Sunday, June 29, 2014

Streaming tip: John Huddles' AFTER THE DARK beguilingly joins philosophy and filmmaking

The original name for John Huddles' unusual new film, AFTER THE DARK, was The Philosophers -- a much better title but one that was evidently found wanting in the marketing department, perhaps by the distributor, Phase 4 Films. Consequently, an original movie found itself  burdened with a practically say-nothing title and released in very limited fashion to little box-office or much notice. (Even so, the movie managed to garner a very healthy, 77% positive critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Writer/director Huddles, shown at left, has come up with something pretty rare in cinema -- using philosophy and a philosophy class at an international school in Indonesia to demon-strate how to choose the best group of people to survive a worldwide nuclear blast and, after, to replenish the earth. (Given the film's Indonesian setting, I do hope that the subjects of The Act of Killing get the opportunity to see this film -- not that they possess nearly enough self-understanding to comprehend or appreciate it.)

The philosophy teacher here, nicely played by James D'Arcy (in foreground, above, wearing the light blue shirt), clearly has his classroom favorites (an A+ student named Petra, played by Sophie Lowe, below, left, and lately of Adore) and his dislikes (James, played by Rhys Wakefield, below, right, and recently seen in +1), and these come prominently to the fore as the movie continues. The problem our teacher gives his class is just a kind of game. Even though we see it acted out by the students -- and not once but thrice -- whatever horrible things happen we already understand are not real and so we can enjoy them without having to suffer the results.

Each time, the scenario begins the same but the outcome differs, and the students learn more about life, gamesmanship and making hard decisions. We, in turn, learn more about the students, as we watch their characters grow and change.

The movie's take on philosophy calls into question some of its more lurid pronouncements, offering up a scenario that places value on socialization and communication, as much as on power and strength. Movies often give us quick shots of Nietzsche, Sartre, and (god help us) Ayn Rand (sort of a philosophy-for-dummies kind of thing), but it's rare and invigorating to find a film that embraces the discipline as strongly as this one. Even if you disagree with how things plays out or how these budding "philosophers" think and react, at least they do think (we're already one up on most teen movies). And so will you.

In the large cast of attractive and talented actors, you may notice the likes of Daryl Sabara (above, front row, center right: remember Spy Kids?) and Katie Findlay (front row, far right, of the The Killing). So good are so many of these young actors that my spouse and I could have sat through a movie twice as long (this one lasts 107 minutes) just to spend more time with them and learn more about them.

The movie's ending takes a leaf from our professor's playbook, as we learn a bit more about him -- and it proves to be quite wonderful and appropriate in its own right.

After the Dark can be streamed now via Netflix and elsewhere, and can also be seen on DVD and Blu-ray (the cinematography of Indonesia is quite beautiful).

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