Beneath Apparent Routine: Mark & Jay Duplass’ “Jeff Who Lives at Home”

Written by Paige Skelly

In feature film, “Jeff Who Lives at Home” (2011), directors/writers, Mark and Jay Duplass depict Jeff (Jason Segel) as a 30-something bachelor who lives in his parents’ basement. Jeff is compelled to unravel a mystery after having a brief, but strange conversation with an unknown caller, concluding that it was a sign sent directly from the universe. Along his travels we meet Jeff’s brother, Pat (Ed Helms), and see how Jeff’s apparent absurdity with digging into coincidences actually comes to a head as a family secret is revealed and a potentially life threatening situation takes place. Though the plot-line may not sound extravagant, the film itself speaks volumes. This comedic drama will leave you with a sense of curiosity concerning the bigger picture—looking at life with a broader perspective. You are given the opportunity as a viewer to contemplate priorities, and delve beyond the surface of routine. As we see in “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” not all is as it seems—everything is connected in one way or another. It’s a film for everyone, really.

*Also starring Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) as Sharon and Judy Greer (Jawbreaker) as Linda.

The Crisis of Red Photojournalism in “1,000 Times Good Night”

By Colleen Rowe

1,000 Times Goodnight 

juliet binochePhoto taken from the official Stony Brook Film Festival website: http://stonybrookfilmfestival.com/fest14/schedule-1.html

A collective, expressive sigh narrates the audience’s horror as a Middle Eastern Woman is strapped with explosives in one of the first scenes of Erik Poppe’s feature film, 1,000 Times Good Night. Female protagonist, Rebecca (Juliette Binoche) pauses in unison with these outside sound effects produced by viewers, her camera slightly tilted and her eyes expressing an incomprehensible emotion—variations of worry, pain, and, quite possibly, an unannounced interest. Why Rebecca did not attempt to stop this suicide bomber from completing her mission is unclear, but a few suggestions revolve around the easily assumed idea that she did not want to be killed by the terrorist group who organized this mission. There is a subtle, fleeting thought throbbing in one’s head that she could be perceived as a terrorist herself for not stopping the event prior to its occurrence—but, would her interference have really counted in the grand scheme?

Her redemption is her camera, the direct means of her photojournalism that would provide proof that such events actually occurred. With this evidence, a more powerful military force would interfere and save future intended victims. Here, where Rebecca holds a backstage pass to a terrorist mission, arises one of the main themes of 1,000 Times Good Night: How far will someone go to obtain the evidence of a controversial story—will she go so far as to almost be blown up? Repeatedly, this concept is demonstrated throughout the duration of the film through Rebecca’s interaction with her daughters, particularly Steph (Lauryn Canny), and husband, Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).

The film is initially misleading—viewers have this idea that the train of events will follow the various photojournalism foreign conflict missions that Rebecca is assigned, but after she suffers an unfortunate injury, the film is shot in her very safe home environment. Regardless of this opposite, seemingly uneventful main setting, we follow her life as if we are a part of it—imagining her tattered, worn traveling-wear that Marcus comments on, from which she smells the dirt and fear from the victims she photographs. Her husband’s distaste for her dangerous career choices along with Rebecca’s feigned, desired carefulness not to frighten her daughters with the possibility of her death become more potent obstacles that she must face. What choice is she to make—a life of criticism by disappointed loved ones on the home front or a physically dangerous, life threatening career of photojournalism in conflict areas? Viewers would be surprised which lifestyle is more difficult to pursue.

A film not shy to portray scenes of mass murder by foreign terrorists in a conflict crisis setting, the different locations are essential to the portrayal of the idea that who we are in the workplace is not who we are at home, and likewise, who we are at home really affects our work in a “professional” environment—even if that environment is pushing us to run for our lives. Photojournalism and violence aside, it is Rebecca’s attitude that is the real shock factor while viewing 1,000 Times Good Night—suggested by her husband: is there ever really a final shot? Her inability to perceive danger as DANGER pierces the audience’s eyes like a rogue bullet and, suddenly—we’re all blind with fury. Why didn’t she leave when the firing commenced? Is a picture worth her life? Such perspectives filtered into an audience’s emotional range boasts controversial filmmaking.

Within the depths of family and international conflict, there’s a simpler story and it’s found on the beach that is in close proximity to Rebecca’s house. She often runs, presumably, from an obvious perspective, to stay physically fit, but there is also a very apparent metaphor presented: that she is running from the problems that consume her daily life (a lone runner, classic metaphor portrayed in film and media). In the few minutes where sadness alludes them, Rebecca and Marcus share these beautifully crafted frames where they are laughing, pushing each other into the water—the bright sunset-inspired lighting inviting—no, intoxicating. We run from our problems and attempt to shield them with our sweat, but sometimes they end up finding us and kissing us forcibly on the lips.

Toward the end, after Rebecca’s fears of frightening and disappointing her daughter come true, a riveting, gripping, completely devastating scene takes its place in her car as Steph tells her it might be better if Rebecca died, a statement that she later rescinds. Upon hearing this, Rebecca slowly starts to tear, the close up of her facial features immediate. Her daughter then rapidly starts to take unyielding shots from Rebecca’s camera, paralleling her mother’s common action to take photos of heartbreaking conflict depicting the emotional turmoil of her subjects. It is a silent, rhetorical question asking, how do you like it, mom? This scene could arguably be considered climactic in the plotline.

Ultimately, we feel for all major characters involved in this film, including Rebecca—she is obviously torn between reporting social injustices and pleasing her family, but as the film winds down we are left with this simple realization, verbally portrayed by Steph, that someone MUST do this job. People do, every day, risking their lives for a cause—blatant activism shielded by press motives. Some die, but the ones who live to tell, or rather, show the tale leave us with ideas to promote the enforcement of peaceful change.

Not yellow journalism, I’ll call it “red,” [photojournalism] like the blood from the victims it captures and portrays, bright with yielding tone and explicitly effective in defining a necessary cause.

“The Heart Machine”: If Your Heart is Mechanical, Will it Still Beat for Human Interaction?

By Colleen Rowe

the heart machine bam photo

“The Heart Machine” was shown at The Brooklyn Academy of Music in June 2014. Photo Credit: Myself (Colleen Rowe)

We have all done it before and occasionally we think about it in a jaded haze of harsh perplexity. The stranger you see on the sidewalk, in the bar, on the subway—it’s really just a stranger, isn’t it? With curious inclination, you might halfway approach your stranger, because this unknown has become yours in the misty sentiments your mind creates above wheels upon rattling tracks. As your hand almost reaches its destination, within the space of skin folds between your stranger’s palm and fingers, you turn away, realizing, suddenly, that the city of New York is a very large place and within the swallowing crowds there isn’t a possibility that you’ve just run into the woman who you believe might be your emotional savior, only to be spit up with a violent cough back onto the pavement. It’s just a stranger, you tell yourself again, and she isn’t yours. In a fleeting moment, someone asks, with a twinge of undocumented mystery: What if she isn’t a stranger? What if she is yours?

Writer and director, Zachary Wigon, has mindfully crafted the independent film, The Heart Machine, portraying the casual conversations between two individuals who have formed a long distance relationship with each other and a mysterious truth about their physical proximities. Between their scheduled skype sessions, the male protagonist turned antagonist, Cody, played by John Gallagher Jr., appears suspicious quickly after the web camera lens shuts off, plotting points on a map of New York City and evaluating the typically American electric outlets beside a picture of his transient beloved. After a run in with his internet girlfriend’s doppelganger on the subway in New York, after knowing that she has been in the process of completing a fellowship in Germany, Cody mentions this sighting to his girlfriend, Virginia, played by Kate Lyn Sheil, only to hear her feigned disinterest as an obvious warning of deception. Perhaps this mystery subway rider was his.

The daily lives and separate interactions within their individual worlds become noticeably depressing as Cody begins to stalk people who might have had an interaction with Virginia, while Virginia partakes in promiscuous, blind sex dates. Together, within their tunnel vision bubbles, initially so large with inventive ideas and a magnetic chemistry, their separateness pops their internet world back to a reality so unremarkable that you start to hate them for their completely irrelevant lives. Here, as the line between real “lives” and internet personas becomes large enough to park a Titanic-sized water tricycle within its domain, viewers realize how simply expectations are built up by portraying oneself incorrectly on a website platform. It is remarkable how thoroughly obsessed people become with everyday internet interactions, to the point where they lose part of who they are. The Heart Machine touches upon this idea, directing it like a ventriloquist’s dummy, to present the realization that we are not really who we are portrayed to be through technology.

Cody, an initially seemingly adorable and caring boyfriend transforms into an undesirable stalker, exhibiting Zachary Wigon’s intentional idea: a normal guy can be depicted as a “creepy” individual once obsessive desires are introduced. His single minded actions to attempt to find his internet girlfriend in her tangle of lies, including following a barista she may or may not have known, manipulating a girl—who Cody had seen Virginia in a picture with on Facebook—to bring him back to her apartment so that he can search through her phone for any clues on Virginia’s whereabouts, and researching the address of Virginia’s apartment, where he proceeds to search through her garbage and finds the wrappers of the “German” chocolates she is often seen eating during their skype sessions, present the idea that everyone on the internet has the potential to be a stalker.

In a sense, we are all stalkers to a certain extent. Zachary Wigon makes this clear as the glass filled with water Virginia first drinks at the dive bar where she meets one of her sexual exploits. This scene, particularly, was captivating—her lips, nervous and trembling as she gulped down the water she uses to hydrate her insecure frame. Virginia’s location, very close to Cody’s New York world—a world in which Virginia is his—and the company she keeps, individuals exiled to  distant, emotional plateaus, shows a different type of need that exists within her character. The need is expressed by Virginia herself during her first real-life, impromptu meeting with Cody as they stand on a roof and she explains her initial desire to find someone, via electronic dating applications, to care about at that moment, rather than someone to have sexual relations with. Her parallel need to disconnect physically with the people she actually cares for shows inability to mix sex with love, a commonality among scorned lovers.

This film is powerful, to the extent where it makes its audiences question whether the people we see every day through social media posts are the professionals and philanthropists they present themselves to be, or if they are simply con-artists with specific motives to clear the richness from their “internet model” competitors. In a world where boxes of chocolates have been compared to life—American imports disguised with a foreign, in The Heart Machine, German, façade, these lifeless things become representations for what is expected: deceit, manipulation, and a little bit of genuine adoration. If lies are told through a webcam, are they more credible because the evidence is difficult to receive? If we say we’re from a certain place, when we’re really from a completely different region, does it mean that we can reinvent ourselves without anyone finding out, so long as the original witnesses are stuffed into photo albums in our attics? Just because a person throws away the chocolate’s wrappers doesn’t mean that they won’t be recycled with advertised imprints of their original makers. It doesn’t mean they won’t be dug out of the trash by a jealous lover gone mad with anger. We’re digging through the internet to find a joint conclusion of what the truth once was, but this mimesis has shaded society with lenses so thick that the original contents of our souls are dabbed with printer’s ink and figurative “likes.”

In the end, Cody implies that his relationship with Virginia is over after his suspicions are confirmed that Virginia has been in New York the whole time they have been dating through Skype. Virginia, thinking about Cody first seeing her on the subway, assuming it was her doppelganger, she writes him a work of prose, shifting the initial outward, physical perception of that scene to an introspective voice—the person has now become the speaker and their whole existence is a memory jotted down in a diary. Here, the instance experienced by one person, is translated by another into something more beautiful than it was meant to be—a filter on a photograph, a manipulation of what once was into what is.

Did Virginia originally deny being a writer because she was more comfortable with being someone’s visual candy on a random train in New York City? The sound of a beating heart isn’t secluded to madmen—it’s that background noise when it’s really quiet and you’re pressed close against the reality of human contact. In the end, the liar becomes the heroine, because the art she depicts is so abstract that it becomes a concrete part of who she is and what the film that contains her has crafted her to be. The art of reality is a difficult concept to present—if you’re not careful, you’ll be depicted to be exactly as you are. You might become yours.