Prayer Focus
Movie Review

One Hour Photo

MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and language

Reviewed by: Megan Basham

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

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1 hr. 38 min.
Year of Release:
Robin Williams in “One Hour Photo” Scene from “One Hour Photo”

Starring: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Dylan Smith, Andrew A Rolfes | Directed by: Mark Romanek | Produced by: Christine Vachon, Pam Koffler, Stan Wlodkowski, Pamela Koffler | Written by: Mark Romanek | Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Let’s get this said right off the bat: “One Hour Photo” is definitely not the feel-good hit of the summer. It is a somewhat disturbing movie, not meant for everyone. But it is also an artistically excellent film, exploring characters that, probably more often than we’d like to admit, occasionally cross our paths. “One Hour Photo” deals with the chaos and pain that lurk just below the surface of people’s cheerful or affluent masks and what happens when those masks start to crumble.

Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) is the photo-tech at the local Save Mart. Though his life is as sterile and lonely as his retail chain surroundings, he is able to hide his anguish behind a cheery mask—almost. When dealing with the Yorkins, his favorite customers, a needy edge creeps into Sy’s behavior. In fact, he lives vicariously through their pictures, fantasizing a role for himself as “Uncle Sy” in their perfect family. However, when his cocoon of a life starts to unravel, first by the loss of his job, then by his discovery that the Yorkins’ ideal life is a lie, Sy’s sanity starts to unravel as well.

Much of Sy’s pain stems from his feeling of non-existence. Explaining the importance of his job, he points out that the reason photographs are important to people is because “someone loves them enough to take their picture.” He goes on to say that people never take pictures of the little things, like the wasp in the jello, and we realize that, as no one takes his picture, Sy himself is the wasp in the jello, sucking sweetness out of other people’s lives.

Robin Williams does a brilliant job subtly revealing Sy’s identification with unnoticed objects. His performance is so nuanced that, when a one-two punch of shocking revelations present themselves in the last ten minutes, we are shudderingly surprised by what should have been obvious all along.

As a parallel, the film also touches on the ways those of us with a tighter grip on reality create facades. The Yorkins, in an effort to preserve their stylish image, choose not to deal with, or even address, some very deep rifts in their marriage. Even after Sy’s terrorizing has forced their sins into the open, the Yorkins are never shown openly acknowledging any problems, leading the audience to suspect they probably never will.

The movie continues to follow Williams’ downward spiral until, like all movie mental-cases, he meets with an unhappy end. But does it always have to be this way? Imagine this: What if, upon sensing his pain, instead of sending Sy “good thoughts” (which does nothing for Sy and serves only to make the Yorkins’ feel better about themselves) the Yorkins did something that could ultimately save his life… What if they invited him to church? What if they took the time to help him bond with other, similarly wounded people or guided him to a ministry designed to heal his long-buried hurts? If told from a Christian perspective, a story like this could be one of redemption and victory. Instead, the world offers what it always offers: emotional breakdown and despair. That is why it is so important that when those awkward, desperate people cross our paths, we make the effort to introduce them to Jesus. Actually, that goes for trendy, young couples who seem above it all too.

“One Hour Photo” is a compelling movie, but in addition to its dark tone, it includes two graphic nude scenes that keep me from fully recommending it. For a similar movie showcasing Robin William’s talents (along with Al Pacino at his best) without the sexual situations, I highly recommend “Insomnia”. If you missed it in its first run, “Insomnia” deals with corrupt human nature in a much more instructive, hopeful way. Plus, I’d take a beautiful Alaskan backdrop over the inside of a Walmart-like store any day.

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive—One Hour Photo really caught me off guard. I stopped in to see this film on a whim, expecting a creepy serial killer type flick. The film was not what I expected. As a Christian, OK, I shouldn’t have been going to see serial killer type flicks in the first place. I found the point of this movie quite compelling. Robin Williams’ character, in the end, made a great personal sacrifice for the love (albiet a love clouded by a boyhood of extreme abuse) of a family. I left the theater somewhat uplifted, really. Robin Williams’ craft in portraying his character was masterful to say the least. In addition, I thought the graphic scenes were not gratuitous and fit correctly within the film’s context.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Richard Schmitz, age 47
Positive—This is one of the years best films. There is just no doubt about it. Robin Williams does a brilliant job reminding us of something—that he is a fabulous actor. That, sure he can create insanely over the top characters, but he can also have amazing depth. This is definitely not the feel good movie of the year, but that is not to say that we don’t “feel” a great deal during the film.

We come to empathize with this man, “Sy” a man whose very name evokes pity. He lives in a world apart from the rest of us. Our world has other people, his is populated by sadness, pain, loneliness, and obsession. Yet, we do not dislike him. You watch this movie, and afterward, you start examining yourself. How do I treat people? Who is Sy in my life? Who can I reach out to? If only just to give them someone to listen to, someone to smile at them.

That is the power of this film. All he wants is to be normal, have friends, a family, anyone… Now, that being said, this is also a somewhat disturbing film. We are uneasy getting so close to this character, and that disturbs us. we see his deepest fantasies, the things he wouldn’t dare share with others because he is afraid of how they will respond. We are given an all access pass to this man’s life, and we are oftentimes scared by what we find.

In that respect, this film is similar to “American Beauty,” which is also a brilliant film. But here we are even more secluded, and are, in turn, more disturbed, or creeped out, if you will. But we are even more moved to empathy, deep sorrow for the way this man’s life has gone. And, perhaps, so are some of the other characters in the film.

The saddest thing is, none of them reach out to help him with this, although I’m not sure if he would let them. In any case, this is a fantastic movie. Yes, it is rated R, and, for good reason, but a wonderful, wonderful film.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Jason Eaken, age 19
Positive—**MILD SPOILERS** I admire the film’s imagery and its overarching message against abuse and pornography. All images orchestrate a complex tapestry of Sy’s pathetic life. And yet Williams—aided powerfully by this profound imagery—grandly pulls off this pathetic character, elevating Sy to a sympathetic position for us to relate to rather than scorn.

The imagery that enhances Sy’s character includes the following:

-The repeated expanding and contracting of the geometric child’s toy deftly represents a human heart beating compassionately for Sy’s pathetic life.

-The cracked windshield symbolizes Sy’s cracked psyche, ready to shatter at any moment with the right application of too much pressure.

-Sy’s nerdy yet ill-fitting eyeglasses, which he’s constantly pushes upward, represent his faulty ability to see reality.

-One medium-shot of Sy sitting in his car is angled so as to block our view of his eyes via the dangling rear-view mirror. This again demonstrates the faultiness of his eyes, and I marvel at the utter genius of using a mirror (of all things) to so ironically suggest not only his inability to see the world correctly, but also his inability to see HIMSELF—in a mirror—correctly.

-The scene where Sy secretly brandishes his own camera across the street from someone to photograph her covertly is very phallic—the automated lens hums forth from the camera housing quite suggestively. Then a truly brilliant super close-up zooms steadily inward dead-on at Sy’s clicking camera. While executing this rapid-fire succession of pictures, the shutter deep inside the camera rhythmically pulsates with a coital-like back and forth thrusting.

The subtle sexual imagery in this one scene suggests a rape whereby Sy’s camera is a weapon of invasiveness and domination into another person’s private life. The message of this film is crucial. Although certainly NOT for all Christians, a blanket dismissal of the film would be at the regrettable expense of its important underlying message about the life-destroying effects of pornography.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
—Eileen A. Sheehan, age 36
Positive—One of the best movies of the year. Robin William’s performance is amazing! Wonderfully written and acted. The scene at the end was a bit graphic.

This is not a film for children, due to the intense adult subject matter. Everyone else needs to go see this awesome film. Creepy!
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
—Adam, age 20
Neutral—Well, let me first say that Robin Williams is one of my favorite actors, but this movie has got to be the worst of 2002. Williams did a great job with a bad script.

I wanted my money back at the end. Because of the music and filming you stayed in suspense the whole time waiting for the shoe to drop and it never did. I felt that the nude scenes were not necessary and important to the movie. The movie left a lot to be desired and did nothing for the Christian moviegoer or for any moviegoer as far as that is concerned.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 2]
—Deacon Dan
Neutral—Wow… One of my friends that I went and saw this movie with commented that the director is likely the next Krubric. I liked the movie in general, but it was very very creepy, so if you’re easily disturbed, it’s not a good movie.

There was some swearing, and it’s quite graphic. It involves an affair, and revenge and so forth. As the boy is going to sleep one night he confides in his mother that he feels bad for Sy, so his mother says that they should “send him good thoughts.” It’s not a happy feel good movie. It’s disturbing and creepy. Just a warning.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
—The Carrot, age 19
Negative—This would have been a basic low budget movie that would have never seen the theaters if Robin Williams had not taken a part. His “earnings” were probably the most costly part of the film. In retrospect I wouldn’t have wasted my time.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 1½]
—Bob C, age 38
Negative—I really didn’t care for this one at all. I found it dark and disturbing, yes, but mostly b-o-r-i-n-g. I expected much more from this movie; like some edge-of-the-seat action or at least something of a plot. It was slow, dull and downright stupid. I kept waiting for something to happen, but it just dragged along, teasing you into thinking it was going somewhere. The nudity was graphic, and there was a fair amount of swearing, particularly the f-word. Don’t waste your money on this one, not even at the video store.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 2]
—Laurie, age 40
Negative—What a disappointing film! This dark story of the lonely “one-hour” photo technician is so full of holes and undeveloped characters that one has to wonder if they actually wrote the screenplay prior to filming or if they just made it up as they went. The only redeeming quality is the juxposition of the warm family life and the sterile life of Sy the photo guy. Unfortunately, the whole film seems to center on this one little aspect of the story.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 1]
—Josh, age 23
Comments from young people
Neutral—This was a very interesting movie—maybe even unique in its own sort of way. I would have to agree that this movie is definitely not for young teens, or anyone not mature enough to handle psychologically riveting movies. There were two graphic nude scenes, one in the photo department with a young teen turning in photos, and another in a hotel room, so if you choose to see it, don’t be taken by surprise and caught off guard. Robin Williams, however, takes on a type of role that is very hard to adjust to, but does a brilliant job portraying his character “Sy Parrish” a man obsessed with a “seemingly perfect family, to the point of insanity.
The moviemaking qualities are great, although from a Christian’s point of view, its definitely not one of the better, feel-good movies that we’d want to recommend to ourselves. All in all, wait for edited tv if possible :)
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4½]
—Megan, age 18
Positive—This movie really made me think about showing the love of Christ to others. Robin Williams’ character, Sy (the photo guy) Parish, really wanted to be loved. Everytime I looked at him, I saw a heartbroken man and lonely man. He needed love… Christ’s love.
The strong language and sexual content raised an eyebrow, but I didn’t believe that it was totally gratuitous once the context of the story was taken into consideration. Overall, this movie contained themes of desire, secrecy, love (or the lack thereof), neglect, and poor communication.

I tip my hat of to the acting cast and everyone else involved in the production. Some may take this film to be a tad depressing, but I found it to be very real. Let us show His love to others to bring light into the lives of the “Sy Parishes” of the this world.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Ty, age 18
Movie Critics
…This dark and depressing story is sometimes hard to watch, but Williams delivers a brilliant performance that is both mesmerizing and convicting. His character sort of grew on me. Ironically, Sy ends up being judged for a wicked deed that ultimately exposes the wickedness of others…
—Holly McClure, Crosswalk
…an intense and effective film about loneliness and the chilly anonymity of the environments where so many of us spend so much of our time…
—Mark Romanek, Spirituality and Health