“The years I’ve spent trying to get all the things I was told were important – that I was supposed to want. Things! Not people, or meaning, just things.”
I’m a big fan of The Twilight Zone, and I’ve always been drawn to concepts that imitate its style. It’s as if American cinema was forever changed in the 60s following the success of the series, and we finally started to see these strange, high concept movies that place the individual in an alternate state of existence. Most importantly, though, these stories always have something to say about the normal world, the one in which we live. Seconds is a film I really enjoyed because it plays out exactly in this style, though I think it’s far from perfect.
Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is a successful but unfulfilled man with a struggling marriage and a bleak daily life. His situation is forever changed when he receives a phone call from a friend whom he thought was dead. Hamilton is informed of a mysterious organization that will provide him with a “fresh start” in life. What follows is a psychologically fascinating sci-fi fantasy with a strong commentary on personal fulfillment, perspective, and the people most important to us. This is one of those movies where the unraveling of the plot is a big portion of the payoff, so I won’t delve much deeper into the story.
Seconds is a slow film but one in which a lot of things happen. It resides in a chilling middle ground where the scenes take their time to play out while still spewing ample plot information. From the outset, this builds a creepy mood. Seconds is both a mystery and a social experiment, and this contrast can be uncomfortable at times. It’s not a relaxing film, and I think you have to be in the right mood to take it in, but it’s well worth your time just to view it technically. The film was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for cinematography, and there’s an unwavering direction from John Frankenheimer that makes me optimistic to view his more famous works.
While I enjoyed the film, I can’t say it’s completely successful in what it sets out to do. It has a lot of flair which I think can detract from the story. At its core, I think Seconds works best when it’s about a man trying to figure out how he should live his life. There are times when this theme is thrown to the wayside for something creepy or strange, and while it builds this effective mood that I’ve mentioned above, I think the story could have been given more attention. The protagonist’s brief fling with the woman from the beach stands out as one example of this. It’s definitely a surreal sequence between the two characters, but it can feel hollow and too “cinematic” when it should be more personal.
On the whole, Seconds is a really fun movie which plays out a formula that I’ll never tire of watching. It’s dark, brooding, and unapologetic in its commitment to the absurdities of life. I hope to see more films like it in the future, just maybe written a bit more carefully.
Films Left to Watch: 880