Track 29
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Track 29

It has been noted that one of the greatest strengths of cinema lie not in its ability to translate reality impeccably to the screen but in its potential to present stories of pure imagination. This can run the gamut from dream-like fantasies to the nightmarish suspension of the laws that govern the physical universe we all reside within. Films like the recent Science fiction hit ‘Inception’ take the concept of the plight derived from the uncertainly of whether you are awake or trapped in a dream to an extreme but one of the first films to explore this unsettling notion was the 1953 Sci-Fi classic, ‘Invaders from Mars’. It frightened a generation of kids some of which would grow up to become the master class filmmakers that dominate the industry today. Kids can pretty much shrug off most horrible monsters as imaginary but confronting the idea that fantasy and reality can become entwined to the point that differentiating between then is nearly impossible is something that can have a profound and enduring effect. I think that having such a generational background make one particularly susceptible to appreciating the film under consider here; ‘Track 29’. This is a psychological drama that achieves its goal of messing with the perceptions of the audience that some may dismiss the film as ill conceived, poorly executed and generally unlikable. When I hear comments like this bandied about I admit that my curiosity is seriously piqued I pride myself in having an eclectic range of movies I enjoy and a significant number of these are dark horses like this one. It just seems that people have the expectation that every movie has to be gauged by its degree of ‘likability’. The purpose of cinema, in fact of any work of art is to illicit an emotional response in the viewer. There is nothing in the denotation of any art forms that demands this response has to be a positive one. Some of the most powerful works are those that reach down into the audience and pull to the surface more disturbing reactions. ‘Track 29’ is a movie that is purposely unclear. Its construction is purposely convoluted with muddied motivations. The film is definitely in the category of light entertainment, it is something that has to be carefully mulled over and revisited into to coax the filmmaker’s intensions out. Some audiences are more comfortable being spoon-fed the story but in this instance part of the enjoyment is due to the effort it takes to understand.

On paper it looks like Linda Henry (Theresa Russell) should have a perfect life. Her husband, Henry (Christopher Lloyd), is a well regarded surgeon with a comfortable practice. His relationship with Linda is devoid of sex denying her what she craves the most, a child. The only thing that interests Henry is his obsession with his elaborate model train collection that takes up their entire basement and his mistress, a nurse at the hospital. Linda drifts through this existence barely connected to reality. One day she meets a mysterious stranger, Martin (Gary Oldman), that she met in a dilapidated burger joint on the outskirts of the town. He seems to manifest out of nothingness and in quick order insinuates himself into Linda’s life. Exposition is provided through fragmented flashbacks. Years ago Linda was aped becoming pregnant. She gave the child up for adoption but that loss has continued to haunt her. This prolonged fragile emotional state leaves her accessible to the suspicious machinations of the stranger. Just as Martin appears Linda had reached her limit; she was on the verge of complete emotional disintegration. The supposition that many find unbelievable is the initiation of a maternal bond between Linda and Martin. There is no possible way that these actors can sell a logical age differential to sell this premise to the audience. It is more of a case requiring a greater ability to suspend than most audiences are accustomed to achieving. The filmmaker Nicolas Roeg was in a difficult position here. He could cast a younger actor but Oldman has the experience and natural diversity and gravitas require to properly bringing this role to life. Only a handful of younger stars could have been as successful but an experimental film like this may not have appealed to them. In any case just let go an embrace the foundation of this film is blurring the line between reality and hallucination; between sanity and madness. If properly accepted this incongruous aspect works into the overall motif quite well. I used to be a big fan of experimental theater shown in productions given in tiny theater in Greenwich Village. My late wife and I would navigate the narrow old streets to find the place and wind up sitting of folding chairs. What mattered more than the quality of the production was the fact that the people involved were dedicated to expanding their crafts by experimenting with the format. This is how I felt after my initial viewing of the film and a major component that led me to further viewings.

Roeg is an experienced director with a reputation for relying on visually interesting camera work to tell a story. Here he trades the fine line demarking madness with expert precision. It is difficult to create a movie where none of the characters are particularly likeable. As noted, it is not part of any artistic mandate to only depict such characters, many can do it. It takes a certain vision to construct a movie knowing the audience will find it exceptionally difficult to identify with its central characters. The thing about this film it is a well done examination of people that although inherently interesting are not ones you would actually want to meet. This is a thoughtful characters study that focuses on unlikeable characters. little of what is depicted can be accepted on face value which is why it might take a few times watching to fully appreciate but give it a chance, it is well worth it.

Posted 02/13/12

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