Review: November

Sophie in November
The SIFF web site describes November as:

[a] change-of-pace homage to the mind-bending thrillers of David Lynch

well, I would say that November is less David Lynch, and more Run Lola Run. Though I felt at times that the movie borrowed ideas from Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, that was really only the first third of the movie. The rest felt pretty conventional. Oh, and this review will contain spoilers.

The movie is broken into three parts: denial, despair, and acknowledgement (I think?). Each part of the film was white-balanced differently (the director spoke after the movie, so I learned a bit about the making of it). The first part was very green/blue, the second part was very yellow/orange, and the final part was very naturally lit.

All three parts deal with Sophie (played by Courtney Cox, who proves that all of the female cast members of Friends can act… I can’t say anything for the guys, though) and her boyfriend Hugh and a late-night visit to a convenience store. Each part also involves Sophie visiting a therapist (Nora Dunn from Saturday Night Live!!), dining with her mother (Anne Archer from Fatal Attraction!!), and teaching a photography class.

In “Denial,” Hugh is killed during a hold-up at the convienence store. “Denial” is by far the most abstract and interesting part of the film. When Sophie visits her therapist we learn that she had been having an affair and that when Hugh was killed in the store she was actually talking to the guy on the phone. She also tells her therapist that the medication she is on makes her feel sick and gives her headaches. When Sophie has dinner with her mother, her mother tries to convince her to cut her hair because her current style “looks like an underachiever’s haircut.” The dinner is very tense, and when Sophie’s mom spills some red wine, the image of red liquid on the table cloth freaks Sophie out.

What makes “Denial” so interesting, though, is the appearance of the “Lynchian obscure object” — a slide that one of her students inadvertently (and unknowingly) shows during class. The picture is of Sophie sitting in her car the night of Hugh’s murder. Sophie gets in touch with a detective who tries to help her unravel the mystery. Ultimately, he discovers that she is the one who developed the slide, which is basically impossible since: 1. she was the subject of the slide; 2. there didn’t appear to be anyone outside or near the car taking pictures; 3. why would she take the picture in the first place?; 4. why/how could she forget visiting the photo lab to have it developed? Other Lynchian elements of “Denial” include the incessant loud music and banging noises Sophie hears in her apartment.

“Denial” ends with Sophie freaking out and bleeding in the bathroom with very Lynchian sound effects (screeching, etc.) overwhelming her and the audience.

“Despair” basically makes the affair between Sophie and her student much more explicit. During the convenience store robbery, Sophie and the guy she was cheating with were in the store taking photographs. He left to get something from the car when the robbery took place. Being a photographer, Sophie manages to snap some photos of the person doing the robbery (though when developed, they are “too arsty” [says the detective] and the thief appears as a black blur). She also snaps a picture that includes the guy she was cheating with, but doesn’t really turn it over to the police or something.

At the visit to the therapist, Sophie reveals that she has been having dreams in which Hugh is shot in the stomach. She also mentions that she has been having stomach pains herself. The therapist makes some obvious statement like, “So in the dream your are hurting Hugh, and then when you are awake it hurts you too. Why don’t you draw the line?”

This statement, coupled with the bizarre appearance of the slide in “Denial” and the loud noises in “Denial” lead me to believe that the movie was somehow about the physical effects of guilt and guilt manifesting itself in different ways a la the scar on Pete’s forehead in Lost Highway or the blue key in Mulholland Drive. The theory still may hold. I’m not sure.

Eventually Hugh figures out that Sophie is cheating on him, and leaves her (taking the couch but leaving a photograph from their first encounter together). When Sophie meets her mother for dinner, she asks here Hugh is, and Sophie is forced to dodge the issue, making for a rather tense dinner. During the photograph class, Sophie makes a statement like, “What is excluded [in a photograph] is just as important as what is included.” I’m guessing this was some obvious attempt at making the movie rather philosophical?

The final part of the film, “Acknowledgement” (or whatever?) is the most boring. Sophie and Hugh have a great relationship. When she encounters the student she had an affair with (which is all over now), they talk like normal people and leave open the possibility of having coffee later. She tells her therapist that, though it “may sound crazy,” she thinks she’s done with therapy, and the dinner with her mother goes very well (her mother worrying that her haircut is too much of an underachiever’s, and that maybe she, not Sophie, needs to visit the stylist).

In a möbius strip form of logic, as everything is going well Sophie and Hugh decide to go have Chinese food for dinner. One fortune from the fortune cookie reads something like, “It’s never to late to change your life” (i.e. a non-fatalist view of life), the had something to do with a more fatalist perspective of life. How to reconcile? Hugh and Sophie just laugh.

After dinner Sophie tells Hugh that she is still hungry (and we are back to the opening scene). He goes into the convenience store. Before he gets in she calls to tell him that she loves him and to hurry. A after flipping through a weekly newspaper (with the cover story: “Is Modernism Dead?”) she hears a gunshot and rushes inside. Hugh has already been shot, and Sophie is next (taking the bullet in her stomach).

The movie ends with them lying on the ground next to teach other then fading into a flashback to the first time they met. Totally cheesy and happy — now they are together and content and in heaven, etc. etc.

Like I said, the first third (“Denial”) was really good and creepy and set a mood for the film that wasn’t followed through at all. I guess the fact that the timeline of “Acknowledgement” wasn’t linear (in “Denial” and “Despair” she visits the therapist, has dinner whit her mom, etc. a month after the deadly trip to the convenience store) made that part slightly interesting, but in the end I felt the movie wasn’t ambiguous enough.

My interpretation is that, like Mulholland Drive and Jacob’s Ladder and other films, the entire movie is a flashback of the main character, imagining/dreaming of/hoping for alternate versions of his or her life. Not too ambiguous and not too profound, as far as I’m concerned.

As for things I learned since the director was there:

  • The film was done for less than $150,000. This is very very cheap compared to most Hollywood films.
  • The director (Greg Harrison) comes from a background of making movie trailers. Though he didn’t work on the trailer for November because he learned that directors make the worst trailers for their movies.
  • He intended for the trailer to capture the mood of the film rather than the story (and, really, I think it only presents the mood for the first third of the movie…)
  • Everything was filmed on digital video (miniDV to be exact) and edited on a desktop Macintosh computer.
  • Because David Fincher is a friend of Courtney Cox’s, he viewed a rough cut of the film and gave Harrison some feedback.
  • The movie was filmed in fifteen days.

Overall, I gave the movie 3/5 stars. It had lots of promise in the beginning, the second and third parts really disappointed me.

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