Adapted from Dostoevsky's novella, Henry Czerny plays the narrator, Underground Man. Filled with self-hatred, he keeps a video diary where he discusses his own shortcomings and what he ... See full summary »
Adapted from Dostoevsky's novella, Henry Czerny plays the narrator, Underground Man. Filled with self-hatred, he keeps a video diary where he discusses his own shortcomings and what he thinks is wrong in contemporary society. His bitterness spills over at a dinner party attended by his old college friends, an occasion which sends him running to a nearby brothel, where he meets Liza (Lee), a young prostitute. Written by
Deserves better than consignment to the "underground"
This is a VERY good movie, a surprisingly well-done adaptation and modernization of Fyodor Dostoevsky's novella, "Notes From Underground," where the action is transplanted from 19th century Russia to the Los Angeles of today. Now, this book happens to be one of my all-time favorites so I was very concerned that the movie would be a kind of hip desecration: "How can you separate this story from its roots in the squalor and misery of St. Petersburg and plop it down in La-La land without removing its guts?" I thought. Well, the film somehow manages to do it: watching it, the setting seemed to make perfect sense, as what becomes emphasized is the hero's inability to fit in with the gorgeous and glib Southern California society, and the consequent rage and self-consciousness he feels because of it. This picks up on one strand in Dostoevsky's book, but because of the new setting, enlarges upon it and gives it a new focus.
Of course, because of the nature of movies, other aspects of the book had to be shortened or else removed entirely, particularly the extended philosophical and existential monologues the hero spins out in his "notes" (wonderfully converted in the film from a diary format, to a videotaped "confession" - this is perhaps the film's best conceit: once you think about it, it's the obvious solution, but no less inventive for it). The film would have been stronger, and more true to its source, if these videotaped scenes included a bit more philosophical elaboration by the narrator on his motives
twisted though his rationalizations are - because then his actions might
become slightly more explicable, particularly to those who haven't read the book.
Actually, that brings up an interesting point: can you enjoy, or at least appreciate, this film without having read the book? I'm a little bit too close to the source to say for certain, but my guess would be no. I don't think the film truly does enough to stand on its own, to stake out its own ground which would make sense to an audience unfamiliar with the conceits of the book. This is a shame, since I don't think it would necessarily have taken much more to do this - the rest of the film is so well done. But maybe I'm wrong; I hope I am, because as a study of an insular, cut-off soul (with an absolutely OUTSTANDING central performance by Henry Czerny, one of the most precise and amazingly controlled I've ever seen in a movie), this film definitely deserves to be seen. Whether it's possible to is another story: I saw this in Chicago at an art-house theater and have never been able to find any kind of proof of its existence again, either on video store shelves or in any kind of movie directory listings (until this site, of course).
Anyway, good luck finding this film - and if you do, drop me a note and let me know where: I'd love to get a second look at it.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful.
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