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The Illustrated Man, 1969
Dir: Jack Smidgt
Warner Bros.- Seven Arts
This film is based on Ray Bradbury's book, The Illustrated Man (which I have yet to read). In the opening, a woman's voice says: "Each man that tries to see beyond to his future, faces questions for which there are no absolute answers." At that point, this sentence is not clear, but it becomes more understandable by the end. The illustrated man of the title is Carl (Rod Steiger). He approaches a young traveller named Willie (Robert Drivas), whom he asks if he has seen—producing a photo—"this house". He is searching for Felicia (Claire Bloom), who is responsible for the art on his body. The illustrations come alive with a story, telling possible futures. There is one blank space on Carl's back where one may see one's future. He tells Willie stories, and he sees some possible futures—all of which end in tragedy. After a while, Willie can't resist and looks into the picture-less patch of skin on Carl's back. He sees his future, and in fright, he precipitates the chain of events that ends in what he foresaw. The movie ends with the sentence with which it began, only this time it is much clearer.
The illustrations of Carl were quite wonderful, very vivid and beautiful. Every one had a meaning, and were spread all over him. For each illustration, a story was told, and Willie was hurtled into a dream-state where he saw events unfold. There were a number concerning Felicia and the origin of the illustrations, as well as the possible futures. Within two of them, everything was white—in the first, the sterility of plastic. This very sterility symbolised the emptiness of that society, where feeling was tampered with and relationships were mere shadows of hollow shells. Everything was done electronically; children were sent to the "playpen", a place where they could fantasise whatever they wish, which would become reality. This reality led to the horrific end of that particular sequence. The children were amoral, self-serving and had a lack of regard for the wishes of other people; products of their blank society of meaningless existence.
The other sequence had white everywhere, but not with the ambience of the first. The second one was of purity, where the white signified the natural emotions of a society that had been devastated by disaster, and once more faced disaster, but this time with forewarning. The living quarters, the clothing, even the animals, all white. Love is shown clearly—in direct contrast to the first—where the clarity of white shows the bonds between the parents, the children, all amongst themselves. Once again, this one ends in tragedy; but this time, not due to a lack of feeling, but because of its presence. The contrast between these two is quite ingenious—I thought it to be a great idea that added to the atmosphere of the film.
Yet another sequence was depicted, in which the survivors of an aircrash were devoid of hope. On a planet where there was nothing but torrential rain, they had to find shelter. One by one the men fall, losing to the futility of their search. Instead of white, there was an interminable grey, depicting their despondence, which led to their final suicides. There was also the endless noise of the rain—this is the opposite of the other two sequences. The other two were almost silent, but this one the direct opposite. This disparity immediately catapulted one into a different world, one as strong in its message as the other two. All three had the same uderlying feeling: they were all devoid of hope.
Overall, I think this was a great film. Indeed, it stands apart from the pallid offerings that are common at the boxoffice at the moment. Never say that old movies are not good; what they lack in special effects, they more than make up for it in plot and in characters.
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