I loved Under the Silver Lake, but you might just hate it
by Joeseph Shelton
Let’s get straight to the point: Under the Silver Lake is a movie that most people probably won’t like. They probably won’t like it because it has been marketed as a neo-noir, but it barely functions as a mystery. The kind of people who want to try to figure out the solution themselves will find themselves totally under water here, no pun intended, because the solution, such as it is, is absurd, nonsensical, even abstract. In fact, the movie as a whole is probably best described as self-indulgent.
Except I’m the kind of guy who likes to indulge myself, so I guess I’m partial to directors that feel the same way. In this case, the self-indulgent auteur is David Robert Mitchell, who writes and directs. Horror fans will remember him as the director of It Follows, one of the last decade’s most interesting and innovative genre films. Here, he’s no less interesting, but a lot less concise; Under the Silver Lake clocks in at about two and a half hours long.
To the extent that the plot can or even should be synopsized, here goes: Andrew Garfield plays Sam, an apparently unemployed slacker on the verge of being evicted from his apartment and getting his car repossessed. He’s intermittently sleeping with a slightly older actress who he seems not to like that much, and he spends his evenings either watching old movies or hanging out with several hipster friends who are variously awful, terrible, and miserable. One night he spends the evening with a beautiful neighbor (Riley Keough), who disappears the next day, which sends our ostensible protagonist on an increasingly confusing series of misadventures trying to find her. To say anymore would be to rob the film of its considerable powers, at least for those who might be in a position to enjoy it, but suffice to say that the conspiracy he uncovers is vast, terrifying, and probably metaphorical.
Comparisons to Pynchon’s seminal So-Cal quasi-noir The Crying of Lot 49 are especially apt, but lovers of classic film and older media in general will parse out about a metric ton of references to the final, unfinished Marilyn Monroe film, Nintendo Power magazine, the band Nirvana, vintage Playboy covers, Janet Gaynor, and probably a whole bunch of stuff I missed. It’s the kind of movie you almost have to watch twice, or three times, and I think the highest praise I can give it is to admit that after I saw it once I bought a copy so I could do just that. You might hate it, but hey, you might just love it too. That is, if you enjoy indulging yourself as much as David Robert Mitchell and I do.
Joseph Shelton has seen too many movies, but it’s never enough. Write to tell him how ardently you agree with him at firstname.lastname@example.org. •