(Part 35 of an ongoing series)
You could see the sea out there if you could see it.
Eduardo Roel (Luis Guzmán)
Lem Dobbs, screenwriter: “I’ve always thought one of the great cliches of filmmaking that you hear people say constantly, that I don’t think is true at all, is that unlike novels, in films you can’t show thinking. That is a total lie! I think movies are brilliant at showing someone thinking! I mean, I think what I particularly encouraged [Steven Soderbergh] to do was… put in the movie more shots of Terence Stamp just being meditative, just sitting in a chair thinking. Smoking. Reflecting. You may not know exactly what he’s thinking. I think you can pretty much infer what he’s thinking… It’s very novelistic to do this kind of fragmentation. People talk about it as being cinematically stylish, and I think it’s really almost more of a literary device.”*
What’s in Wilson’s (Terence Stamp’s) head? Plotwise, it’s revenge on Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda), the douchey, music-industry bigwig who killed Wilson’s daughter. But there’s so much more: flashbacks (or are they flashforwards?), conversations pieced together from various moments (did we talk about that here, or there?), wish-fulfilling fantasies (or maybe little universes spawned from possible outcomes, like Hugh Everett’s many-worlds metatheory). The film constantly calls attention to itself being a film, especially in Sarah Flack’s editing. That’s cool, though, because I can’t readily name another film that does a better job depicting the way our brains think (or at least the way my brain thinks), while still telling a coherent narrative. (Granted, I haven’t seen a whole lot of the French New Wave movies that Soderbergh’s drawing from here.)
Terry Valentine’s introduced with what Soderbergh calls a “trailer” for his character, soundtracked by The Hollies’ “King Midas In Reverse.” This trailer includes moments that will reappear later in the film, and it ends with an American Express billboard featuring Peter Fonda that actually existed for real. This is one of the most amazingly brilliant sequences in the history of cinema.
I never got around to seeing The Limey in theaters. I didn’t see it until 2003, when I rented it from Netflix. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep when I watched it the first time, not because I was bored, but because I started watching it very late at night. The last moment I remembered from that first viewing was when Wilson throws the dude off the balcony. I could’ve sworn I finished watching the rest of the film the next day, and yet as I re-watched it for this review, I slowly realized I couldn’t remember anything about the second half of the movie. How the hell did that happen? This movie is excellent. If I didn’t finish watching it in 2003, why didn’t I? I And if I did finish watching it in 2003, why didn’t I remember what happened after Wilson throws the dude off the balcony? Stupid brain.
Violence shouldn’t be funny, but sometimes you can’t help but laugh. When I was working in a bookstore, a big heavy book fell on my good friend Maura’s head and my first reaction was to laugh. Then I asked if she was OK, and she was just fine, and then my boss scolded me for laughing even though I couldn’t help it and I quickly asked if Maura was OK and she was. But I get why my boss scolded me. Even though the violence in The Limey is fictional and intentionally funny I still feel a little guilty laughing at it, and it makes me think of that big heavy book falling on Maura’s head.
What I thought I wanted wasn’t what I wanted. What I thought I was thinkin’ about was something else… Bide your time, and everything becomes clear, and you can act accordingly.
In a scene originally filmed for Ken Loach’s Poor Cow, Wilson performs Donovan’s “Colours” and sings that the word “freedom” reminds him of the time when he was loved. Screenwriter Lem Dobbs wonders if “Memory is the path not taken.” Soderbergh says The Limey‘s essentially about the look on Terence Stamp’s face when he realizes the truth behind his daughter’s death. The Limey reminds me of so many things I remember and a few other things I don’t remember.
*From the filmmaker’s commentary track of The Limey DVD. Like other commentaries for Soderbergh-directed DVDs (particularly Schizopolis), this track is itself a work of art. Aside from simply offering many valuable insights into the creation of a great film, the actual form of the commentary reflects The Limey‘s themes (memory fragmentation, reality layers, dimensions of choice), as well as playfully deconstructing the concept of DVD commentaries.
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