Under the Silver Lake ★★★★★

Cannot express how hard I fell for this twisty, wandering and extraordinarily bleak neo-noir mystery set in the dark side of LA. This meandering odyssey of Andrew Garfield's hapless bum is just as wandering and complicated as you've heard; the entire film is predicated on the belief that there are stealthily laid symbols and messages all around us, embedded within a culture built to disguise them. These codes, while explored in the film in an attempt to discover what happened to the mysterious girl in his apartment building who disappears, are Garfield's way of understanding the world. Or, at least a desperate belief that there is *something* to understand, that there is indeed an order to the chaos all around him. His obsession with unraveling these secrets are part of a sincere attempt to find the key to being happy, his dedication to this mystery girl isn't so much derived from an actual fondness for her but instead an interest in the unanswered question she represents. He'd rather chase some Illuminati conspiracy than apply for a job.

Under the Silver Lake evolves from a lazy detective yarn to a portrait of a man seeking some transcendent truth and a longing for purpose. The film ridicules and respects his quest with equal measure; laughing at the very notion that anything has meaning but illustrating the value in at least pretending to care. Two scenes in this stick out to me as instantly remarkable. The obvious first would be the encounter with the piano man; who's sleazy greed reduces our most beloved, defining works of art to mere artifice and fabrication; crafted for the elite and passed down to the rest of us to keep us satiated and content. And the second would be the drone voyeurism, which honestly just left me a little in awe for reasons I don't quite understand yet. There's something very "of this generation" about Under the Silver Lake in contrast to, say, Chinatown. The latter's cynicism is rooted in the process of corruption, and the inevitability of it. The former feels a little more ambivalent about it's unearthed darkness; like everything is already corrupted and we just need to find a way to live with it, and live in it. An acceptance of powerlessness, so to speak. Someone towards the end of the film says something like "might as well make the best of it" about a pretty dire situation; and that feels like the line of the film. In this scene, Garfield and a friend are watching a woman undress through her windows through the anonymity of a drone miles away; clearly looking for some sort of sexual gratification. But then she begins to weep; perhaps lamenting her lost youth, dwindling dreams or just experiencing some sort of general sadness. She immediately attains a humanity, becomes something more than an image for them to receive gratification from.

It's such an unexpected moment of melancholy and humanity shoved into a scenario that would typically express only voyeuristic thrills and a general depravity. The two men watching don't even know what to do with those things; they just observe her weeping and move on. It's a beautiful sequence that taps into the powerlessness of the victim, or the cog in some societal machine, and the ambivalence of those in power. Conspiracy theories typically tease some master plan, some higher class of people pulling the strings for us grunts. This is what I love about Under the Silver Lake; there's a unique sort of helplessness to the power structures it presents. It's not so much a movie about a helpless loser trying to understand the hidden elites or upend them; it's more just an attempt to find how he fits into all of it. Like there is a system everyone has bought into that he doesn't quite know how to abide by. Everyone is miserable in this, even the mysterious elite; Under the Silver Lake just suggests that wasting time by listening to music, having sex and watching movies is a better way to cope than trying to understand anything at all.

2019 Ranked

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