Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Cinema File #206: "Imaginaerum" Review

Outside of the occasional bit of goofball hair band nostalgia, I’ve never really been a serious metal guy. I’ve always voted Hagar over Roth, and I was the asshole who didn’t understand what all the fuss was about Jethro Tull winning the first Metal Grammy over Metallica. I mean, Crest Of A Knave was a kick ass album, right? Anyway, all of this serves to predicate the fact that I was unaware of the Finnish Metal band Nightwish before I watched Imaginaerum, a dark musical fantasy film designed to showcase their music and macabre style. Had I been aware of this before hand, I might have been hesitant to sit through what sounds like it might turn out to be a glorified feature length music video. Luckily I walked into this movie blind, free of any preconceptions, and walked out having experienced something refreshingly original.

Imaginaerum is the story of a man slowly succumbing to dementia, struggling to maintain some semblance of himself as pieces of his mind gradually slip away or get mixed up with his morbid imagination. The twist – almost the entire movie takes place inside of his mind, with the protagonist shifting between ages and exploring a fantasy realm set to the music of the man's life as a rock star. That probably sounds like a spoiler, but we find it out fairly early on, even though its not explicitly spelled out in any exposition, which is the first thing I loved about the movie. At no point does the film even make a move to hold the audiences hand and try to explain what's going on in the moment, trusting our patience to let the events unfold and come together in their own time, which they do beautifully by the end.

I'll admit, I'm the dark whimsy guy, so I'm kind of an easy mark for a movie like this. I mean, how was I not going to like a movie that can be described as a boy's magical adventure into his own nightmares with his best friend, Evil Steampunk Frosty The Snowman? And yet, I've seen this kind of thing fail spectacularly before, so just because this seemed early on like a movie I liked, I wasn't necessarily sure it would sustain the level of excitement it built to in the first few minutes. Thankfully, the energy and mystery keeps going until the final minutes, ending with a literal roller coaster as crazy as the emotional one the film takes you on throughout.

The trick is, though the imagery is often bizarre and random, or rather seems like it in the moment, it all eventually comes together and means something in the end. This isn't David Lynch style arbitrary dreamscapes that just throw a bunch of stuff out there to be weird for the sake of being weird. All of the disparate elements coalesce into a surprisingly deep and moving story of a man who unwittingly imposed the sins of his own father onto his only daughter, continuing a cycle of neglect that ruined his relationship with the one person he cared about and has now left him alone when he is in his most vulnerable state.

That emotional father/daughter dynamic is at the heart of the movie even amid all the madcap insanity, and as the fairy tale gives way to a redemptive story, the impact of their reunion and the healing of their relationship sneaks up on you a little bit. At some point you realize that things can only really end one way here, as the main character is literally on his death bed, but the stakes still remain important and the suspense of whether or not he'll accomplish what he needs to even if its all just in his head still works. Rarely do films centered around this kind of internal psychological drama transcend the impulse to craft hokey symbolism as a substitute for a story worth investing in, but this one has.

As for the music, well, its good I suppose if your into this kind of thing, which isn't really my cup of tea. Maybe I'm not the best judge, but I can say that the soundtrack does compliment the action very well, escalating from maudlin to triumphant as the story demands it. Given the close association with the band Nightwish, in retrospect I'm surprised that there are only two points in the film where I would say it basically becomes a music video, and even then, it works in context. These scenes, one in a night club and another at a creepy circus where the band actually appears onscreen and plays might seem self-indulgent, but then the whole point of the movie is one man's introspection, so it kinda fits, and by that point I was already sold, so it didn't really bother me even if it otherwise might have.

Overall, I would highly recommend Imaginaerum. Its weird, throwing you right into its world which can possibly take some time to become accustomed to, but once you do, it rewards you with an engrossing story that more than justifies the approach. Its dark, trippy, and maybe not for everyone, but if it sounds like it would be at all up your alley, you'll most likely be satisfied by the results. Hell, any movie with Evil Steampunk Frosty The Snowman must be worth a shot, right? 

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