Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Purification": Joseph Ciminera takes a proud "self-made" man through Purgatory, forcing him to "change" and give up his personal contempt for ordinary people


I do have a friend, a salaried professional himself, who sometimes speaks of “The Purification” as a natural result of our having “too much freedom” and too many goodies at the hidden expense to others, inviting revolution.   So the title “Purification” popping up on Netflix Instant Play (recently, from 2012) intrigued me.  It turns out it’s a rather curious horror tale about one’s first day in the AfterLife, and he doesn’t realize he’s dead.  He’s in a kind of purgatory and has 24 hours to “change” before his final disposition for all time.
There are other previous films to compare it to:  not just “Jacob’s Ladder” and even “Astral City”, but also “Wristcutters: A Lover Story”, which is a closer approximation. The near death experience in the Christian film "The Perfect Wave" (and the short "A Glimpse of Eternity", July 13 and 16) comes to mind, but here it doesn't look like the protagonist can go back.  
   
I was also curious that the budget for director-actor Joseph Ciminera had been just $5000, according to imdb.  He didn’t need Kickstarter, probably.  That a filmmaker can do this much on that budget would impress me, because I have similar concerns for my own project.  (Remember Shane Caruth in Dallas had made “Primer” for $7000.) 
  
Ciminera plays Bret Fitzpatrick, a tall, thin and balding but reasonably attractive man about 40, a “self-made” real estate tycoon with 72 properties on Long Island.  But his delinquent brother has inherited his late mother’s little Cape Cod house and is letting it slip into foreclosure.  As the film opens, Bret is serving a hapless single mom (with a special needs kid) an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent in one of his garden apartment buildings so common in the area.  (I was just in Great Neck myself recently, with memories of “North By Northwest”).  The opening of the film manipulates us with an existential question:  where is real virtue to be found here – in “personal responsibility” (paying your bills, not having kids until you can support them), or in kindness that takes circumstances and unequal fortunes into account.  It is the latter that perturbs my friend, that a “purification” could make the lucky pay the world back.
  
Soon Bret finds his car has been towed, because he parked in violation of a sign put up by his own property company.  He has a critical meeting back in Manhattan, and needs to get back.  Talking on the cell phone, he steps in front of an oncoming car.
  
He seems to escape, jump out of the way just in time, dropping just his cell phone.  Or did he?  Because now life becomes plain weird. Things don’t work.  Not just his cell phone stopped, but pay phones don’t.  He tries to get a taxi, and finds the taxi company workers at break or asleep.  He meets and sees various characters, apparently from his past.  With each one, he has a quick flashback showing what’s wrong with the person.  Most people seem to be undesirable and reckless, but the flashbacks seem to show him that most of these losers never had a chance to become more than they were.  They were unlucky.  And, because of his own pride, associating with them is beneath him.  He learns he has contempt for ordinary people.
  
He tracks down his own brother, languishing in a closet in mom’s house after freebasing coke.  He lectures the brother, who is supposed to be older but whose face looks younger, on personal responsibility (even as libertarians understand it).  His life turns into a merry-go-round of dead ends (including an attempt to recover his towed car, where the elevator leads him into hyperspace, and a scene where he gets over limit with a bartender, while overhearing plans for murder).  He has odd phone calls with a stand-in for his therapist, after noticing a tumor on his chest.  He finally visits his brother again.  We see the brother’s shaved chest (I don’t know if that was supposed to mean something) and then the brother makes a revelation that gives away the fact that they are both dead.
  
So, how do you “change” while in Purgatory?  I like that image near the end, of a turnpike with toll booths, and Bret walking past them. He doesn’t need EZPass.

The official site is here (Vanguard and Wordlwide).  The tagline is “Unclean souls roam the Earth”.  Did I miss this film when it came out?  Did it play at the West End in DC, maybe? 

 Picture: Great Neck, NY (my photo, June 30, 2014). 

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