Reviewed by: Megan Basham
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.