There's been one point or another, during our lives, that we've found
ourselves in conversation with someone who has both intrigued and
concerned us with their eccentricity. For me, these moments are often
experienced around public transport; the stranger that sits next to you
despite the available seats on the bus, the slightly intoxicated person
at the stop whilst you're waiting for the last bus, or the person
hanging around the train station waiting room that doesn't appear to be
waiting for any particular connection. For Jonah (Rami Malek), this
interaction was with The Last Free Man (DJ Qualls), whom he meets at
the hotel in which he is the concierge. Despite the company policy, and
the sight of his drug addiction, Jonah agrees to provide a room for The
Last Free Man where he preaches of a conspiracy known as the Inversion.
From here begins the descent of Jonah's mind; he becomes
slowly-and-then-suddenly fixated around the concept of wormhole's Not
dissimilar from those depicted in Donnie Darko (2001) and becomes
increasingly dissatisfied with his work as the night manager.
Structuring the chronology of Buster's Mal Heart simplistically, however, reduces the complex portrayal of the disparate temporal episodes. During these sorts of crises in film, the viewer can often safely turn to visual symbolism and verbal leitmotif to engage with the deeper echelon of meaning in the narrative. For example, in The Godfather (1972) we can take the oranges as portent for impending death, and in Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) we can take the spiral imagery to represent confusion and disorientation. The issue presented in Buster's Mal Heart is that the haven of symbolism does not seem to complement the narrative directly and opens up a new avenue of interpretation. Through the fog of suburban discontent and the forests of Montana is a cache of religious symbolism present to conflict and supplement the film. Early in the film, during Jonah's internal struggle with his ideals, it is learned that his wife is an ex-addict who was reformed through the church. She tells him that he is pleased that he has 'found faith in his heart' for them to be together. This appears to be of little consequence as many rehabilitated addicts utilise the structure and comfort of organised religion to conquer their issues. However, much later in the film during a newscast featuring 'Buster', his mother watching expresses the importance of the role of God in restoring him. These two episodes bookend the film, demonstrating the imposition of religion on Jonah, a man who spends a great portion of the film buying into the concept of the Inversion something dismissed and ridiculed by the public as mere conspiracy.
It is not so much the agency of clarification that these references to Christianity provide for unlocking the demanding rhetoric of the film, but the frequency of symbols is something that cannot be dismissed as coincidence. It seems likely that the aesthetic of Buster on the rowboat in the middle of the ocean, where he spends a figurative forty-days and forty-nights in a form of desert, is designed to draw comparisons with the Western imagination of Christ. It seems more than coincidental that this image is contrasted with one of Buster wearing a Santa costume whilst he squats in the holiday home, taking hostage the elderly couple that have returned.
Perhaps the most curious of all the religious symbolism throughout the film are the allusions to the Ten Plagues of Egypt. Whilst not all of the plagues feature explicitly throughout the film, the subtlety and consistency of the religious imagery indicates that the plagues, or trials, present to test Jonah demand investigation. During Jonah's 'staycation' in the hotel, he experiences the first and tenth plagues. Buster returns to his room, to find the bath tub full of water. Moving into the bedroom, he discovers his wife and child are dead and are covered in blood. It could be argued that this represents the first plague: water into blood. It seems that The Last Free Man; the man with a cocaine addiction, a disbelief in forms of personal identification, and a penchant for drifting, was the murderer. However, his identity is proved to be questionable as the police and security review the CCTV footage and find no man present at all. This appears to suggest that The Last Free Man never truly existed and that the perpetrator of the infanticide was Jonah himself, thus bringing on the remaining plagues. Later in the film, the frame is filled with the sight of Buster, alone, drifting afloat a rowboat in the ocean begging for death. Whilst it is unclear whether this expression originates in existential ennui, honest grief, or remorseful guilt, it could simply be interpreted as an emotional darkness, a metaphor for the ninth plague: darkness. When Buster awakes the following morning, he finds the boat full of frogs: the second plague. Whilst any self-respecting survivalist would interpret this infestation as a source of sustenance for the future, it is not hard to suspect that these victuals would provide little restoration. The manifestation of the remaining plagues is implied rather than represented directly; whilst Buster is living in the cave amongst the Montana forest the plagues of lice, boils, thunderstorms of hail, locusts, and vicious animals are easily imaginable as aspects of wild living.
The film does, however, engage with the tenets of Christianity and highlight tensions between organised belief and conspiracy theories to a degree that refusing to recognise them would be an incomplete approach to the film. The function of this imagery is elusive, it might serve to engineer Jonah's cognitive dissonance and existential collapse, or rather, it might be something of a muse for director Sarah Adina Smith, designed to represent the trials of one's mind when balancing personal belief and social expectation.
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Buster's Mal Heart
Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Buster's Mal Heart
Drama / Mystery / Thriller
The film follows a mountain man on the run from authorities who survives the winter by breaking into empty vacation homes. He's haunted by a recurring dream of being lost at sea and constantly has flashbacks of his former life of a family man.
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July 05, 2017 at 04:51 PM