Thursday, January 09, 2014

"The Lazarus Project": Is this another experiment with the hereafter? Paul Walker takes us into it.

The Lazarus Project” (2008), by John Patrick Glenn, based on the story by Evan Astrowsky, seems timely now with the passing of actor Paul Walker, a youthful 34 when this film was shot, entirely in Manitoba, although it has to simulate both Texas and Oregon.

What drew me to rent the Sony DVD from Netflix was the “life after death”, which is not so esoteric in the movie after all. 

Paul Walker plays Ben Garvey, who is trying to go straight after prison and is dedicated to his wife (Piper Perabo) and young daughter.  But he loses a job a brewery when his employer finds out about his record with a routine credit check for a promotion. Out of desperation for his family, he agrees with his brother to commit one more armed robbery. But three people die in that crime, and under Texas law he gets the death penalty.
The opening of the film goes in quicktime; he is in the lethal injection room at minute 22.  (Some early films by Lars van Trier move like this.) 

He wakes up, walking in the woods.  We’re to wonder if this is heaven or purgatory, or an alternate universe.  But he hitches a ride that takes him to the grounds of a mental hospital, which he is told is in Oregon, to be rehabilitated.  He’s also given a job as a grounds keeper.

The film now plays games with reality testing.  He gets to live in a cabin alone, with a dog who finds him and, despite early rejection, loves him.  He starts to build a relationship with a female psychiatrist (Linda Cardelinni).  He befriends some patients, but is taunted by the psychopath William (Tony Curran) who reminds one of Hannibal from “Silence of the Lambs” (he had attacked someone only because the person "was home"). The mysterious angel Avery (Lambert Wilson) and priest (Bob Gunton) round out his experience, as they warn him he will die if he leaves the facility and his “second chance”.  He’s also soon told that his life in the cabin is a hallucination. Some physical clues (especially a rogue Frisbee) unravels the conspiracy, which leads to Ben’s removing an implanted chip from the underside of his forearm, where William had been tattooed. 

Maybe the “solution” in this film is quite earthly, but the premise intrigues.  One of my own screenplays has the protagonist (me) awakening in a clinic room, soon to find he is on another world.  Is this a job interview, a prison, re-education, hospital, heaven, purgatory, or just another planet after an alien or angelic abduction?  In my story, the protagonist gets to turn the tables.

The film, from Mandeville, Scion and Inferno, was distributed by Sony on DVD.  I don’t know if it appeared in theaters (it could have been Sony Pictures Classics).  

The poster "Lazarus" is for a play at the Riverside Church, New York City. 

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