Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 92 minutes
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“The Mind is a Liar and a Whore” is the apt title for director/writer Antero Alli’s entertaining and illuminating feature which uses the situation of a bio-terrorist attack in a US city to explore the many strategies which the human mind invents to cope with the uncertainties of life. A possible anthrax threat places an entire city under quarantine, forcing a household of five roommates and a boyfriend to stay locked up together, facing their fears in different ways. Smart dialogue, compassionate and perceptive character writing, a heightened sense of both the comic and dramatic potential of the situation, sharp editing, and nuanced, powerful performances all come together to lift this film from its “acting class exercise” level (throwing six characters together into a dangerous situation) into a film where comedy and drama serve as a means to explore some of the roots of what it means to be human, and live in a dangerous and unpredictable world. (Given the context of terrorism, the comedy is decidedly of the twisted and ironic variety.)
The film’s title is also the name of a video blog which one of the roommates, a young woman named Ona, webcasts from her bedroom. Ona is played with great passion, precision and intelligence by Cassie Powell. She styles herself as a self-help guru, and her philosophy embraces chaos, change, and uncertainty, but Ona has never encountered real danger and uncertainty before, so her impressive and brilliant rhetoric exists only as intellectual posturing. (When she learns of the attack, it stops her cold in mid-podcast.) Another roommate is Brent (Brady M. Woolery), the pleasure-seeking cynic who secretly performs Satanic rituals in his locked room. He is the one person in the house who actually thrives on uncertainty and chaos, and he gets kind of excited by the attack, but the film carefully delineates the precise moment when he has reached his limit. There’s Blake (in a strong performance by Alan Reade), the high-strung Iraq War vet, who automatically goes into “emergency management” mode during the crisis. In a sense he also thrives on danger, because he has been trained to turn off his emotions and think logically and practically about how to cope with the attack, but he clings irrationally to the belief that if he only follows all of the biological attack protocols, that somehow everything will be alright. There’s Sam (David Gauntlett), who copes with uncertainty by consulting astrology books. There is Lily (in a sensitive performance by Bekah L. Barnett), a lovely singer who lives for music and tries to think of how her Inuit grandmother would advise her to cope with danger. Lily’s boyfriend Hank (the comic and sensuous Duncan Cook) is a mysterious free lance pilot, who copes with the crisis by blissing out on beer and sex. Blake, who is the most astute and observant person in the house, senses that something is off in the way that Hank is responding to the attack, and Hank’s secret proves to be crucial to the plot’s later complications.
Most of Alli’s films are graced with musical scores by his wife Sylvi Alli, and her score for this film is particularly haunting and effective. Nick Walker has a brilliantly comic turn as one of the terrorists. The film is also punctuated with short sequences of beautiful, abstract visual imagery and music, surely meant to depict the winding passageways of the character’s minds, which are leading them so far astray in so many ways.
By the film’s end, most of the characters have changed in crucial ways, since their encounter with danger forces them to confront the question which Ona poses to her webcast fans: “what do you live for?” In many ways, Ona is the crucial character in the film, since the crisis forces her to jump from an intellectual embrace of uncertainty and change to the real, flesh and blood experience of it. The film ends without clarifying exactly what the outcome of the attack is, or what happens to each character, but instead it offers us the exhilaration of seeing how several of them embrace an emboldened freedom to wrest a kind of joy out of the terror and the uncertainty. Its a pretty good place to be.
Posted on October 21, 2012 in Reviews by David Finkelstein
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