From the moment you’re born and subsequently bombarded with information about what and who you are, to what groups you belong, to what beliefs you are to subscribe to; life is messy. Trying to make sense of the societal rules within the framework of your inner thoughts and perception, well it’s just all really hard. We all struggle through life, trying to make it all fit, to make living make sense. For some that is religion, for some that is theology or philosophy, for some it is materialism, and for a few of us it is art.
The great thing about art, and film especially, is it allows us to have a conversation amongst ourselves that surpasses simple language. You can portray emotions, experiences, thoughts, into visual and auditory sensations that convey humanity to us in a way that language has never quite been able to capture. The further benefit of this is that art, within itself, is another communal method of making life fit into a narrative that we can handle. It is here, in an exploration of mental illness and general human anxiety, that the latest film by director Jason James, Entanglement, finds itself. It is quite clearly trying to have a conversation with the audience, a conversation about mental health, emotional struggles, and general life challenges. The trouble, though, is that the conversation is as confused as the experience it is discussing.
Firstly, it could be said that Entanglement captures the experience of mental illness a little too well. Consider the classic Hitchcock quote, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”. Ideally, a film like Entanglement would be mental illness with all the confusion cut out. Not the portrayal of confusion, mind you, but the narrative and linear confusion. This film wrestles with all of this confusion but it never quite manages to capture it, to frame it in a way that an audience can cling to. It feels like a slippery jaunt through uncertainty with no real thesis or structural foundation to hold on to. Basically, it is a film about confusion that never elevates itself above that same confusion. This leads to a film that tends towards the trite, the cliche, and the bewildered. It never feels like it adds anything to the conversation it so desperately wants to have.
Secondly, when you rely on a traditional unreliable narrator, the narrative is always razor thin to being a thematic mess. In Entanglement, it all falls on the wrong side of that razor. By the time everything forms, by the time it is all explained into some semblance of order, it’s too late. The audience has been lost to a series of unbelievable happenstance, quirkiness, and questionable character choices. In an effort to create a clever twist the latter part of the film swoops in to try and retroactively make everything fit. Considering the film is about mental illness and confusion, the attempt is even more forced and flimsy than if it was just a hackneyed attempt at shock. It’s almost as if the latter half of the film realized moments too late that the first half of the film is a narrative mess. It tries to save the day, but the damage has already been done.
Lastly, the film makes the strange decision to try and land a sugary, happy ending. In a world of mental illness, suicide, and hallucinations, everything can apparently be fine if you just have a sweet moment with your hallucinations and decide to go get the girl. It all feels more than forced, it almost feels insulting to an entire community who struggles with these kind of issues. This doesn’t feel like an assault or accusation by the filmmaker, but more of an attempt to create a happy ending that escapes so many of us in real life. The problem is, though, that like the rest of the film the ending feels forced, confused, and more than a little trite.