January 7, 2010

The Limits Of Control: The Movie

looking at matches.jpg
Hmm.  Matches.  Wow.

People will describe The Limits of Control in different ways, but inevitably using the phrase "worse than getting raped in the penis."  That's typed correctly.   I did manage to find three reviews that did not include that phrase:

"It's an art movie with almost no dialogue, action, or story, about characters with no names who are doing either nothing or something that you never get to understand.  And it's long."

"Take an action movie, remove all of the action scenes and dialogue, and send straight to video."

"Biggest waste of time I have experienced since the Obama state of the union address."

Here's the IMDb synopsis:

The Limits of Control is the story of a mysterious loner, a stranger, whose activities remain meticulously outside the law. He is in the process of completing a job, yet he trusts no one, and his objectives are not initially divulged.  His journey, paradoxically both intently focused and dreamlike, takes him not only across Spain but also through his own consciousness.

Don't ask me why, but this made me excited to think it would be a David Mamet redo of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.  I was very mistaken.  And I got retinoblastoma.

The main character is an iceman, highly focused on the job he was hired to do (which we don't understand.)  He almost never displays emotion; he rarely talks.  His face is made of concrete.  Weird characters talk to him in cryptic sentences, pass him ciphers hidden in matchboxes which he reads, then eats.  When he finds a naked billion (on a scale from one to ten, she's a billion) on his bed asking to have sex with him, he says, "never when I'm working."  Control.   He is frequently shown doing tai-chi, or staring at specific paintings in a museum: for focus.  He always wears a suit when he is "working," day, night,sleeping, city, or in a desert.

That may sound like an excellent setup for a movie, except that there isn't any movie to go with it.  None.  Nothing happens in this movie, ever. 

Here's a pivotal scene from the movie:

walking terrace.JPG
Now, it may be difficult to see from this photo what is actually happening, so I'll tell you: nothing.  At all.  I don't mean "nothing" as in "something, but it's boring," I mean nothing.  For the whole scene.  Let me emphasize again that this is a pivotal scene.

Here's a pivotal video clip:

drinking coffee.JPG

You may raise an eyebrow: "hey, what are you trying to pull here, that's not a video clip, it's a still photo."  Exactly.  The Limits of Control isn't a movie, it's a series of photographs, each displayed for, oh, I don't know, 25 minutes each? and set to music.  Bring blotter acid.

The movie seems to be offering you clues and hints about what's happening.  I paused the movie on one of the ciphers to see if I could crack it, but I couldn't.  I googled some of the phrases and images-- nothing.  I wanted to figure it out, but couldn't.

The entire movie is populated with surreal images which beg for explanation, or at least a link  to the haiku that passes for a script.  No.

drawing of a building.JPG
I have no idea what that building is, why he's looking at it, why he has a picture of it, and why it appears later on as a small statuette. 

But, look, I don't own a North Face jacket, it's possible I'm just not hip enough to understand the symbolism.  That turns out to be wishful thinking.

Example: Destro asks the waiter to bring him "two espressos-- in two separate cups."  Hmm, intriguing.  He's very emphatic about it, says it twice.  But the waiter, who has to be deaf or retarded, instead brings him a double espresso.  Destro yells at him, sends him back-- it's one of the only instances of emotion in the whole film.   Hell, it's the only instance of action in the entire movie. 

He does this, the ordering of two espressos, several times in the movie.  This is framed and shot in such a way as to make its importance indisputable.  So you say, ok, what gives?  What is the relevance of two separate espressos?  Is it a code, a signal?  Is it an allusion to an Antonioni film, to Heidegger, what?

Turns out you are wasting your time: this isn't a symbol or clue, it was something that the actor actually did in real life, that the director, who was with him at the time, found funny. So he put it in the movie.  "I found it amusing that he blew up at the guy."  That's it.  'Art imitates life.' 

Another example: the ending does have a sort of climax, but it's not obvious, so if you made it this far in the film you are paying close attention to everything, looking for some sort of explanation like it's the season finale of Lost.  Why is does he change into that shirt?  Why is he in an airport?  Why is it green?  etc. 

In the last scene, the movie picture appears to jolt suddenly; the only way I can describe it is that it's as if the camera operator started putting the camera down before he turning it off.   What's the significance of that jolt?  It's in such contrast to the stillness of the rest of the movie.  Does it mean it's all a dream?  He's killed?  What?  No, believe it or not, that jolt happens because the camera operator actually did put the camera down before he turned it off. And the director liked the effect.

I had to watch 27 Dresses with Katherine Heigl to detox from this atrocity, but then I ended up getting the bends.  But that was the end of my involvement with this movie. 

Well, it was until this happened. 




Comments

I saw this movie when it wa... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2010 6:58 PM | Posted by no: | Reply

I saw this movie when it was called "No Country For Old Men"...or maybe "Inland Empire". I forget--or at least, I try to forget.

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*You may also like...*... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2010 7:58 PM | Posted by Adam: | Reply

*You may also like...*

'Nema-ye Nazdik' / 'Close Up' by Abbas Kiarostami

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100234/
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100234/usercomments?start=0

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Funny, I wonder whether I'l... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2010 8:21 PM | Posted by Wonders: | Reply

Funny, I wonder whether I'll be able to resist the urge to pick that movie up when it eventually crosses my path... and funny enough, I doubt it. Geez I'm an advertiser's dream. thanks for sharing ;)

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Wow, you really hated this ... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2010 9:11 PM | Posted by Aurini: | Reply

Wow, you really hated this movie.

Normally when reading a critical review I feel like I'm missing something if I've never seen or heard of the original - sometimes I'll even go and watch it so that I can properly tune my hate engine (Twilight).

But with this one, I think I understand - and I will avoid this movie to keep my soul pure.

Thank you for this warning, O wise sage.

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why did you waste your time... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2010 10:24 PM | Posted by y: | Reply

why did you waste your time watching this movie? this is what you get from flailing screenwriters who have no connection to themselves or their community. a story of alienation and vagueness. that begs to ask why was I made?

Would you want to have a beer with the people who made this movie? (Or the investors who financed it) They could take you to a hip locale, yes, where everyone would be fashionable. couple drinks. then you would be offered some ecstasy and coke. because. without it. you would be bored out of your mind. except of course for the beautiful intelligent actress... who wants to have sex with you...precisely because...you have something interesting to say:

You, Alone, should write a screenplay alone. i would like to see a movie about a maverick psychiatrist. working through the many challenges of his profession and personal life. in 21st century america. what is he thinking? about america, about his peers, about his profession? etc.

the psychiatrist is an incredibly fascinating figure. caring for and acting as counsel to the most vulnerable and perhaps the most powerful in his community. what secrets he must hold in trust. what mysteries must he contemplate- of (patient) history, of science, of morals. what delicate decisions to make every day. his words and actions hold incredible power. to heal and transform. to make lasting and profound change...positively, negatively. in his immediate community. in the nation. in the world. in history.

in short, the psychiatrist is one who holds a key to the city-
can tell me about me. who am I.
So who is the psychiatrist? (or simply perhaps who is the mayor because maybe he is the most compelling patient in this story?)

an endlessly interesting figure in our lives- a powerful, yet largely invisible person in our community. the possibilities. endless for an interesting movie centered on the psychiatrist. has it already been made?

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my god! I feel an irresist... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2010 11:49 PM | Posted by xon: | Reply

my god! I feel an irresistible urge to grab my beret and bongos . . .

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Usually when I read a criti... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2010 7:28 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Usually when I read a critical review, the Libra in me says "there must be another side, it can't really be that bad".

I have not seen this movie, but indeed, it sounds Absolutely Bad. There is no other way to see it, not other side, no quality. It sounds like horse shit.

It's like a horribly lazy attempt at art, so lazy that there probably isn't even a hipster underground who gets it. I mean, there's sonic youth, and then theres just noise. There are limits until something is so sloppy that it's unambiguous pure crap, you know.

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This movie makes much more ... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2010 9:57 AM | Posted by Pastabagel: | Reply

This movie makes much more sense if you understand that Jarmusch wrote it while listening to Boris and Sunn O))).

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This seems to be the sort o... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2010 11:24 AM | Posted by Mae: | Reply

This seems to be the sort of thing where the director (or artist, in other cases) is TRYING to be artsy and thus focused on that attempt, don't feel they need to fill the movie with actual, valid content.

I dislike much pop "modern art" because of this. Yes. Yes, it is a splotch of paint on the corner of a white canvas. Ohhh, you're VERY clever. We get a lot of this kind of thing at the hip, modern art museum in my town. Random words plastered over random Polaroid pictures. Deep.

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The gap between the preview... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2010 11:36 AM | Posted by Lee: | Reply

The gap between the preview and the actual movie is an abyss. I was fooled into watching this much as I imagine you were. I watched this... whatever it is like a kid promised a piece of candy only to receive a dog turd two hours(?) later. Except I could come up with an appropriate reaction for that. And that might have some redeeming quality like humor.

I have even more contempt for this movie after discovering the 'two espressos in two separate cups' was just added on a whim.

How could you possibly have enjoyed this movie? "I used my imagination."

Join me for a viewing of "Deadgirl" and we can head to the gun store afterward.

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@ pastabagelBoris ... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2010 12:07 PM | Posted by seemoreglass: | Reply

@ pastabagel

Boris and and Sunn((o))?? I'll eat some spacecake and check this flick out!!

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It's a trick. It's just Wai... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2010 1:43 PM | Posted by BRat: | Reply

It's a trick. It's just Waiting for Godot. "A play where nothing happens, twice."
"A movie where nothing happens." Sounds familiar. It still beat the ever-loving shit out of Waiting for Godot.

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Here's another barn-burner ... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2010 2:30 PM | Posted by woundedduck: | Reply

Here's another barn-burner to add to the netflix cue: "Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce,1080 Bruxelles"

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You want an intellectual wa... (Below threshold)

January 12, 2010 9:42 AM | Posted by Andras Fox: | Reply

You want an intellectual wanker take on the film?
I think that Jarmusch is making a film that affirms his own way of life - wander, nomad, all that transitory experience. And i think that the web of people the assassin meets are kind of 'nomads' who wish to keep their way of life in the face of a increasingly centralized world.

Entire film plays out in peripheral space: open doors, open windows, mirrors. The café scenes take place at the juncture of roads and pathways – in a connected centre.

What Bill Murray is is "the centre": who he is, what he does – is
unimportant. Being "the centre" is enough. He sits in a room with no obvious entry and exit - he is locked in.

His destruction serves to affirm the transitory spaces the film constructs. The match boxes, the endless exchanges – these are the purpose of the so-called bohemians. Jarmusch wants us to celebrate all this stuff (the 'boring') parts of life all around us.

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Alone, you don't seem to un... (Below threshold)

January 14, 2010 10:07 AM | Posted by Jack Coupal: | Reply

Alone, you don't seem to understand that this movie is film noir. Literally. Except, black is now in color.

It's the essence of European film-making. Focus a jib cam on a pastoral scene for 17 and 1/2 minutes. Edit nothing. Even when the jib bends under the weight, and the camera digitalizes the ground below. Eventually turn off camera.

Fin

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hey, don't get me wrong but... (Below threshold)

February 14, 2010 10:24 AM | Posted by Trei: | Reply

hey, don't get me wrong but... this will be a classic some day ;-)

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This is a "postmodern" film... (Below threshold)

February 27, 2010 10:44 AM | Posted by Harman: | Reply

This is a "postmodern" film, and one of the very best (though of course, quite late in the game). You may not agree with postmodernism, but once you accept what postmodernism is saying (the observer constructs his/her own reality), the film kicks ass. Totally.

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"but once you accept what p... (Below threshold)

February 28, 2010 1:11 PM | Posted, in reply to Harman's comment, by filmbuff: | Reply

"but once you accept what postmodernism is saying (the observer constructs his/her own reality), the film kicks ass. Totally."

Um, not really.

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... Can someone just explai... (Below threshold)

April 6, 2010 7:58 AM | Posted by hannab: | Reply

... Can someone just explain me:
Why did he killed the guy at the end?
Why the other people help him?
This movie had not enough dialogue or content for me to have an opinion! Even the visiual don't allow us to understand the plot?!!
But the photography is amazing, it's the kind of movie where you can 'feel' the place. I have been in Spain and the visual is a nice portrait of Spain! Not like many movie made in a country or another, and you not really sure if they really supposed to be in that country!
So I just want to know WHAT IS IT ABOUT? please

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I doubt this film was ... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2010 9:59 AM | Posted by Demonweed: | Reply

I doubt this film was intended to satisfy many conventional rubrics. Visually and atmospherically, I believe it largely succeeds. Yet no honest observer can deny that it takes austerity of story to an extreme. It is abstract. Perhaps it is the director's attempt to do with film what Pablo Picasso did with static art.

Still, it does not lack plot altogether. Some of the symbolism is meaningful, and I believe the ending would resonate particularly well with viewers who have read The Illuminatus Trilogy. I saw the bunker scene as a showdown between Discordians and Bavarians. Also, on some levels, The Limits of Control tells a tale similar to the film Jumper. I would surely prefer a repeat viewing of the former to the latter.

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The best thing about this s... (Below threshold)

September 24, 2010 6:13 PM | Posted by st liz: | Reply

The best thing about this strange interminable movie are the comments- intelligent funny people- and the opportunity to use the word interminable.

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I really loved this movie..... (Below threshold)

April 3, 2011 7:45 AM | Posted by Manuel: | Reply

I really loved this movie... but I was smoking a joint before watching it - and I was glad I did.

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what is this movie about? r... (Below threshold)

July 15, 2011 2:17 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

what is this movie about? remember the scene with tilda swinton.
watch this movie and afterwards you will experience moments, where you can't remember if the image that comes to your mind is a scene from this movie, from a dream or maybe it actually happend?
if you like movies where they are just sitting, not talking, this movie is fine.of course such movies demand imagination and concentration.i admit it wasn't fun watching this movie, but i would't dare to say this one is boring and stupid, not worth watching, a wast of time.you have to fill the empty charakter of the main protagonist with the conversations or rather monologues from the persons with the matchboxes.and not only that...
try this movie when you're bored

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ragging on this movie is li... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2012 3:40 PM | Posted by John: | Reply

ragging on this movie is like shouting to intellectual people that you aren't, and will never be, one of them.
we hear you loud and clear.

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well I certainly enjoyed al... (Below threshold)

April 19, 2012 6:29 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

well I certainly enjoyed all this flailing about for an explanation. maybe THAT'S why he made it. hilarious review though...

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well I certainly enjoyed al... (Below threshold)

April 19, 2012 6:30 AM | Posted by PooFox: | Reply

well I certainly enjoyed all this flailing about for an explanation. maybe THAT'S why he made it. hilarious review though...

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well i liked movie..it is s... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2015 5:03 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

well i liked movie..it is slow, it is different but it is totally watchable..
i love movies and i know movies..and i tell you that this is way better than any action or superhero movie which are on price these days. it is artistic with great philosophy (i love philosophy too, maybe that is why i liked it). so if you are into something different than wannabe pop a list movies, this is it.

ps..sorry if my english is bad. hope everyone uderstands.

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it is not that bad. actuall... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2015 5:06 PM | Posted, in reply to Aurini's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

it is not that bad. actually it is great movie with lots of philosophical thesis. it is not movie for loosing hour and a half of your life..it's a movie for thinking.

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