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What Is It? is a bewildering, unnerving, surreal, blackly comic film from the visionary mind of Crispin Glover that tells the inner and outer struggles of a young man facing villains and demons on multiple planes.
At a public records office, a seemingly normal boss has hired a new employee named Bartleby. Bartleby however, is eccentric and with each passing day, he begins to refuse his boss' orders which only gets worse. Eventually, the boss finds himself clueless as to what to do about Bartleby as he discovers even stranger things about him. Written by
Don't know if Melville would even recognize his marvelous short story as translated into this film, or even if he'd approve...although I think he might...because the spirit of the original is here.
The satire of office shenanigans as presented by Jonathan Parker brings humor to this rather sad tale of a man determined to bring his intransigent self to the workplace and even to life itself... in the extreme. The overall effect is humane and even when the laughter comes we know something poignant is going on. David Paymer is superb as the frustrated, distraught but empathetic boss who tries to get Bartleby to be a responsive, reasonable worker/person, to no avail. Crispin Glover is a rather ghostly looking Bartleby, in a performance that demands withholding, a difficult task, but one he meets quite well.
This is good entertainment and food for thought...not often the case in movies these days.
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