Home > Film, Movie Project, Movie Reviews > Is Anybody There? To Listen To My Story?

Is Anybody There? To Listen To My Story?

mapleLearning a magic trick is hard.  I once theorized the magician had a connection to a parallel plane of existence – the Einstein-Rosen bridges – to send and receive object seemingly from thin air.  As always, the truth is a slightly less fanciful – the magician uses long sleeves, sleight of hand, and patter to hide objects from plain view.  Learning these tricks successfully takes a lot of practice and agility.  It is a lot like politics: use long sleeves, sleight of hand, and patter to make people think about the economy instead of national security.  It takes a lot of practice and agility to make this happen in politics, and as an avid campaigner for Barack Obama, I feel an affinity towards magicians. (Anyone staffing up for 2010?  Call me.)  Surprisingly, magicians and politicians get the same amount of respect, but magicians receive it positively (“It’s so cute he’s trying, but you’re becoming a doctor, Suzie.”) and politicians negatively (“At least they’re aren’t Nazis, but you’re becoming an engineer, Suzie.”).  But Is Anybody There? doesn’t care about politics, just magicians, it does show how long sleeves, sleight of hand, and patter can make growing old and dementia appear out of thin air.

Is Anybody There? stars a wonderful Michael Caine as an aging magician starting to suffer from dementia.  He moves into an elderly community run by a young family – a married couple in a struggling relationship and their 11-year old kid, Edward, who becomes obsessed with the paranormal with so many dying people living with him.  Michael Caine and Edward, played by Billy Milner, strike up a friendship based on magic and Michael’s insistence on dragging the Edward into the land of the living.  The title works as a perfect three-fold meaning: the fall into dementia, losing loved ones as you grow older, and for Edward’s hunt for the paranormal.

The relationship between the two characters shows the audience the awkwardness of life, adolescence and old age.  Instead of the teen angst route by following a lonely outsider in middle school the film hits a more poignant note of loneliness: what happens when you grow older and your loved ones pass on.  It’s a simple fact of life, as you grow older the people you care about move on.  Whether if it’s to another state, differing interests, or death, people grow apart.  It’s the saddest part of life, but not one we usually notice.  Most of our culture – from books and film to music – focus on loneliness and a lack of self-esteem in terms of youth.  Leading to the derided genre/term “emo.”  Looking at loneliness through those terms leads to an overwrought look at life, switching the focus to losing people shifts us to a more emotional side of loneliness, the effects of loss.

Michael Caine’s magic career provides a visual comparison for the aging magician’s life.  His warehouse of old tricks and posters show the most colors in the entire movie – greens, oranges, blues, and yellows – but are severely toned down.  As Caine and Bilner search through the warehouse, the loss of friends and family becomes more heartfelt.  However, the scene also shows us something else, to paraphrase Pixar’s Up! (a film sharing similar themes),  to go have another adventure.  Even when we get old and people pass on, that we shouldn’t treat it as the bitter end, but keep living and enjoying our lives while passing on our knowledge to others.

When I went to see this film, with my brother Sean, we were easily the only people in the audience under 70.  In audience of 12, every one else was an elderly couple.  Couple that with the Maple Art Theater screens, similar to it’s cousin the Main Art, are older.  The projector clinks in the background, the seating completely level (bringing a whole new dimension of theater etiquette in were you sit), and the walls draped in red.  The setting was slightly daunting, but as the movie continued, and we all laughed and teared up at the same parts, us brash twentysomethings and elderly folks started bonding – at least by proxy.  It clicked that we shared the same concerns, just at different points in our lives and with different end results.

With a grandparent suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and the chance of our father, or any one of his three children, becoming afflicted by this disease, Is Anybody There? hits home at an even deeper level. Like the sleight of hand used by magicians and politicians, memories are identities that can—at any moment—slip away, until we’re left debilitated, sitting in front of the window, wanting to relive our youth: save friendships, go after the girl, and experience the moments we forgot we loved. Is Anybody There? breaks through the generational gap, a venerable punch in the face.  But just like the sleight of hand seemingly holds no hope for us, the patter reminds us to make the most of our time here on Earth, and to not allow mistakes to loom over our heads. The title brings to mind serious philosophical question of the beyond, and the practical questions of growing up, Is Anybody There? The answer comes in the form of a disappearing card – yes, you just gotta keep looking.

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  1. Tony
    June 3, 2009 at 9:06 am

    Well done sir.

  2. Stacy
    June 4, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    I had a similar experience when hubby and I went to see “Gran Torino” (an outstanding movie!) at the Main Art. The audience was definitely on the older side, and I found myself laughing, wincing, and tearing up in the same moments as the group of much older woman sitting next to us. The cool thing was eavesdropping a bit as one of them talked about her granddaughter winning some award for her independent film making. Movie lovers–who are really just great-story lovers–come in all ages. It can lead to wondrous things when movie makers are able to let go of catering exclusively to the teenage crowd and just tell great stories about life!

    Michael Caine would have to try pretty hard to make a movie that wasn’t entertaining in my book. I’ve read mixed reviews on this one, but will have to go check it out.

  3. June 5, 2009 at 12:37 am

    I don’t know if beats Up! in terms of fun and quality, but it’s worth seeing for Caine’s performance alone.

    The one aspect I’m enjoying with the independent films is seeing them develop more character-centric stories instead of a plot served to cater towards action beats. Going from Star Trek, Sin Nombre, to Terminator to Is Anybody There? is quite the odd juxtaposition. I’ll be seeing Hangover this weekend, and it’s obvious studios cater to a broad audience with an extremely accessible stories. It’s a “duh” observation but it’s certainly more pronounced when you see the films back-to-back.

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