Oh, wow, how I love bringing crazy complicated movies your way. Because you guys are wicked smart and more often than not you help me figure this stuff out! Gah. Anyway, here at THiNC. we love talking about and discussing really crazy movies. Not your normal, everyday, Forest Gump type movies, but rather your Primer type movies. Your mind-blowingly crazy movies that you just know you have to watch it again, and again, to wring the nuance out of that thing. To really grapple with it to understand it. Right? Well, today? You good folks threw this one at me over in one of the comment sections and I am ever thankful that you did!
Quick Overview of Buster’s Mal Heart
Yeah. Nope. If you haven’t seen this one. Just go see it. Here’s a trailer to break up the spoiler section and the non-spoiler section. But if I were you? Just go get it, grab your popcorn. And prepare your thank you cards for Elizabeth and Shelby for bringing it to our collective attention. Yes, they deserve thank you cards. And no, that isn’t hyperbole.
Detailed Deep Dive of Buster’s Mal Heart
Alright, it goes without saying from here on out that spoilers abound. But I still get raving lunatics freaking out about the fact that I discuss spoilers on this site, and it shocks people. Bah. SO KNOW! SPOILERS. ABOUND. FROM HERE ON OUT!!! I think that was clear enough. Normally, I take my notes that I write during my first viewing and I clean them up. But this time, I’m just throwing my unadulterated thoughts as I was watching at you. Sort of a stream of consciousness happening here. But it’ll also give you a perspective of how OCD I am about my movie watching.
- Starts out with Buster(?) on the run, shot, and almost arrested in a cave.
- Who was that speaking the first lines? Seems quasi-important.
- Jumps backwards 10 days.
- Ok, so, now he’s in someone’s house and flipping photos? What the?
- Another time jump, now Buster is a hotel manager.
- Some fast talking guy shows up, oh I like this guy! What is he on about?!
- “Babong, the first inversion, binary logic, little by little… what I do is termite control, bug control.”
- “Burning fucking bushes everywhere I look!”
- Basically he is saying that everything is a simulation, and that there are massive bugs in the system. He stays out of the system intentionally.
- But Buster never gets his name. This feels extremely important to me right now. “I just gave you a dollar and you won’t tell me your name?”
- His retort? “I am the last free man…” Which I definitely need to talk about at some point. Obviously a reference to the first Adam, the last Adam…
- Ok, so right now there is a Buster version on the boat, there is a version in the vacation house. Are these alternative realities or are we dealing with past and future tenses?
- Buster is now spewing the same inversion craziness to the radio shows, “I AM THE LAST FREE MAN!”
- Buster and his wife have an argument about buying land. He believes that if they pay rent then they become slaves to the system, “we need mtns dirt air.”
- Conversation between Buster and the Prophet highlights how lost Buster is, “I feel like my heart isn’t made right.”
- Drawing on the glass of the vacation house seems important. Death Star? Blackhole?
- Soon Buster and the Prophet are stealing from the hotel guests regularly.
- And after a scare Buster kicks the Prophet out of the hotel.
- We learn that before Marty met Buster, Buster was homeless and starved for affection – sounds like a huge clue to a bigger symptom to a deeper root cause.
- Buster’s boss suggests a stay-cation (“I coined that phrase”) and that he invite Marty and Roxy to the hotel.
- During said stay-cation, the prophet comes back – and Buster is tied up working longer than expected.
- “And bang, eternal reoccurrence of the almost same… no escape.” Zero divided by zero equals infinity.
- Buster arrives in the hotel room and finds his family killed.
- Flash back to the boat, frogs fill the boat… is this a plagues of Egypt metaphor?
- One of his final vacation break-ins he discovers an old couple and ties them up
- Buster dreams of the funeral and the cop that couldn’t see the Prophet in the security videos…
- No way… he totally killed his family.
- Prophet totally doesn’t exist!!! hahahah.
- We hear news footage saying that Jonas survived over a thousand days on the sea.
- So Buster is two people, Jonas and Buster… got it. I think.
- Back to pre-cave Buster, calls psychic and she says that Buster is on a boat, “Why am I there?” and she responds with, “There’s been a big mistake, a bug in the system.” Using the Prophet’s language.
- Pre-Buster/Jonas bails on the funeral and runs for it.
- Epilogue – Jonas/Buster split and walk down separate roads and paths.
- The two splits wrestle with one another in the boat.
- As the two selves discuss their predicament, “What do you want me to tell you? God is not merciful, just efficient, it was a mistake that we got this far. We are in the belly of a whale my friend. With luck he’ll eat one of us and spit the other one out.”
- Ok, Jonah references are always loaded… loaded with meaning.
- Buster charges out of the cave shooting.
- Jonas wakes up on the beach… end of line.
Buster’s Mal Heart Questions That Are Breaking My Brain
I loved this Buster’s Mal Heart. But whoa-my-gosh is it breaking my brain! So let’s list out a couple of the big big questions of the movie and let’s see if we can answer any of them at all:
Q. Is Buster the individual that killed his wife and daughter?
A. Obviously there are two schools of thought here. The first is that the Prophet of the 2nd Inversion is a real guy and he did in fact kill Marty and Roxy. The second is – “OBVIOUSLY HE DID IT!!” I’m decidedly of the latter school of thought. If you’ve seen the movie Donnie Darko, the Prophet? He is the rabbit in this movie. Or better yet, Fight Club. The Prophet is Tyler Durden. And no, do not email me with angry and hateful epithets for “spoiling Fight Club or Donnie Darko. THESE ARE OLD MOVIES PEOPLE. Reevaluate your life choices.
Q. What is this talk of the 1st and 2nd Inversion?
A. Well, this answer is going to change depending on how you answered the previous question. Either Buster is insane and seeing things, scribbling in the sand, and all that… or Buster is truly becoming enlightened and is really seeing things clearly for the first time. One thing that makes this inversion stuff compelling is the fact that Buster says more than once that it feels like the system is intentionally keeping him down. That he has a hole in his heart, that he wants to run away from everyone. And we all feel that feeling (I have my own theories about why that is, but you don’t want to hear this Christian ramble at you right now) so to hear that a Prophet really has the answer, and it’s all about this inversion? Compelling! Except, we all know that the Prophet is not real. And the really sad thing is? That this really means that Buster killed his wife and child.
Q. What is with all the scenes in the boat? And the scene of Buster fighting with himself? Did I miss instructions to have hallucinogenic mushrooms before starting this movie?
A. Ok, so this boat is bit dicey at best. I’ll do my best to give you options and let you decide for yourself:
The first is a literal view and before Buster was married to Marty, and before they even meet, Buster is on a ship that sinks, and he is adrift for hundreds of days while awaiting rescue. He then gets out of the boat and starts a new life with Marty, etc. Right? And all the while he refers back to the boat experience as a point of meaning and reference.
Rubbish, I tell you, rubbish! The second theory is that the boat scenes are a metaphor for his internal self. It is where his Id and his Super-Ego have it out and his Ego is the boat wherein it tries to reconcile the realities presented by these two mental characters. Every time you see water and a boat? You are walking straight into the brain of Buster.
Q. After the funeral, why does Buster split into two people and walk down two distinctly different paths?
A. Now your questions are getting more annoying. Grrrr. Ok, so if you read that previous part there where I conjecture that the boat is the internal ramblings of Buster’s brain, then I would argue that the physical manifestation of this is his splitting in two. We are watching Buster’s snap with reality. And we are watching as his Id walks one way, and his Super-Ego walks another.
So, after the funeral, he chooses not to go to the interment and instead he heads out into the woods. And his brain splits. His sane self that refuses to believe that the Prophet isn’t real – the self that refuses to believe he could have killed his wife and child – walks out of the car and down one path. The other self? He is the self that believes in the inversion, believes that he is the anointed one of the second inversion. That he is the only sane one on the planet and everyone else just doesn’t get it.
Q. What is with the Jonah references when Buster and Jonas are talking in the boat?
A. Oh whoa, I just realized normal Buster’s name is Jonas. Which, is amazingly similar to Jonah. So if Jonas is a Jonah character what do we know? Well, Jonah was a Prophet who was running from God. God told Jonah to go tell the Ninevites to repent and to turn from their evil ways. Right? Well, Jonah tells God no, and runs the other direction. Is thrown overboard to abate God’s wrath, he’s swallowed by a whale. And for 3 days and 3 nights Jonah was buried… only to be coughed up onto the beach. Such a poignant picture that even the Christ says that like Jonah, he too would be buried three days only to rise again.
But wait, what does that have to do with our Jonas/Buster? Jonas snaps, kills his wife and daughter… sins… and he has a mental break with reality. He’s in the belly of the whale. He’s dead. For 3 days Jonas/Buster wrestle with this truth only to have Jonas spewed out of the mouth of the whale.
Q. Is this a never ending movie? It sort of seems to be looping forever…
A. Ok, see, and you thought you were stupid! Now we are cooking with gas! You aren’t so dumb really! Yes, I believe you are correct. The Prophet makes a reference to it when he says, “And BANG! Eternal reoccurrence of the almost same, no escape.” It is yet another movie that is constantly looping endlessly in search of a way out. Movies like Triangle, Arq, Stay, Live Die Repeat, and even the One I Love to an extent, all have this as a central theme. I’ll talk about this some more in the conclusions section… I hope. If I remember. If I ever get out of this loop of constantly writing this stupid post! hahah.
Several Buster’s Mal Heart Movie Timelines to Consider
After watching I immediately cracked out some paper and started doodling timelines. And I figured it’d probably be good to just show you those unadulterated sketches to see which one you think is the most accurate. I mean, they are all accurate, but they assume different things. (Please click on the timelines to see a bigger version of each one.)
Buster’s Mal Heart Literal Timeline Explained
This first one I drew was just the literal timeline of the movie. The timeline just assumes that Buster spent months and months adrift on the ocean before coming to America. He washes ashore and eventually meets Marty, and they get married. They have a child and a dream about buying land, and moving out on their own. But Buster, after giving the room to his friend, and his family getting killed, snaps, and heads out into the woods, insane, and living off of people’s empty homes. He is eventually caught in the cave and goes out in a blaze of glory. End of story, end of timeline.
No offense to anyone that thinks I nailed it with this timeline, but you are an idiot. Hahahah. Yes, this is what literally happened in the movie. But what literally happened in the movie is literally the LAST thing that happened in this movie. Hahahha. So yeah, no offense, but this reading of the movie is for those who have difficulties thinking past the literal words on the screenplay page. It’s fine. It’s a passable reading of the movie. But it isn’t correct ultimately. Can’t be.
Buster’s Mal Heart Ocean Drift Timeline Explained
So this next timeline took some of the deficits of the first timeline and spun them on its head. But to understand this timeline I have to explain a couple things that I think I failed to draw out too clearly. And the first is that Buster is constantly adrift on the ocean of his consciousness. And occasionally he plummets into reality, and he gets married. He has a stay-cation, his family is murdered, he goes nuts and lives on the lam while mooching off of vacation homes in the area. Eventually he goes out in a blaze of glory only to find himself back on the ocean raft once again.
Some of the most interesting corrections in this timeline is that it accounts for the looping timelines that we are encountering throughout the duration of the movie. It’s obvious that Buster is constantly trying to get this thing called life figured out. And he is trying his best to Groundhog his way through these repeating timelines, but each time he is constantly discovering the same surprises and is getting derailed by them.
Buster’s Mal Heart Temporal Split Timeline Explained
Now, when I started drawing this next timeline I was trying to a solve a very significant problem that was happening with the previous other two timelines, which was that the split, the divergence didn’t happen at the beginning of the film, it actually happens in the middle. (Not middle of the film, the middle of the timeline. It happens at the funeral, or soon after the funeral, which is sort of right in the middle of the chronological timeline of the movie’s events.)
And so with this timeline I looped the events in sort of a stair step reoccurrence. The mental break happens with the funeral, he mentally escapes to the boat and his two versions of himself war it out. The clean shaven version of Buster ends up on the beach and then he heads out to live in the vacation homes until he is killed in the cave.
The elegance of this timeline is that it accounts for the boat scenes and the split of the psychic split as well as the perpetual looping of the events. But who knows – I could have had one too many shots of caffeine before drawing these things up as well!
What Does Buster’s Mal Heart Even Mean? Conclusions?!
In movies that loop eternally, it is usually predicated by a sin. A fatal flaw. A traumatic event. A massive failing. I’d list some examples, but I don’t want to spoil certain movies for you that you may not have seen. In Groundhog’s Day he failed to get the girl? That’s not a sin. But you get the idea. Sisyphus rolling a rock uphill for all eternity was caused by his jacking around other gods and demigods, and it was his punishment. These movies are just illustrating this great Sisyphean plight in modern terms.
Buster’s Mal Heart, is literally discussing his broken heart. Mal, means bad in Spanish right? Maybe the movie should be entitled Buster’s Roto Heart? Except that he is bad. He is the evil that has predicated these looping events. Buster is the person that – wait for it – killed his wife and daughter. I mean, kudos to Rami Malek for selling it like he’s completely shattered by their deaths. But at the end of the day, Buster murdered them both in cold blood. Which, in turn caused his mental fracture when the cop says to him that he watched the security tapes and there was no one else there the night of the incident and he realizes that he’s going mad.
And while Buster may very well have truly been lost at sea for ages only to wash ashore eventually, that is not what we are seeing. We are watching Buster’s consciousness, in abstract, in absentia, commenting back on reality from the confines of his boat. And when Buster fractures mentally and there are two of him in the boat, shaved and bearded Buster? It is literally two different versions of his sanity fighting it out for sanity’s sake. And in the final shot of the film we see shaved Buster wash up on the shore… only to head into reality, meet Marty all over again, and begin his failing from the beginning again. Buster is doomed to repeat his mistakes and his errors for all eternity. But maybe, for the more optimistic of us, one day? He’ll accidentally get it right and escape the endless cycle and save the lives of his wife and child.
No? What do you think Buster’s Mal Heart means? How would you make sense of this crazy movie? I totally want to hear from you in the comments. Go! Are you a temporal split timeline gal? Or a more literal timeline guy? I promise not to make fun of you too much either way. Or heck! Maybe you have a totally different timeline I should add to the list!? That would be awesome.
Edited by, CY