414) The Limits of Control (2009) Dir: Jim Jarmusch Date Released: May 2009 Date Seen: November 24, 2009 Rating: 4/5
The beauty of The Limits of Control lies in its infuriating cryptic simplicity. The film is all about Lone Man's (Isaach De Bankole) journey to accepting his own inner life and sense of personal freedom. In that sense, though I can object to the film's individual images (Bill Murray's Cheney-esque "American," Bankole's exotic "other"-worldly appearance as the American that doesn't identify as being, well, American). But as long as I agree with the journey as process as conclusion, then in principle, I've already allowed myself to be seduced by the film. It's a good thing that the process in question is in fact engaging as a film as well as a statement.
I have to agree with my supportive and every-diligent colleague Joseph Jon Lanthier when he said that The Limits of Control is in a sense all about spaghetti westerns. Spare, though oddly obtrusive, electric guitar-heavy music thrums while Lone Man is advised by a number of oneiric spirit guides in cowboy hats. The Limits of Control is set almost entirely in Spain, where the majority of spaghetti westerns were shot. Like that subgenre, it's concerned with expanding its hero's identity by juxtaposing generic symbols with unexpected new ones, in this case, two cups of espresso and a guy-tar. Just as the spaghetti western evolved the classical Hollywood western's preoccupation with manifest destiny beyond the terrain of physical expansion, so to is The Limits of Control more concerned with a spiritual and philosophical broadening of horizons. Its purposive, though seemingly free form, narrative encourages a move from moral certitude toward amorality, begging us to see Lone Man's ritualized search for answers as one determined not by symbols without apparent explanation but by symbols with no set limits. Somewhere, Alejandro Jodorowsky is smiling.
Which brings me to the film's surreal sense of humor. Like the fiction of Haruki Murakami, Jarmusch's film revolves around the calculated complacent acceptance of the sublimely strange as a worldview. Pop art and weird shamans borne from a universal subconscious go hand-in-hand, just as the protagonists of Murakami's stories are advised by everybody from a Sheepman to Col. Sanders, who in Murakami's Kafka on the Shore is a wise old pimp. Scenes like the Lone Man's trysts with Nude (Paz de la Huerta) are entirely within the realm of Jarmuschian sexual norms ("Do you like Schubert?") but their ethereal qualities are this time tied to the film's inescapable, though hardly relentless, set trajectory. This means that we're encouraged to take our time because the film, like any journey of self-discovery, cannot be rushed. But we're also reminded, as in a Murakami story, that eventually, we and Lone Man will get there.