Kodachrome

Extra

Mark 7

Kodachrome was, bafflingly, presented to me as a comedy. This misleading introduction to the story didn’t detract from my overall experience, other than light confusion that eventually dissipated when I realized it had been severely miscategorized in advertising.

The premise of the story is very clear from the outset: a dying father wants to spend his final days with his estranged son, requesting that he accompany his father on a trip to develop a bundle of Kodachrome negatives before the technology is rendered irrevocably lost due to its obsolescence. The son, of course, refuses The Call, but is forced into accepting it thanks to a rather clich├ęd subplot: his job is on the line if he doesn’t close the deal with a big client, and his father’s manager inexplicably is able to pull strings to get the son a meeting with the client.

Once things get rolling, there are no real surprises along the way: you know how the story will end long before the time comes. However, the plot itself is not really the film’s purpose. It is, above all, a character-driven drama (with only occasional moments of levity).

Our protagonists are the son, Matt, and his father, Ben. Matt is charismatic, though overly cautious for his job. He quickly turns sarcastic and defensive when pressured by others to reconnect with Ben. The reasons for this are obvious from the very start: Ben is cruel for the sake of cruelty. He compulsively demeans and insults others, drawing pleasure from twisting the knife in their emotions and seeing them hurt. He is unapologetic in how ruthlessly he stabs at others, and is sincerely confused when they snap in response and resent him. While the character interactions are written and acted excellently, the general shape of the movie is where I find issue: the framework seems intent on the audience having sympathy for Ben.

This goal is first hinted when Matt, Ben, and Ben’s caregiver Zoe ask the question—in context of whether people should be forgiven for their past—if people can change over time. Matt and Ben immediately, resolutely answer such change doesn’t happen. Many scenes later, after Matt starts to fall for Zoe, it is revealed she cheated in her past marriage and still carries immense guilt over the mistakes she made. The implication is that the audience, having grown to like Zoe over the story and so being willing to look beyond her past to the caring person we see in front of us, must extend the same hope that Matt will forgive Ben.

Regardless whether it was the intention of the writing, the result is a story which persistently leads toward the lesson that people who abused you in the past are entitled to a continued presence throughout your life, despite continuing to abuse you and expressing little to no remorse. That you, not wanting to be declared ‘bitter’ or ‘cruel’ for refusing to put yourself in that position again simply because your abuser is experiencing new hardship, must voluntarily endure their ongoing abuse with infinite patience. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find catharsis as they apologize on their deathbed. The film equivocates a person who genuinely regrets the serious mistakes of their past and seeks to grow beyond them, and an abuser who constantly violates the boundaries of their victim and makes no effort to change.

The film’s score, and sometimes the cinematography, can be beautifully ethereal. The combination of audio mixing and drifting B-roll easily allows the audience to simply breathe and get lost in that moment of time. However, when the film is focused on our central cast, the visuals felt rather muted. For a story that was written about a famous photographer who (we are told) truly sees the world and captures it in camera, the movie’s lighting, colors, and blocking rarely felt very distinct.

Despite my major complaints for the natural implications of the narrative, the performances drew me in, and—when the time came—I felt genuine sadness that Matt and Ben did not have more time together. The film asks the viewer to make the utterly irrational, somewhat offensive decision to sympathize with Ben, and just barely succeeds. To be able to pull that off, even for an audience member who is so resistant to it, is a testament to the combined strength of the cast and crew.

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