Under the Silver Lake ★★★½

Added to: 2018 Ranked & A24 Ranked

Prepare yourself, for Under the Silver Lake is one of the most ludicrous productions to hit the screen in 2018. With the look and feel of a neo-noir, it presents a mystery that’s as frustrating as it is secretly brilliant.

As the film opens, slacker Sam (Andrew Garfield) is spending his day like he does every day: doing nothing. He eats, he drinks, he fucks a sort-of-girlfriend and spies on his elderly neighbor. Occasionally his mom calls him but the calls are rather brief as she still believes him to be very busy. One night he sees a young girl swimming through the pool near his apartment and he decides to pay her a visit. Next morning, she’s gone. As Sam goes to investigate he stumbles upon a weird sign and a girl who moves a mysterious box from the apartment. And that’s just the start.

Sam, albeit seeming to be unable to have a normal life with a job that actually gives him money, quickly works his way from clue to clue, diving into the underground world of Los Angeles. For the bigger part of the film, nothing much seems to happen. Sam goes from clue to clue, place to place and only collects more pieces of evidence, not knowing where it will lead. Therefore the ending comes as a something of a surprise. Suddenly all the puzzle pieces fit together and Sam’s quest comes to an end.

Yet when the credits roll, one might be left with an unsatisfied feeling. For about two and a half hours we’ve been drowned in a world of heightened sexuality, luxurious wealth and deceit all around. Yet Sam, the leading man, stuck in a world he has no knowledge of, seems to have not changed a single bit. This, however, is probably the greatest trick director David Robert Mitchell pulls on us. He sketches a world and a story that goes seemingly nowhere till the very end stops all the mystery and pulls the blinds from our eyes. Yet the creation of that nearly impenetrable maze of clues and non-clues is more than just a puzzle or a quest for the viewers to solve. Hidden between the lines of the complex but ultimately thinly veiled story are lines of subtext criticizing and dissecting our modern world and the generation that has to keep it afloat. Sam is a nobody. He does nothing and really know nothing. The fact that he found the answer to what looks like the greatest mystery of all time seems more like a stroke of luck than anything else. For all that he can’t do, he does manage to uncover a secret that could potentially shake the fundaments of our world. For over two hours he strides through a Los Angeles that’s more of a hazy, early 70’s hippie-dream than a modern-day reality. Yet as much as the film itself seems to be an enigma, the meaning behind it can turn out to be a rather clear truth. It portrays a world that seems to be unaware of the greater issues at play in the world. The male gaze seems to be stuck on the lens like a disease; the overbearing knowledge of the internet seems far away and only makes an appearance once (and then still doesn’t give any answers); Sam wants to live a real life as much as the next guy and while the film may only suggest that he succeeds in doing that, the secrets that he uncovers along the way, make it clear that he does.

Not much has been said yet about Under the Silver Lake but viewers can be sure to find an enigmatic portrait of a generation for a generation. Presented as a puzzle box, it is actually a test for people to see if they have their eyes opened wide or closed shut; to see if they see what’s going on in the world or not. That’s what’s hidden under the silver lake.

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