In “Walden and Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau said, “The mass of men (sic) lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country…”
George (Richard Gere) is homeless on the streets of the Big Apple. He’s already living in his own desperate city, both physically and mentally. Whether he will move permanently to his desperate country remains to be seen. Selling his coat for a few beers, sleeping in a prison-like shelter, dozing on benches, daring to visit his estranged daughter – these are the bleak patterns of his day.
His story, told in the movie “Time Out of Mind,” could touch the core of your humanness. IF you dare to watch it.
Why do I use the word dare? It’s simple.
There is nothing Hollywood about this film. No special effects. No dramatic plot line. No titillating sex scenes. No swelling score. No heroes or heroines. No pandering to our mass appetites.
Even the cinematography challenges our norm. Gere was filmed with hidden cameras, often through windows or doorways on the gritty streets, a cacophony of random voices carrying on in the background. It’s almost clinical, like Italian neorealism, detailing his struggle with inner demons from a dispassionate distance.
And those demons are certainly there. We get no clear, linear explanation of George’s past, but the scant details give a glimpse of his descent. They highlight in painful relief the final, strained connection he has with his daughter, Maggie (Jenna Malone).
Justin Chang, a critic with Variety, called this film “a soulful, fascinating, and haunting piece of urban poetry.”
One of its eeriest elements is the character of Dixon, played with panache by Ben Vereen. He gloms on to George, shadowing him day and night. Is this happenstance or fate? Is Dixon even real? His nonstop talking is a one-sided dialogue with the repressed elements of George’s character, like a split personality given flesh. When Dixon’s fingers hover over the keys of a café’s antique piano, it embodies the last vestiges of hope in George’s spirit. And when the authorities force Dixon from the shelter, he hurls two prophetic phrases at George. “Don’t give in to the demons!” “You owe me an apology!”
If I could petition the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences about this film by Oren Moverman, I would say, “Give Gere the Oscar for best performance! Let this low-budget masterpiece, like ‘Leaving Las Vegas,” be lauded as an example of cinema’s potential to explore the edges, to light up the human experience in ways we never imagined.”
Say it any way you want. Black lives matter. Homeless lives matter. All lives matter. If you believe it, I dare you to watch this movie, to get outside your consumer expectations and let it work its magic on you.
I cried as the credits scrolled. I know why. In an unglamorous career as a pastor, I had the privilege of meeting people this world will never celebrate. They let me enter into their desperate cities and walk alongside them for a while.
And sometimes, not always, we found a way out together.