“Without faith, it’s difficult to be controlled”
Blind faith in God can lead to two outcomes; it’s either a way to accept an event and seek the good that can come from tragedy or a springboard to absolute atheism once you realize an event like that which has transpired can’t occur in a world where God exists. For the believers, life will go on and the big picture plan will eventually be revealed; for the non-believers, life will be a journey through mindless souls that have given themselves over to the powerful, to be controlled and manipulated. Gerald McMorrow’s film Franklyn deals with this two-sided coin in a futuristically original way. Stylistically and thematically constructed to be a melding of Jacob’s Ladder and Dark City, the story deals with fate and the idea that maybe someone is out there pulling the strings, nudging us on our way by showing glimpses of the future or even allowing insanity to run its course and result in love. We all touch so many people in our lives, some we build relationships with and others we just pass by at random. But one line of dialogue here begs to be remembered and processed because it isn’t always about the ones we’ve touched, our futures are still to come and disappearing now affects those we haven’t yet met.
There is so much to like about this film. The final half, once the reveals are slowly exposed, is thought provoking and really quite wonderful. I feel as though Franklyn has the workings of being a brilliant piece in cinema’s canon, but it just isn’t quite whole. We are transported from the stories of two London residents, Emilia and Milo, as they deal with their own life’s pain and suffering, to a fantasy world called Meanwhile City and Jonathan Preest’s search for a young girl’s murderer who is also the leader of the most dangerous faith-based cult in existence. Only at the end, when we start to grasp the overlapping and illusory mind games at work, do the transitions begin to feel natural. Until that point, the film is very disjointed with sharp cuts, creating a sense of disorientation as though we are watching two separate movies that have been spliced together without rhyme or reason. I’m not quite sure what could change in order to rectify this problem—and maybe on a repeat viewing it will make more sense knowing what’s really going on—but the issue does detract from an intelligently told allegory about the weaknesses inherent in fervent spirituality. While, for some, the ability to have community and someone or something to turn to in dark times is a godsend, religion can also take control if left unchecked, brainwashing people into easy answers and premature forgiveness. It is all in the eye of the beholder.
Preest is played by an effectively stone-faced and dour Ryan Phillippe, searching for the cult leader that is responsible for the death of a young girl he was hired to save. Her sacrifice is seen by the religion as a necessary evil to spawn salvation, but to him it is just a preventable tragedy that he came too late to stop. Emilia is the beautiful Eva Green, dragging her feet through life as an art student who has manifested her abusive childhood and cold relationship with the mother that looked the other way into a project where her own suicide attempts are the subject. And Sam Riley plays Milo, a late-twenties man who has just had his heart broken by his soon-to-be wife calling off the wedding, trying to find answers in both heartbreak and the sudden appearance of a love he hasn’t seen since age seven. All three of these characters are seemingly disparate from each other, especially with Phillippe’s residing in another world completely, but in fact they are more intertwined than can ever be imagined. It’s quite amazing how important someone you have followed for a school project or someone you’ve caught a passing second’s glimpse of can play in your future. Every connection is crucial to a person’s life, no matter how big or small, and no one knows this better than James Faulkner’s omnipresent visage watching over all as a doctor, a janitor, and a pastor, always there for guidance.
There is also a fourth role whose search for his missing son becomes the most integral piece to the entire puzzle. Bernard Hill is a man of God who has seen much tragedy and suffering in his lifetime, so much so that it has driven his family apart. His wife has left him, his daughter has passed away, and his son David has come back from Iraq to a broken home, only exacerbating his post-traumatic syndrome, relegating him to a lengthy stay at a military hospital. David’s release for a visit home is what starts everything in motion, bringing Hill’s Peter Esser to London and into the lives of Emilia and Milo without realizing it. I don’t want to ruin any of the revelations to be discovered in due course by McMorrow’s script, but it all will make sense soon enough, explaining dystopian worlds, adult imaginary friends, and the fracturing of the human brain. Sometimes, as shown, God may even use a person’s inability to believe as a way to achieve his goal—one’s disbelief in fate being exactly what fate has set in motion.
All the acting is quite superb, but special mention needs to be made for Green’s portrayal of an immensely hurt young woman. Trying to make her own personal tragedy into some sort of constructive understanding only leads her deeper and deeper into despair. The role is just one of many broken souls seeking solace and answers, but the part of Jonathan Preest rises above all those philosophical constraints seeing the realty in front of his eyes. Stuck in a futuristic metropolis where existence is synonymous with faith, we the audience learn an interesting bent on the whole idea of religion that questions beliefs and serves as the basis for what is to transpire in the film. McMorrow has woven an intricate mindbender with invisible thread connecting every character, soon to be tightened, pairing off those who’ve been living in order to reach that moment they become one. With a finale that epitomizes tragedy breeding hope, the ending almost made me forget the film’s early shortcomings. I will be anxiously waiting to see what this new talent has to offer with his hopefully inevitable second feature.
Franklyn 8/10 | ★ ★ ★