Directed by Rick Alverson / 2019
It was about two hours into The Mountain when I had realized that only ten minutes had passed. And the first lines of dialog that breaks up this interminable glacier are: “Can I tell you about my dream?” Dear reader, do not think me less of a man as I tell you I wept.
Last year I watched Rooney Mara eat a whole pie in a movie for five minutes and I was thrilled the whole time. In The Mountain, I watched Jeff Goldblum and Tye Sheridan attempt to communicate with spirits using a ouija board for a couple of minutes and it feels like an eternity. To say The Mountain is slow moving is an understatement. I believe it has reached a point where all molecular motion has stopped.
Tye Sheridan plays Andy. Andy works at an ice rink where his father coaches skaters. Andy’s life is a sad and depressing one, even though he gets to drive a zamboni. One day, Andy’s father dies, and now the poor kid is sad and lonely. An old friend of Andy’s father shows up at the estate sale. He’s Doctor Wallace Fiennes and he offers Andy a job as an assistant. Andy’s got nothing better to do, so the two head off on their travels together. It turns out the good doctor is a lobotomist, and he’s played by Jeff Goldblum.
I felt an electric shudder through my body when Jeff Goldblum shows up. Here is a performer that is incapable of not adding energy to the screen. And there are flashes of that, such as when he does a quick tap-dance at a bowling alley in hopes of knocking over the last pin, or when he flirts with two women by comparing them to Lillian Gish and Margaret Hamilton. Overall, though, our director is a rare talent in that he manages to make even Goldblum dull and lifeless. I suppose he fits in better with the rest of the film’s tone that way.
Let’s pause to let this sink in. Jeff Goldblum. Plays a lobotomist. And it’s boring.
When The Mountain isn’t being boring, it’s incomprehensible. No, that’s not quite true. It can manage to be both boring and incomprehensible at the same time. Scenes run on for so, so long, then cut off just when it seems something interesting is about to happen. At one point Wally stops the car in the middle of the woods, gets out and wanders off. Andy follows after a minute, but has lost sight of the doctor. Andy calls out. Is the doctor lost? Who knows? The scene immediately cuts to Wally and Andy playing pinball in a bar, the incident in the woods forgotten. I guess Wally just had to pee.
At one point there is a closeup of a painting of a mountain. Is this the mountain of the title? What significance does this painting have for anyone? Where is this painting at? Is it at the yard sale? Later there is a different painting of a different mountain. A character rages at it drunkenly. “That is not a mountain! It is a picture!” This is profound. There is a shot in the middle of the movie of a computer generated man and woman about to have sex. It’s dropped in at random. Is it Andy’s dream? Could be, but he’s not shown to be asleep, and the digital effect is completely out of place in a film taking place in the 1950’s.
The end of the movie introduces us to another character, the father of one of Wally’s patients. He’s French, and he’s one of the most obnoxious characters I’ve seen in a movie for a long time. I want to be clear that the latter has nothing to do with the fact that he’s French. It just means he’s obnoxious in two languages.
The movie is full of striking imagery, to be sure. There’s a shot of a group of skaters skating in formation in tribute to their fallen coach. Shot from nearly overhead, it’s almost like a Busby Berkely number- albeit one played with the sound off and in slow motion. Director Alverson has a nice eye for composition (he shot The Mountain in Academy ratio), The cinematographer, Lorenzo Hagerman, has a nice eye for lighting and color. The production design, costuming, all top notch. This is good, because everything moves so damn slow, we have plenty of time to drink it all in.