Miracle Mile ★★★★

Miracle Mile by Steve De Jarnatt

“I never really saw the big picture before. Not till today.”

For director and writer Steve De Jarnatt making a film is about passion as his experience in film school and years of learning have taught him, however, being an adult and having established himself in the world of TV and writing he “will not smash [his) head” and wait a decade for a film to finally be made. Judging from what he has said during the interview with Arrow Video it is hard to blame the man considering he has spent his money trying to make a film out of a script many producers such as Warner Brothers liked but never quite wanted to realize, or if they did by adding a few changes which was something De Jarnatt did not like very much.

Miracle Mile can be defined as the director's passion project, one which would follow (and haunt) him for a decade after he had finished writing the script in 1979. Although he had been praised as a new talent to invest in after his early short films very few of his following projects, such as the repeatedly shelved Cherry 2000 (1987), would actually find the necessary financial support within the industry. Miracle Mile was among the first project he had pitched to agents and studios after he had graduated from film school and his short films had provided him with a bit of attention, a project which would link the more apocalyptic notion of 1980 cinema as evident in movies such as The Terminator or The Road Warrior but combining it with a romantic angle. The wild mixture of genre reminiscent of the work of writer Thomas Pynchon – his novel Gravity's Rainbow is prominently displayed in Miracle Mile as one character speed-reads the Cliff Notes for it – was met with approval but was simply to risky and probably daring for many producers.

Miracle Mile is a story about romance in the face of the apocalypse, a tale about missed chances and the significance of one's individual happiness in the face of mankind's greatest catastrophe.

Harry Washello (Anthony Edwards) is a touring jazz trombonist who meets Julie (Mare Winnigham) during one of his gigs with his band. For both of them it is love at first sight and Harry promises to meet her after her night shift as waitress in a local diner has ended, but, unfortunately, he misses the date due to his alarm clock's failure to go off a the set time.

As he arrives three hours late at the diner his lover is already gone home and he is unable to reach her. Walking back inside the diner Harry picks up a nearby payphone which has been ringing constantly with no one around to answer it. The mysterious caller on the other end claims to have information about a possible nuclear war between the USA and Russia and the world has only a little over an hour left before the first nuclear missiles will hit the main land.

When his information is confirmed and panic starts to grow within the world around him Harry's only goal is to find Julie and escape with her to a safe zone.

The idea for Miracle Mile sounds as if it might have been an episode of The Twilight Zone, especially due to its blend of the apocalypse with the human aspect of love, one might even see a hint to this particular interpretation given the agreed time of Harry's and Julie's nightly date. Indeed the approach might even link to a deeper layer of the film inherent in its literary quality, its referential character to literature as mentioned before as well as the link towards the human condition most stories of the famous TV series had.

As a matter of fact apart from the romantic angle the appearance of the two characters in a museum of natural history with Harry jokingly talking about “getting a teaching gig” since the schoolchildren would rather listen to him explain some of the exhibits than their frustrated teacher, but also how, as author Tim Lucas mentions, the movie, or rather Harry's narration, stresses the insignificance of the events we are about to see by presenting a brief overview of evolution. After all these years mankind is must have reached something of a dead end, literally, with nations and humans in conflict without actually knowing what it is they were fighting each other for like Julie's grandparents who have not talked to each other for so many years although still having feelings for each other.

Of course, it is a simple, maybe even silly analogy the film draws here but then again the world the film creates, a world of miracles as the title hints at, is defined by the belief in something magical. As corny as it may sound but given the film romance elements love may just be the decisive factor for mankind, one thing to remember it by, an aspect which even has the ability to change people altogether, especially considering a scenario like the inevitable doom of humanity, a time of survival and thinking solely for oneself. Looking at the scenes in which people actually help others after having met the two lovers, sole acts of humanity and, yes, love the miracle is still possible and it does not matter it happens during mankind's final hour.

Fitting to its image of the world, the hyper-reality of the plot the film is constantly on the move following the protagonists as he meets several other characters, a collage of various fates and ways of dealing with the impending catastrophe. Miracle Mile is a movie with a distinct energy to it as suggested by the use of handheld camera by cinematographer Theo van de Sande and the fast cuts but the focus always centered around Anthony Edwards' character who is nearly constantly moving. Time is running out for him (and for the others he meets too) and as urgent as survival might be, surviving with the one you love is even more important.

Miracle Mile is wild blend of romance and apocalyptic thriller set in a stylized world in which miracles are still possible. Even with the prospects being bleak there is still the memory which might live on, some remnant of two people as insignificant as they might be in the greater scheme of things, a feeling perhaps best expressed in the images of this film and its wonderful score by Tangerine Dream.

Sources:
1) Last Order at Johnie's (2017) (an interview with director Steve De Jarnatt
2) Lucas, Tim (2017) A Bloomsday for Doomsday: Appreciating Steve De Jarnatt's Miracle Mile