Starting Over

John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (1966) is a sci-fi movie with elements of horror, surrealism, realism, and pitch-black comedy. I wrote about it over at Movie Mezzanine. It’s a powerful film, due in part to that internal clash of tone and style. The story of “Tony Wilson” is a tragedy, an Orpheus-and-Eurydice tale of the doomed Tony gazing backward from beyond death. But the employees of the film’s incomprehensibly powerful company treat it like a mild bureaucratic snafu and speak of it with Kafkaesque good humor. They may never behave explicitly evil, feigning bedside manners even at the grisly end, but then that makes Seconds even more horrifying to watch. It reminds me of movies like The Game and Society: good, bad, up, down, every normative standard is turned on its head. The materialistic values that Arthur/Tony has lived by as long as he can remember? Meaningless now. He’s cut adrift, forced to wander these huge, intimidating residential and industrial spaces that could be anywhere but feel like nowhere. And as James Wong Howe’s disorienting photography makes perfectly clear, this isn’t just one man’s nightmare. It’s 1960s America’s.

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