Big Sur (USA, 2013)

BS_Poster_highresDirected by: Michael Polish. This is another film I did for print in a real publication, but I only had 100 words to do it. If I had more space, (and if I were allowed to acknowledge my subjectivity in that other publication), I would have started with the following disclaimer: the only thing I knew about Jack Kerouac going into this was A) that he wrote a really important beat novel called On the Road, and other novel called Big Sur, B) I heard his voiceover in the experimental beat film Pull My Daisy, and C) his name rhymes with bivouac. Now, after having seen this film, I can add a few more things. Judging from the portions of his prose that are directly used as voice-over narration in the film (that great Brian Cox speech in Adaptation comes to mind), Jack Kerouac seems to be a halfway marker between the bullet-point style of Hemingway and the unbridled drug-phantasy of Hunter S. Thompson (and actually, the more I see of Kerouac, the less impressed I am retroactively with Thompson). Throughout the whole movie, I was torn. Every objection I had to it on basic cinematic grounds—how fluent was the story, how cohesive was the characterization, the heavy reliance on style over substance—was countered by a little voice telling me: “You’re missing the point! You’ve never even read any Kerouac! You don’t GET IT, maaaaan!” For example…The story is incoherent and kind of aimless: “It’s SUPPOSED to be incoherent, LIFE is incoherent, maaaan!” And there’s a plot twist in the middle, the main relationship between Kerouac and Neal Cassady’s mistress, which I thought was kind of confusing and not fully fleshed out: “Guess what! LIFE isn’t fully fleshed out, maaaaaan!” Basically, all the movie amounts to is three loosely connected chunks of time, his three trips to Big Sur, during which he explores the nature of fame, of being an artist, of his whole carefree generation as they age and decay, and his deathly fear that he’s losing his vitality, upon which he based most of his identity for so long. But, this is all told just through a bunch of really beautiful, serene, sexy-looking shots of the wilderness, cut with a soft sort of hyper-post-Scorsese editing style, and relying very, very, very heavily upon the verbatim recitation of the original Kerouac prose to give this film any meaning whatsoever. “But what’s wrong with that?” And, ultimately, nothing is wrong with that. It’s a totally unique film, and a completely successful film in what it sets out to do. That romance relationship in the middle still seems forced to me, but otherwise it’s a completely beautiful film. Truly—this film is worth seeing just for being so damned beautiful.

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One response to “Big Sur (USA, 2013)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2013 | Offhand Reviews·

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