Rated PG, 80 min. Directed by Alan Rudolph. Starring Matthew Modine, Lara Flynn Boyle, Tyra Ferrell, Marisa Tomei, Tate Donovan, Kevin J. O'Connor, Lori Singer, Gailard Sartain, M. Emmet Walsh, Fred Ward.
Equinox is a movie in the process of becoming a story. It is alternately frustrating, exciting, irritating, intriguing, isolated and involving. Like the dualities implied by the word “equinox,” this movie is a constellation of elements that amounts to little without the participation of an audience. Equinox provides pieces of a story, each viewer provides a meaning. Departing from the conventionally escapist form of filmed storytelling, director Rudolph (Roadie, Songwriter, Mortal Thoughts) and cast create kernels of reality that we can then channel into coherence. As the movie opens, we trustingly follow it as it leads us through several disparate sequences that introduce us to different characters, locations, predicaments and situations. None of it seems to obviously connect with the sequences around it. Yet it all shares this odd mood and tone that unites the various storylines into one consistent universe. In that universe, everything is slightly off-kilter or, maybe, hyper-real. It's hard to put your finger on the quirks that make this world distinct because, at the same time, it is abundantly familiar. (One of Rudolph's trademarks as a director is his ability to create encapsulated realities as in Welcome to L.A., Choose Me and Trouble in Mind). Set in a fictional metropolis called Empire, the city is an architectural combination of old and new and a spiritual blend of violent menace and wide-eyed possibilities. Omnipresent Lotto advertisements also connect the sequences in a vaguely sinister manner. Then we begin to notice that Matthew Modine is playing two different characters who are, in fact, polar opposites of each other. And, probably, that has something to do with Tyra Ferrell's morgue attendant/would-be writer who is researching a decades-old mystery about separated twins. Its genesis is a random letter that appears in the morgue on the body of a Jane Doe corpse. Ferrell smells a potential story in the letter's contents, all she needs is to find the characters -- who, of course, are involved in entirely different life stories and unaware of the alternate reality posed by the letter. The movie goes on like this as we, along with the characters, try to find meaning and substance in their lives. Viewer enthusiasm for this type of interactive storytelling may vary. It is certainly not easy or passive or mindlessly entertaining. It is not even always rewarding. Yes, there are puzzles to be solved but the process must become part of the pleasure, along with the answers. The process must irritate like an aphrodisiac that creates unquenchable desires. Equinox's only real trouble -- and it may be something endemic to this type of storytelling -- is that it can't figure out how to conclude itself (or, maybe, with this type of storytelling, the difficulty is really my own and not the movie's failure). Still, the last quarter of the movie feels hastened towards climax and, personally, I wish that any other image had been substituted for the movie's closing shot. As is, the image is too much of a visual cliché to be the wrap-up for such an original work. But at least it conveys the sense of Modine's sheepish character finally stepping into the leading role in the movie of his life.
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