I’m a pimp and pimps don’t commit suicide
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Boxer Santaros in Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales
Actual dialogue from the movie. I kid you not. But maybe somewhere in there is the key to this film?
I often think to myself that Richard Kelly’s greatest error as a film maker is in trying to answer people’s questions about his films, because he apparently has no idea what they are about. Somewhere in his convoluted senior thesis on time travel in his electric debut Donnie Darko is a much better film about a stolen day in the life of a doomed teenager.
This is also the case with his follow-up Southland Tales which weaves together an impossibly contrived series of events that lead up to the apocalypse or resurrection or whatever. That his dysdopeian (copyright boo 2008) future makes allusions to the bible, time travel, the end times and something called liquid karma is, in my opinion, a smokescreen.
In fact he even uses the visual clue of a smoke screen to try and help the audience reach, what I believe, is the film’s actual story which is about one solider’s internalized guilt over the friendly fire death of his friend in Iraq.
That’s it. Everything else is just distractions and clues. The ocean as one thing, made of other smaller pieces that move as one in currents (also visually cued later in the film), the idea of one man as a thousand people held together by memory, the fact that Kelly uses Rebecca del Rio of Mulholland Drive fame in a scene eerily similar to that movie? Is that a winking clue about the real nature of the film? What about the puzzling choice of raiding SNL and Mad TV for cast members, and padding out the lead roles with perennial guest hosts like The Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake and Sean William Scott. And then casting them in unfunny roles.
Sadly the time you spend answering these questions could probably be spent on a better film. For all its virtue of ideas Southland Tales is tone deaf, and often stumbles as it tries to mimmic Lynch’s bad comedy as terrifying nightmare vibe. I’ve been accused in the past of trying to squeeze big concept movies into a box –Aronofsky’s The Fountain being my greatest triumph/sin, but I truly believe that Kelly makes small internal films that dazzle you with overblown distractions (does anyone honestly believe that Southland Tales is meant as a meditation on celebrity worship or politics?) Thing is, the man may not be entirely aware that he’s making them.