The Rambler – A man who knows not where he’s going, or what to expect, yet he blindly follows the road ahead and every adventure it may bring. He doesn’t have a purpose, a care in the world, a destination, or even a good reason for the life he leads, he just, well, he just is. Sounds like a kooky premise for a film, eh? A mysterious man who wanders from city to city, getting in to all sorts of trouble just for the sake of weirdness? Well, yes and no. Yes in the sense that abstract film watchers absolutely have one of the strangest stories I’ve ever witnessed to indulge in, but no in the sense that we never know what the hell is actually going on. I mean, this “Rambler” doesn’t give a shit about his life, why should we?
Just as the title states, the first thing we do is meet a man known as “The Rambler” (Dermot Mulroney) being released from jail, waiting for his girlfriend to pick him up. This is only where his journey starts though, because soon our drifter finds himself kicked out off his girlfriend’s house and sleeping in a junkyard. Life turns sunny though when he gets a letter from his brother asking him to join him as a farmhand on his ranch in Oregon, so with nothing but a guitar, a pair of aviators, a cowboy hat, and a wad of money, “The Rambler” starts hitching his way west. The highway is a strange place if you spend enough time there though, specified by the numerous run-ins “The Rambler” has. There’s a dream recording scientist (James Cady), a woman who appears over and over again (Lindsay Pulsipher), mummies, blood, monsters, and evil old hags – to name just a few encounters “The Rambler” has along the way.
It’s hard to really describe Calvin Lee Reeder’s trippy dream-sequence of a film, because it blends moments of dark comedy, sci-fi, horror, and indie filmmaking, all strung together like short stories in a much bigger anthology. Calvin’s collection unfortunately doesn’t really have a beginning or an end though, instead just diving into the life of “The Rambler,” feeling like one big circle from Point A right back to Point A again. There is no finite Point B. Everything that happens to “The Rambler” pretty much just happens, and at a pace that offers no time for digestion. If you’ve seen anything Reeder has done, you should know his uniquely wild style of filmmaking, but for those first timers who need fluid continuity, please know this film is anything but that.
For those intellectual hipsters looking for an interpretive challenge though, The Rambler was made for you. At this point, I still can’t say if Reeder actually hid deeper meanings somewhere in this gory mess, but there sure are plenty of random occurrences you can read into – if you want to torture yourself. Me, I actually do, so I’m going to break down a few of my own thoughts for you right here. **I’ll say spoilers will follow, but since I’m most likely 99% off base, I’m not sure I’m even spoiling anything**
All that randomness “The Rambler” encounters displays the unpredictable nature of the open road and the mindset one must possess to live it – which is also a grander metaphor for life. A life with no purpose or meaning is nothing but a series of strangely random occurrences, and those who don’t enjoy each moment simply fly through without any real connection, or “a song to sing” as “The Rambler” proclaims. Our main character seems disenchanted and beaten by something, and that’s what has turned him so cold to the world around him.
The film also must take place in some type of alternate reality, due to obvious reasons like mummies not existing in real life and the fact that stars don’t make beeping noises at you, but in what kind of reality is the question. The screen flickers and fast forwards as if we’re looking at the video screen which The Scientist has developed to monitor people’s dreams, and it’s completely plausible to assume in some “realer” reality this machine exists, knowing Reeder’s style, but I think the explanation is even more grounded. Every time it got quiet, the lights would blink and beep almost in a way that suggested some kind of heart monitor, like “The Rambler” was stuck in a comatose dream.
Finally, what the heck was the significance of “The Girl” who never died? I think that’s the easiest, being a distant memory of lost love to some degree. He’s haunted by her wishes to come with him, sees her everywhere he goes, always sees her violently killed or maimed, yet she keeps returning. In my mind, I like to think “The Girl” ties in with our main character being in a coma, maybe losing her in an accident that caused his injury, left to play through his now meaningless existence that involves a girl he once cared for haunting his every move while he tries to ignore her memory.
Then again, that’s probably, and most likely, a load of bullshit Calvin Reeder is laughing at hysterically, because there are literally 101 ways to interpret The Rambler. Hell, the script could have been created as nothing but a generic mindf*ck without a rhyme or reason, I’m not even sure Calvin Lee Reeder knows. Like I said, those with a sound mind will be driven absolutely bonkers by Reeder’s film, because I highly believe the quality is what you make it to be. If it’s a muddled, convoluted practice in the overly obscure that doesn’t make a lick of sense, that’s just how you see it. But if you’re like me and can find your own meaning amidst this sea of utter confusion, you’ll have a much more rewarding experience, providing moments of hilarious horror and dark terror all part of something much bigger.
The Rambler will undoubtedly be a different experience for every viewer, depending on your cinematic patience and tolerance, but it’s that ingenuity that makes Calvin Lee Reeder such a bright independent filmmaker. Not to detract from the actors participating, but they are all just pawns in Reeder’s world, shaped and molded by his ingenuity. You can see inspiration from so many angles in each scene, jumping from laughs to screams with little ease, mixing as many elements as possible. Sure, audiences aren’t as accepting of material as wacky as this, but when you reach as far as Reeder attempts to, you better believe you’re going to ruffle some feathers. No guts, no glory, right?