Two narrative films have come my way recently whose combined budget is probably less than 3 percent of what it cost to make La La Land but for my money are far more interesting films. One is titled “Twin Cities” and defies easy description. Even if writer/director Dave Ash is a Twin Cities resident, don’t expect it to be a warm and whimsical treatment of the region’s foibles a la Lake Woebegon. Or like fellow Twin Cities favorite sons Coen brothers whose trademark irony seems toothless compared to Ash, whose sensibility is a mixture of Kafka and Kierkegaard. The other is titled “Go North”, a post-apocalyptic tale inspired by “Lord of the Flies” that eschews the cheap thrills of the Road Warrior series in favor of a simple, even minimalist tale of survival in a world where children seek to build a new civilization based on the worst instincts of the one that has died.
As “Twin Cities” unfolds, we meet a husband and wife whose marriage is beginning to come apart at the seams. John is a computer programmer with an affectless demeanor that makes you wonder if he might be an automaton. His wife Emily is a novelist who has received marching orders from her editor to cut her 1000-page novel drastically and to make her principal characters more developed. While professing their love for each other every chance they get, there is little indication of what drew them together in the first place except physical attraction—the same bad chemistry that accounts for 90 percent of failed marriages.
“Twin Cities” is a sequel to “2021”, a film that I reviewed three years ago when its working title was “Connected” and about which I wrote:
“Connected” opens with John Cooper walking away from his cubicle into the men’s room at his workplace—a biotech company—and sticking a loaded revolver in his mouth. For the time being, he decides that life is still worth living and puts the gun away.
John would seem to have something to live for since he has been assigned to work on the company’s hot new project, an attempt to translate the human genome into computer code that would prove capable of replicating the human brain to the point of passing the Turing test: a computer is capable of fooling a human being to think that he is communicating with another human.
The irony of course is that the very programmer who is leading the project is having a devil of a time getting through to Emily, the smart and beautiful woman whose character armor—to put it in Reichian terms—would thwart a blockbuster bomb. Like John, she uses humor as a defense mechanism. On one of their first dates, he asks her to reveal something very personal about herself. Without skipping a beat, she says that she was born with two vaginas. He quickly replies that he knew there was something special about her.
The deadpan and lacerating humor continues in the sequel. Not long after the film starts, John learns that he has terminal colorectal cancer, which inspires him to seek the deeper meaning of life now that he only has four months of it left. Unlike the soulful main characters of Kurosawa’s classic “Ikiru” or Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” awaiting their own imminent demise, John treats his own prospects with his characteristic sense of the absurd.
After getting the bad news from the doctor, John returns home to fill Emily in:
“I have cancer”.
“I have cancer”.
“What do you mean? How?”
“I went to a doctor since I haven’t been feeling well lately and they ran some tests a few days ago”.
“I begin intensive chemotherapy in a week. And if they don’t stop it in a few months, then that’s the end of me. Colorectal carcinoma. I have cancer in my asshole. I have asshole cancer.”
While this exchange is taking place, an inane pop tune is playing on the radio. “California…Well, the sun is shining bright”.
Like most people facing death, John meets with a minister who ends up confessing to him that he really has no answers to the big questions of life and death. When he visits his parents for perhaps the last time, he is told that they only went to church because they enjoyed the social life. As they used to say in the 1960s, God is Dead.
But in the final analysis, the film is not about Existential issues but about art itself. As John exits the stage (but not in the way we expect), Emily becomes the central character and the story of the film and her elephantine novel become interwoven in a way that finally leaves your head spinning.
I have no information on the film’s distribution but keep an eye out for it at your better film festivals.
Appropriate to a post-apocalyptic film, “Go North” was filmed in Detroit and stars Jacob Lofland in the role of Josh, a fifteen-year old denizen of a Detroit (unnamed in the film) neighborhood that consists of rundown houses and abandoned factories.
Each day he goes off to a nearby school where the teachers are just a couple of years older than him and ill-prepared to teach anything except survival skills like trapping animals. Since everybody over the age of twenty-one seems to have succumbed to some global catastrophe that the film does not identify (it is not needed for a plot that brackets out social and political considerations), it is up to what amounts to high school bullies to keep order and to help propagate the species.
Josh’s teacher is an alpha male named Caleb who is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s son Patrick in the casting coup of the year. If you are going to develop a villainous character for a post-apocalyptic film, there’s no better choice than the Terminator’s son.
When Caleb is not “teaching”, he is acting as overseer for the garden that Josh and other children toil in after class under the watchful eye of Caleb’s henchman Martin (Joshua Close) who epitomizes the worst aspects of the high school bully. But when social norms have disappeared such an individual can abuse his power to the point of making up Josh’s mind and that of Caleb’s younger sister Jessie (Sophie Kennedy Clark) to “go North” in search of a better life.
As I have stated, this film makes no pretense of trying to make social commentary about the sharp decline of American civilization and sticks to telling a story about young people on the run from predators. In effect, it is a road movie in the same genre as the Road Warrior flicks but much more modest and much more enjoyable.
The film opens this Friday at the Cinema Village in New York and on VOD. It is well worth seeing.