The following article was published in N-SPHERE August 2010 issue.


When it comes to film (or art in general), the most important aspect is not the material itself (the film itself, in this case), but the relationship between the material and the viewer. It is what gives it strength. The material only triggers, but it is the viewer who reacts and expands what is triggered. From this aspect, Franklyn was for me a generous treat, maybe too generous to let it end the way it ended. I found myself hypnotized by the way the director worked with those to plot layers, hypnotized enough to forgive the worn–out dystopia send–up and I couldn’t accept the common and cheap (in my opinion) ending. So I found something richer to hang onto: the merged narratives leading to merged planes.

The story itself isn’t much: two narrative layers – one present, one future – a bunch of more or less ordinary people carrying out their more or less ordinary dramas (in the present), and some masked guy seeking a certain The Individual for purposes I will not disclose. The dystopian layer is cold and stylish in contrast with the present–time layer which is more… human. One could argue that the characters are too out there for the whole material to be of any relevance, but this is hardly the point, because those little dramas – irrelevant or meaningless as they may be – are not the real highlights of the menu. It is only an approach, and should be treated likewise.

Franklyn is not saying anything about the misery of the human condition, nor is it saying something relevant regarding of how religion may or may not be a threat to society, it does not really SAY much about anything. There are no real protagonists here, not the ones we use to cherish long after the film is over, there isn’t even a message, no matter how hard some may try to shadow one. There are ideas, nevertheless, but I could not help wondering if those ideas are really that important. So, why I am writing about this then? Because movies should always be about ideas, messages and characters we care about. There are only so many consumers swarming stuffed who at this point won’t care about any other copy of their main course since there are already dozens of them.

We look at films for certain aspects, aspects that we can understand, things that we like to see without asking ourselves why? What difference does it make to see that many movies using the same patterns? Are we really learning anything new, or are we just feeding our ego’s need of having the illusion that we know more now than we knew a month ago? Why not carry on and get over it and admit it to ourselves that we have no value system, but only a bunch of things we feel entertained by and – as a reward – we call them good as in “this is a good book, this is a good song or a good movie”? But since there are only so many of “this is a good…”, these statements don’t matter at all. Everything was already said, or everything we have seen was already said. To know more is to see more, to see more is to escape convenience, to escape convenience is to betray our comfort. After these steps we won’t have that many “this is a good piece of art because I happen to like it” cheap–chat.

Having said this, Franklyn is not good or bad, may appeal to some, while other may find it ridiculous, but those who’ll find it ridiculous and yet will bother to read this review may also consider the possibility that there is an awareness in every director, telling them that their movie may seem ridiculous to some. And, yet, this awareness is in many cases either simply ignored or answered and solved, otherwise we’ll have far fewer films than we have today. So either there are too many hacks, or they considered that in spite the afore–mentioned assumptions there are some things their movies are worth to be made for. If we are to assume the first than we also have to assume that there are other types of “hacks” that trick us with special effects and “server–on–a–plate” sex symbols to persuade us into paying for their movie.

Then, we have to assume that there are the types of “hacks” that toy with some rather sharp and witty ideas, or some seeming heartfelt statements to induce us the feeling that their movie is deep, or those “hacks” who would use the most common and spicy of all comic moments to hide their inability to come up with a decent script, or those who hide behind a hyper technical approach to bat us into liking a film that has no story whatsoever. But then, what’s left? Or are we even left with anything? Everything can be seen is a prank. Everything can be mocked and ridiculed in a way that may seem truthful. This can be easily done by a playful seven year old. But are we seven year olds? Convenience only attracts convenience and since the most convenient stop is six feet under, you do the math.

One can easily imagine the split narrative mechanism, it has been done and redone, but what about the two overlapping planes: two courses of action happening simultaneously, in the same physical space? This is something rarely seen, something that for a while Franklyn manages to do, until one point… the ending, where it starts to unravel the “real things”. But the ending is not that right in your face. It shows you, it doesn’t tell you. What is shown is still up for interpretation. Now, this is a slightly uncomfortable setup for many viewers, because they are used to gift–wrapped answers and convenient positions. This is neither. It is a different way of watching and experiencing film, by being there, more than you thought you needed.

Artists use abstractions. Some artists add in their abstractions (many), others subtract. Eventually, this has something to say about the relationship between the art and the viewer, the positions one needs to take: to add or imagine things that did not happen (to have a better understanding of some puzzling plot, for example) or to remove things one considers useless or alter their meanings. In Franklyn this works wonderfully. Altering the ending’s immediate meaning, the movie will basically expand. By overlapping narratives on the one hand and by translating points of awakening with points in which the two realities merge on the other, one can obtain a more powerful effect. Try it yourself, try this with other movies as well – good exercise.

Now this is not a casual review, as one could easily imagine, so I was not going to discuss the technical aspects of the film, neither the acting part, but focus on these little things. Besides, sometimes it is better to alternate things a little: people become more responsive when they are facing dynamics. So this is all for tonight, try these little exercises, see what you can make of it.

Transmission ended.

Movie still: Franklyn. 2008.

by Shade

Full article here.