MRR Review: "Big Sur"

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A recounting of Jack Kerouac's (here known by the name of his fictional alter-ego Jack Duluoz) three sojourns to the cabin in Big Sur, owned by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
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MRR Review: "Big Sur"

Rating: R (some sexuality, nudity, and language)
Length: 81 minutes
Release Date: Nov. 1, 2013
Directed by: Michael Polish
Genre: Drama

"Big Sur" is based on Jack Kerouac's book of the same name. The film follows a man called Jack Duluoz (Jean-Marc Barr), an alcoholic who regularly drinks himself into delirium. He is prone to periods of deep depression and knows he is going insane. Whether the alcohol caused the depression and madness or vice versa in unclear, but the feeling is that Duluoz drinks to comfort his tormented mind.

Big Sur is the name of the cabin Duluoz's poet friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Anthony Edwards) owns. At the time of Kerouac's stay at Big Sur, he was growing tired of the fame he had achieved with his book "On the Road," which was published a few years prior. The author wasn't able to connect well with other human beings, and he was sick of beatnik fans constantly harassing him. Kerouac realized his cynicism toward people and often considered his paranoia might be a sign of insanity. Rather than connect with humans, Kerouac felt he needed to reconnect with nature and his writing instead, so he went to Big Sur for a break from society. "Big Sur" is a culmination of what happened during that time in 1960, and Jack Duluoz goes through the same motions as Kerouac.

Michael Polish uses camera maneuvers to blur scenes the way Duluoz's drunken eyes must view the world in his alcohol-crazed state of mind. Duluoz narrates the film much like Kerouac wrote his books. The use of stream of consciousness invokes the feeling of being disconcerted. The voiceover gives the viewer a sense of disconnectedness. This too must be the way Duluoz feels when dark depressive episodes overtake him. The book and movie are told from the point of view of a weary man straying past the edge of madness.
Polish intersperses gorgeous scenes of nature and stunning visuals throughout the film and Barr's monologue. Depictions of the ocean's waves, rolling clouds of fog, and forests of great redwood trees with and without the characters present leave powerful images in the mind. Also powerful are the accompanying actors in the film. At various times during his stay at Big Sur, Duluoz would become bored and jaunt back to Los Angeles to rally a few friends, always returning to the cabin after a short while.

Edwards is great as Ferlinghetti, a friend who tries to care for Duluoz but who is too careful not to be judgmental. Among the other friends introduced in the story is Neal Cassady, played wonderfully by Josh Lucas. Neal is married to Carolyn Cassady, who is depicted by Radha Mitchell. Neal also has a mistress named Billie (Kate Bosworth). Eventually Billie is introduced to Duluoz. She is instantly attracted to him, and they become an item.

Billie doesn't understand Duluoz's mental anguish and depression. She only notes the drinking and what she deems to be Duluoz's bleak worldviews. Likewise, when Duluoz goes on an alcohol binge, he becomes infuriated that Billie can't understand him and his moods. The entire entourage seems rather volatile. All the while, viewers are reminded that Duluoz needs people, but he cannot enjoy their company. Bosworth plays a strong part well next to Barr's adamant character.

At first Barr may seem a poor choice to conduct an extensive voiceover. Once the viewer realizes Barr's voice is meant to jar and not pacify the audience, the true nature of Duluoz's madness takes effect. Viewers are able to experience Duluoz's, and thus Kerouac's, awareness of impending severe mental illness.

Fans of Polish will recognize his style from works such as "The Astronaut Farmer" and "Twin Falls Idaho." Cinematographer M. David Mullen is to be applauded for his extraordinary talent as he teams with Michael Polish once again. The cinematography used to disorient the audience as well as the magnificent nature shots are truly wondrous. Mullen does an excellent job of bringing others into a world usually exclusive to Jack Kerouac. The powerful shots coupled with Barr's voiceover back up Duluoz's actions, and even inactions, to give a horrifying depiction of creeping insanity.

Polish's portrayal of Kerouac's book is true to the original author in words, voice, and tone. Knowing that "Big Sur" is based on Kerouac's life gives the audience an investment in the film before entering the theater. "Big Sur" is a frightening but fascinating look at how an actual human being greets his own mental demise.

Rated 3 out of 5