Here’s one that I don’t know what to say about at this very moment, although I’m sure I’ll manage something. Time Out has all the appearances of a black comedy, in that it centers on a liar and a swindler, I was simultaneously so soothed by the film’s style and so consistently surprised by the gentle humanism on display that I could not quite pin down a definitive tone. The combination of unobtrusive yet dynamic style and the confounding of expectations tends to give me a sort of floating feeling, like I have nothing solid to stand on and wouldn’t know which way was down if I found something solid anyway. And I’m still there. I think I can trace a trajectory, though, and that will have to do.
Watching Time Out in close proximity to Dogtooth called to mind the parallels between the two films' adults attempting to manipulate the perceptions of others to achieve some sense of stability or another. The results are far different, though, and where the latter film tends for escalation (wonderfully!), Time Out thrives on confounding that possibility. As a result, those moments which could have exploded into grand absurdity in another film are instead inverted into the exposure of simple human failings. This inversion could perhaps be classified as anti-black comedy, or it may merely be a clever enhancement. For example, consider the confrontation between the protagonist and his future business partner. While this is fertile ground for blackmail, for a continuation of the downward spiral, the kindness of the stranger leads directly to the cessation of that spiral in an unspectacular anti-climax. When he eventually finds himself at home being accosted by his own children and fleeing out the window in fear of his father we have all the makings of a powder keg, but his family’s unconditional understanding, clearly offered but never depicted as being accepted, exposes the man’s fear of perceptions as a grand farce. His attempts to hide the truth fail, and it is the attempt to hide rather than the truth which is the source of his family’s shame. Is this life-affirming farce that is spawned from a bleak premise actually black comedy? I care little, and am growing increasingly convinced that the unquestionable and yet totally understandable victory of kindness over deception turns the original impetus totally around, but I still don’t feel good for reveling in the protagonist’s failures and seeing him be put in his place by a 12 year old. These are not the hallmarks of ‘whatever the opposite of black comedy is’, and yet the un-ironic triumph of humanism and kindness seems the least reasonable characteristic of a black comedy imaginable. And so here I am: lost in a haze, unable to get my bearings, and yet completely sure that the trajectory of my flight only improved my wellbeing. In fact, I hope I am never forced to ground by a lesser film (or the facts of life, especially), although I’m afraid that is inevitable. I can only savor these precious moments.
As long as I’m here, though, I feel like I should take the time to focus on a few sublime moments of the film. I mentioned perception, and quickly sidetracked myself, but I want to return to it, and I'll start with a scene that highlights certain key elements regarding perception. After fleeing by automobile from his home, the protagonist answers a series of phone calls. This struck me as odd at the time, since I could not imagine why a man would simultaneously flee contact and willingly accept it. After shedding my initial dismay I realized that this sequence brings up a number of interesting questions which color the peculiar final frames of the film: is his escape indicative of his inability to enjoy his family, or is it reflective of his desire to be in control of and aware of perception, or is he simply compelled to answer his phone, a lingering side effect of the career he attempted to leave behind? When he abandons his car and wanders off into the darkness it answers none of these questions, nor does the final scene. I can’t entirely get a grip on his state of mind, and this casts a shadow of ambiguity over the final scene that could otherwise have seemed like a tacked-on happy ending. With these questions still hanging over the end of the film it implicitly refers back to and perhaps even alters the implications of preceding events. When he is in bed with his wife in the snow covered cabin is his tenderness merely an attempt to avoid confrontation or is he truly relishing her company? The following scene of walking in the snow does nothing to solve this ambiguity; what initially seemed like potentially portentous foreshadowing in the phrase “Did you think you had lost me?” results in no plot development by the end and the phrase, as a literary device, could potentially reflect either his care for her which manifests itself in odd ways or merely his desire to keep track of her perceptions, a base compulsion more than an expression of love. As every apparently genuine moment in the film becomes retroactively colored by this newly or doubly imposed ambiguity the undertones start to resonate a bit louder and it all becomes deliriously comedic on reflection. Is he just a good guy who is lucky to have good people around him as he stumbles, thus needlessly setting up this facade in the manner of a buffoon, or is it simply that he is a uniquely terrible person, made only increasingly apparent with every person he is contrasted with? Is he really worried about the problems his family will face when they perceive the truth or is he only worried about facing his family when they perceive the truth? Perhaps the next time I watch it I will be of a different mind, but at the moment I can relish the possibilities. My favorite scene in the film may well be when the protagonist makes an escape from a gathering with his wife and they end up strolling alongside their son’s martial arts studio and sharing a rare moment of collective calm and trust, colored by the situational irony that accompanies all liars and is so tantalizingly bittersweet. A blissful film, but a bitter one, full of evasions and cold but beautiful austerity.