Thursday, March 15, 2007


I love a good paranoid thriller that goes no holds barred into the concepts of conformity, identity and the consequences of stepping outside ones own molded existence. An existence built one baby step at a time unknowingly and unplanned shaped by subtle external forces. I'm an unabashed lover of all three versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, 1978, and 1993). Throw in the evils of 'the government' or 'corporate interests' (or even better, both of 'em simultaneously!) and tell the story both subtly and aggressively and I'm in heaven. Yes, I put on Nineteen Eighty-Four or The Trial for fun. In the literary world the go-too guys are Kafka, Poe and Phillip K. Dick. In the film world would movies like Pi, Fight Club, Cube, Primer and even lesser efforts like Cypher and The Clonus Horror exist without standing on the shoulders of John Frankenheimer's Seconds? Maybe. Maybe not.

The story of Seconds is simple and Frankenheimer takes his time setting up the tone in such a way to turn the film on its head more than once. Arthur Hamilton lives a comfortable if dreary, upper middle class existence. He did the 'right' things to get where he is, but pines for something more. What went wrong with his life? When offered a chance to be re-born by a secretive company that erases his previous existence for a chosen new one complete with complicated plastic surgery and a jet-set bohemian life style, what choice do you think he makes. And the company works hard to make this happen. The questions is: How many people can live this 'dream' without eventually thinking back to the previous existence and the safety net of the 'real' identity vs. the very different new lifestyle.

I like to think of Seconds as the proto-type for the mind bending science fiction thriller where someone goes after the Faustian (EULA-ian?) bargain and may or may not pay the heavy dues. Of course, Frankenheimer made a career of the paranoid thriller from 1962's The Manuchrian Candidate, which is much more well known (and it got a remake a couple years ago with, um, you guessed it, an evil corporation) all the way up to 1998's Ronin, but he went much deeper and darker with Seconds which came out in 1966. Like nearly all good science fiction films, it flopped hard at the box office.

The film features flat out fantastic camera work, a tone in perpetual flux (a wine-stomping orgy has to be seen in light of the rest of the movie just to understand how wild things can shift), and harnessing great performances from John Randolph (before), Rock Hudson (after) and Will Geer as the benignly creepy company handler. Some may argue the film is depressing, but Seconds gets points for going all the way with its titular concept. The film has aged exceptionally well.


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