not well developed fiction. In LoC Jarmusch is doing something that no other current filmmaker that I know of does or even attempts to do. Some critics who have said that LoC is similar to Dead Man in what it attempts to do are on point, I believe.
For me, LoC worked better than Dead Man - because in LoC Jarmusch makes it obvious from the beginning that he does not want the audience to get stuck on the level of the ordinary story - the story of the main character - he (Jarmusch) gives us the ordinary story/the first layer story/the story of the hit man with large chunks missing, to be filled in by us later, unlike in Dead Man where the full story of the main character was told from the beginning to end. In LoC the unusual form used to tell the story of the Lone Man makes it easy for the mind to grasp the secondary & more important aspects of the message the filmmaker is attempting to convey.
LoC will probably end up being regarded as the greatest of Jarmusch movies thus far. It is not as funny as Mystery Train, but it succeeds in attaining (i think) the new direction Jarmusch started taking his work with Dead Man - that of either incorporating or attempting to reflect mind-altering experiences, or trying to use film in a novel way to significantly alter the audience's perception of the world, time, their relationship to both (at least for a brief period following the end of the movie, and perhaps at random moments much later on).
LoC will probably make some decent money too. I hung out at the Angelika for a few hours today (or made a couple of visits at different times of the day), & all the LoC screenings seemed to have either sold out or come close to doing so. The show I attended was sold to capacity I believe/didn't see any empty seats when the show began.
Given the aims of LoC, to get the most of its non-narrative gifts out, the best way to watch it is probably at the movie theater where you are sitting in the dark - as if you are at a ritual for a secret society - and the image & sound are large & heavy - amplified & overwhelming the senses.
Jarmusch is aften described as a deadpan filmmaker. With LoC he proves that he is also a person concerned with the souls (i mean literally the soul in an old fashioned religious or metaphysical sense - concerned with aspects of existence beyond the ordinary/earthly) of his audience members - so it may not be a stretch to say that he is also a spiritual filmmaker - trying to do with film what priests & shamans do with incantations, rituals & stories. Among other things, LoC is something like medicine.
As the movie was ending, I definitely noticed my brain/mind snapping into a different & rarely encountered gear and I thought my vision (eyes) improved for a moment, got very sharp (similar to what I see when I wear my driving glasses, except it happened w/ out glasses & in a darkened theater - not a function of cinematography that was on the screen by the way). LoC probably suppresses or amplifies activity in certain parts of the brain & that probably induces an experience of simplicity, wholeness & clarity in some audience members (i think all movie watching experiences do some of that, but there is something very different about the level of effect LoC has on the brain) - & in my case probably freed up more of I don't know what in my brain to pay attention to what my eyes were seeing around me (?). Anyway, ultimately that brain/eye thing is not very important in the context of LoC & it could have happened to me because of some other reason besides the movie (maybe I was less tired at that point than earlier in the day due to sitting down & watching a movie for a couple of hours, or something like that), but interesting to note.
Check out LoC in a movie theater & you may get on a kind of an unusual, movie induced high that feels different than the highs created by action movies, comedies, & probably most other types of movies.
UPDATE: One more thing re: LoC.