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Location: Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

The permanent temptation of life is to confuse dreams with reality. The permanent defeat of life is when dreams are surrendered to reality.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Limbo - A review

'...and, they lived happily ever after.'

A lot of factors go into the making of a truly memorable movie. A great script, capable director, competent acting, and technically able hands behind the camera are among the main contributers in creating a work of art that can rise above the pedestrian. But, there are occasions when the ending has ruined the impact of what till then has been a compelling watch...reducing the movie from what could have been truly great to somewhat ordinary.

What is the perfect resolution...when does a story really end...what is a denouement?

These are some of the questions that go through the mind of a storyteller when he is plotting and pushing his story towards a satisfying climax. Today, in most cases studio executives - sometimes test audiences too - decide how a movie ends, because for them movie making is finally a business proposition and like any business venture even movie making is dictated by profitability, and sometimes the director's version is showcased in the directors's cut DVD. But this hasn't stopped capable and fearless auteurs from fighting to retain what they believe is in perfect synthesis with what has played out till then, and usually these are independent productions financed by art houses who give established directors the creative liberty to fashion their work the way they want to. The open ended conclusion, though not very popular with the average movie goer, is a device film makers employ allowing the audience to provide the resolution of their choice. Some may argue that the director copped out by not committing to a conclusion or didn't know what to do after a point or may have been plain lazy. But there are times when the resolution of a story demands it...rather enhances the production to a superior level.


Limbo, written and directed by John Sayles, is one such movie. Starting off as a character driven drama, the movie diverges into an adventure that can be called a thriller though it doesn't really stick to the conventional norms of how a thriller unfolds. The unhurried style of pacing and the deliberately slow peeling of layers that allow us an insight into the main characters hide a sense of languid dread.


Joe is an silent and introverted man with a past who is exploring a tentative relationship with Donna, a lounge bar singer who has been flitting in an out of relationships. Noelle, Donna's daughter is struggling with her own demons and while Joe and Donna attempt to connect in a more meaninful manner, the mother and daughter are gradually drifting away from each other. That's when Joe's brother shows up and invites him to crew a boat and Joe in turn invite Donna and her daughter on the trip. As it turns out this is no ordinary trip and soon enough Joe's brother is killed and the three protagonists find themselves on an island, cold, damp and wet. What could possibly have been a survival adventure, turns into something more as the three of them battle the elements and themselves, in the process learning more about each other. An element of danger is introduced, when supposed help might not turn out that way and redemption might be in the most unexpected manner.

The ending might not be conventional, but, even though I was for a moment caught unawares, I realized that it could not have ended any other way and I marvelled at the beautiful simplicity of it. It has been written that John Sayles himself didn't know how to end it, which is why he chose to do it this way...and I, for one, am glad he did it this way. Any other ending would not do justice to what unfolded and would have at best been an epilogue. Also, the dairy that Noelle finds on the island and which she reads out to her mother and Joe mirrors what is happening with them on the island. If you really look at it, the dairy foreshadows what becomes of the three and in a very oblique way is also one of the main reasons for bridging the divide of mistrust between the mother and the daughter.


Set against the backdrop of beautiful Alaska, the tone of the movie is certainly not that of warm bonhomie and there is a certain sense of dankness in the air. The backdrop for the main characters essentially troubled lives, find the perfect canvas in the wonderfully evocative cinematography that captures the brooding and gloomy atmosphere pervading the proceedings. Acting, including from the secondary characters, is very competent indeed. David Strathairn is as good as he always is, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is quitely efficient, and I thought Vanessa Martinez, who played Noelle, was really good.

Limbo might not be for everyone, but for movie goers who are looking for something more than just solid entertainment, this could be for you.

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