Under the Silver Lake: My Thoughts
Few films capture the paranoid self-obsessed world we live in today better than Under the Silver Lake. In a world with Shane Dawson. In a world where flat-earthers have a Netflix documentary. Now more than ever we are driven to find greater answers in anything and everything. Nothing exemplifies this more than being on the phone with my sister (13) discussing the ‘conspiracy of Chuck E Cheese pizza’. We don’t even have Chuck E. Cheese in Australia. Still we need to know why those pizzas are wonky.
That paranoia, that obsession, the narcissism that comes with finding hidden messages has been consistently examined and lampooned. David Robert Mitchell’s sophomore feature Under the Silver Lake tackles this and more to surprising effect.
Under the Silver Lake follows Sam (Andrew Garfield) a paranoid, directionless slacker as he attempts to solve a mystery in the ‘City of Angels’; Los Angeles. His obsessive need to find out what happens to Sarah (Riley Keough), his neighbour who ups and leaves the day after they first meet, sends Sam down a rabbit hole of excessive parties, concerts in mausoleums and nuclear tunnel networks to work out where she left to.
As many come to expect with shaggy dog stories like Inherent Vice and Mulholland Drive Mitchell presents many red herrings, unaddressed threads and inconsequential clues. Like those other projects it is the disparate elements getting in the way that make for half the fun. You are strung along with Sam trying to work out which pieces fit to where, which characters are aware of which memories. Yet you are also thrown up questions like: what happened to the owl’s kiss? Who is the dog killer? Why are the homeless a monarchy?
These loose threads are intentional. They create this energy where the audience is left trying to retain all this information, looking for clues in the most mundane spaces. You’re left scrambling for new connections in the same way Sam is trying to build information out of Super Nintendo Magazines and cereal boxes.
Without revealing too much the camera in this film does anything it wants. Sometimes it tracks a character on the ground (much like the ‘spirit’ in Evil Dead). Sometimes it fluidly rises to the sky to reveal information. The technical marvels add to the visual storytelling
This film isn’t without it’s faults it could be argued to be too convoluted and it definitely presents female characters in a questionable light. In the same way that it is intentional that this shaggy dog story has so many different tangents; we should acknowledge that this film is clearly lampooning the obsession surrounding pop culture and the male gaze.
When watching the film I never felt like we were meant to forgive Sam for all of his actions. Quite the contrary in fact; he is violent, paranoid, obsessive and has questionable opinions on the homeless. He drives people away with all these awful traits and at best I feel sorry for what led him down this garden path. Garfield’s performance captures skittish nature of someone who is on to something but doesn't know what. This is exemplified by his darting eyes and awkward half jog all used to great comedic effect. Often star power draws away from the performance in no case did I feel Garfield was too handsome to forgive his deeply objectionable actions.
By following Sam we are presented with the stark reality that too much stock is placed in the pop culture that surrounds us with a character claiming that our music and films define our rebellion and our conforming with no greater meaning than a quick buck. These fragments of pop culture are what drive Sam throughout this movie only for him to be dunked on again and again. His world and character aren’t being idolised by Mitchell rather they are being satirised and the question your left asking as a viewer is a what point does the criticism of objectification become objectifying in itself.
Overall, my impression of what makes this film so divisive amongst the critical community is how willing you are to buy into what Mitchell is lampooning. The film asks if there should be deeper meaning found in these messages or like Riley Keough’s Sarah should we just go along for the ride; buy into the hedonistic lifestyle with a concrete submerged haram. Similarly we could say the same about how should we best buy into this film. Under the Silver Lake may not want to answer these questions but it definitely is willing to throw them up in the air.