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Tuesday, March 21, 2017
The pain of loss is heightened by the torment of not knowing in the measured, studiously low-key "missing person" thriller CLAIRE IN MOTION (2016).
"Low-key" might be an understatement, because everything in this movie just happens. Claire (Betsy Brandt, "Breaking Bad"), a college math professor, loses her husband Paul one day when he goes off for a hike in the forest and doesn't come back. No big drama--it just happens, and suddenly he's gone.
The police search the woods, find no trace, and eventually call off the search. Friends try to be consoling but don't know how to act, making Claire feel more awkward and isolated. Finally, an old bachelor acquaintance named Stu (Brian Evans) hits on her as though she's already on the market again...and maybe, without even realizing it, she is.
The first half of the story is about Claire hoping that Paul is still alive and pursuing every avenue of finding him, even past the point where her young son Connor (Zev Haworth), pragmatic and mature beyond his years, ceases to share her doomed optimism.
The second half is about the gradual disintegration of Claire's world, which has become a strange and unfamiliar place. This is driven home when she meets a pretty young grad student, Allison (Anna Margaret Hollyman), with whom Paul secretly collaborated on an abstract art project whose theme was the quest for freedom.
Claire is baffled as to why a science professor would display such a sudden interest in artistic expression. But this is only the beginning of the mysteries hinted at so maddeningly by the artsy young bohemian girl who seems to fancy herself a sort of secret soulmate to Paul.
Claire is numbed by the situation and doesn't know exactly how to deal with or respond to it besides generally zoning out. Betsy Brandt underplays the role in such a way as to make it more realistic than if she'd over-emoted. Her later emotional outbursts against Allison and, finally, Paul seem purging and cathartic.
The film starts out with a bad dream that soon becomes a waking nightmare, with writer-directors Annie J. Howell and Lisa Robinson handling things much as though Claire were in an unsettling semi-dream state from which she can't fully emerge.
This deepens the further we go, especially when a shocking development introduces a haunting new layer to the mystery. Meanwhile, Claire's dealings with the enigmatic Allison and her increasingly distant son further add to her disorientation.
Allison represents disorder, both in Claire's relationship with Paul and with the world at large. Worse, she represents the freedom for Paul to which she belatedly sees herself to be a stifling influence.
Save for the tentative security of her own home, the story's settings each become foreign and foreboding to her, representing the people who inhabit them--Allison in her nature-girl habitat, the cold police station whose inhabitants no longer hold any hope of help, and, finally, the ugly singles' bar where Stu awaits. Even the formal atmosphere of the college becomes a place where she must learn to fit in again.
I first thought, during Claire's increasingly desperate and frantic searches of the forest, that this setting represented her subconscious--the wild and dark opposite of her ordered, normal existence.
But then I found it to be more a manifestation of Paul's unfathomable subconscious mind. It's here that Claire feels more lost, frightened, and uncertain than anywhere else, so much so that it threatens to engulf her.
The DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures is in 2.39:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound. Closed captioned. Deleted scenes and trailers for this and other Breaking Glass releases are the extras.
"Unresolved" would be an apt word to describe the ending of CLAIRE IN MOTION. The more I mull it over, the more it feels right. I think we're meant to mull this movie over, and to have not a sense of closure, but simply one of moving on.
Buy it at Amazon.com