Wow, I never *felt* a movie before5/10
One of my old English teachers once asked us about a book, "Did you all like the book? I'm not asking whether you enjoyed it; I don't care. I want to know if you liked it." She was making an important distinction.
I remembered that as I watched Punch-Drunk Love. It's very unusual. The film is set in L.A., but you don't see much scenery indicating that. You see unpleasant things. Adam Sandler's office is long and empty: just seeing him sitting at his desk assaults you with a feeling of loneliness (not because of any sappy music--but because of the set and the camera work). He walks out into a never-ending warehouse; it feels empty, brutal. He exits the warehouse and you see another unending sight: the row of garage-like doors of all the other warehouses. It feels like it lasts forever, this row of doors, and when Adam gets to the end of it, he looks out onto a long, straight, industrial, empty street. It looks HORRIBLE, but why? Nothing is happening on the street, there are no gruesome sights, no particular signs of squalor or anything, and yet you feel repulsed, hopeless, alone. Then, out of the distance, a car whizzes by, nothing unusual, but it feels abrasive. With no relation at all to the plot, just as it appears, this car hits something and explodes, its remains slide off into the distance and you see nothing more of it. It's trivial. But you feel like the movie is being hostile toward YOU, the viewer.
Yes, that's the best way I can put it: you feel like the movie is being hostile toward YOU. A few minutes later, a truck flies by, again very abrasively, and drops a harmonium in front of Adam Sandler. There is no rhyme or reason to this, it just happens, and it's all very unpleasant.
About a third of the way through the video, my phone rang. I told my friend what I was watching, and she asked how it was. I told her, "I can't decide. I'm not sure I like it." I kept watching. At the end, I understood. What I
had meant to tell my friend was that I wasn't enjoying it. And I wasn't meant to.
The film starts out with a very bad point in Adam Sandler's life. He is neurotic, you want to kill his sisters even though they're not malicious per se, he is lonely, his life is unpleasant. This movie is trying to do more than TELL you it's unpleasant, and even more than SHOW you it's unpleasant: the movie is trying to get inside you and make you FEEL it. You seriously feel the abrasiveness of every image, every sound, every character; you feel accosted by it. When there's silence, it's brutal silence. When there are sounds, they're brutal sounds. Images and movements are abrasive. Until Adam's life begins to flourish: then you get pretty sounds, pretty colors--as the viewer, you're let off the hook, too.
So when it was over, I was in amazement. How many movies succeed at this, at taking you WITH them to the discomfort the character is living? The cinematography, the sound work, the script--none of it is any accident. When his life isn't going well, you FEEL it. Did I like the movie? Very much. And if you appreciate a very unusual take on an old topic, you will too.