There are two different types of tired one can feel after watching a film. The first is the good kind, the kind you feel after watching an emotional rollercoaster or physically involving film, that puts the audience through the wringer so much so that they feel completely spent, but the exhaustion feels earned. The second is the unwelcome kind, the sluggish kind, one you feel after watching a film that is a chore that doesn’t reward at the end. Sadly, Tarsem Singh (who mostly goes by his first name only)’s new film Self/less is just that, a brain/less, heart/less etc (you get what I mean) bore from a filmmaker who should be anything but.
You see, if there’s one filmmaker I’ll turn up for anything from (seriously, the guy could make a 3.5 hour exploration of the telephone book and I’d be there), it’s Singh. You see, he’s the brain behind The Fall, one of the most fascinating films of the last five years, that also happens to look absolutely fantastic.
(Did I mention that it was all done allegedly without CGI?)
And not only that, there’s meaning behind those pretty pictures. He’s a fantastic visual storyteller, able to inject life and emotion and genuine feeling behind all the beauty, evoking feelings of pain and loss and joy.
In its first ten minutes or so, Self/less shows promise, as an engaging morality play about the ethics of such a premise, where very rich, important people (in this case, it’s billionaire businessman and absent father Damian who has terminal cancer, played by Ben Kingsley) can ‘shed’ their old, ailing bodies for new, young ones, allowing them to have an endless life to carry on their work. As the mysterious experiment head Albright (played by Matthew Goode, phoning in his best shady rich guy act) says, what if the great thinkers like Einstein could live infinitely? Where would we be now in society if they were still working, their great minds able to work for years to come and fulfil their potential?
But as soon as the screenplay starts to introduce the idea of hand designed bodies, intended to be superior to the rest of the human race (what if this really came to fruition?), the film quickly forgets all it has set up and becomes a shapeless, suspenseless, visually bland, endless stream of pointless car chases and shoot-em-ups that has next to no directorial signature from Singh. The cast all seems to be along for the ride for the same reason I was – it’s a Tarsem film. Ben Kingsley turns up for the first ten minutes before being replaced (literally, by the end of the film it’s difficult to remember how the film started) by Ryan Reynolds, who drives plenty of cars at top speed, gets shot at a lot by a band of genetically-engineered zombies, and rights some fatherly wrongs by proxy before reaching an inevitable end. Singh famously funded The Fall off commercial projects, so I hope this is just marking time until his next passion project.