French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux has made a career out of blurring the lines between ambition and utter lunacy, vouching for those who argue that beauty and chaos go hand-in-hand. I’ll confess that Rubber and Wrong hold a special place in my heart, but his latest film, aptly titled Reality, might be where I hop off this gonzo train of absurd, nonconforming, dreamlike voyeurism. As you can assume, Dupieux’s hazily overexposed interpretation of reality is anything but “normal,” as we’re once again caught in multiple character arcs that are pieced together by – well, I can finally say I have no ‘effing idea how everything comes together. Rubber addresses cinematic cultures, and Wrong chases a dog, but Reality introduces a nightmare that we never wake up from no matter how hard we try.
There’s no point in explaining a plot that’s non-existent, but here’s the short-hand version. Alain Chabat plays a television show camera operator named Jason who’s tasked by a producer (played by Jonathan Lambert) to find the perfect groan of pain, after which the producer will fully fund his sci-fi passion project. Meanwhile, Jon Heder plays a rat-suit-wearing cooking show host (Dennis) who succumbs to an itchy case of inner Eczema that threatens his professional career. Elsewhere, a young girl named Reality (Kyla Kenedy) finds a blue VHS tape in a pile of boar entrails, while a man named Henri (Eric Wareheim) may or may not be driving around town in a military jeep while dressed as a classy lady. Oh, and some dude named Zog (John Glover) is filming a documentary about Reality the whole time. Yup.
Much like any Quentin Dupieux film, Reality opens with a brief glimmer of sanity, but as Jason’s obsessive search for the perfect Wilhelm Scream dips its toes deeper into a murky pool of madness, any resemblance of cognitive thinking fades away. This is how Dupieux has built a fanbase over the years, from telekinetic killer tires to bus-riding puppy dogs, but all the obscurity here feels eccentric for the hell of it. There’s an incredibly strained attempt to make absurdity seem like the norm, unlike his more seamless attempts a playful stupidity. Reality doesn’t possess the hypnotizing undertones of Dupieux’s other works, where – despite a cornucopia of randomness – we’re still able to keep a more prolific vision in focus.
Who needs a plot when you’ve got exploding heads, a cross-dressing Eric Wareheim and killer televisions sets, though – am I right? No. I’m not right. Reality is an exercise in excessive repetition that’s slightly augmented by a single line or action, as the film’s numerous layers begin to reveal themselves through doppelgängers and replayed conversations. At one point, Jason is talking on the phone to producer Bob Marshall about seeing the movie he didn’t make yet, who in turn is currently having a conversation with another Jason about approving the project and searching for that golden groan – something that already happened. But this time Bob’s desk is in a forest. And then future Jason ends up in the forest. And then your mind explodes because nothing makes sense and the points don’t matter.
I get it. We’re all just floating through life like it’s some recurring dream, meant to stay safely in the lines that society has established. Mind your manners, don’t break the mold, and become another faceless drones sitting stiffly at Jason’s Best Groan award ceremony. Or maybe it’s about a filmmaker who makes movies only for himself, trapped in a world where impatient producers grow bored by artistic choices that seem absolutely ludicrous without understanding the film’s complete contextual makeup? Maybe, simply put, it’s about this nightmare we call life, where we no longer can differentiate the surreal from the – well, doesn’t this all seem a bit surreal, anyway? Right, I’ve got this!
It’s no coincidence that frustrated characters spend most of Reality asking why they’re forced into mundane scene work (like sleeping), or declaring long periods of nothingness to be boring wastes of time. “Patience,” Zog mutters, as to promise a brilliant epiphany comes the film’s wall-breaking final moments. Just keep holding on and all will be explained, we’re assured. But, in true Quentin Dupieux fashion, we’re left with nothing but a blank title card after one of the many regurgitated lines is bizarrely blurted out in yet another remastered scene.
“Eczema of the brain,” – something we know exists, but we can’t exactly comprehend. But in that breath, does it then exist if we can’t actually see it? I can assure you that Reality does in fact exist, your eyes don’t deceive you, but much like “Eczema of the brain,” we have no f*cking idea how.
I can finally say that the guy who made a movie about a murderous tire may have taken cinematic absurdity one step too far.