Before I start, shout out to Phil for recommending The Frame out on my new movie recommendation widget. And this movie, boy did it live up to the hype. While watching it? I took like 10 pages worth of notes as I was watching. Pause, scribble scribble. Play. STOP! scribble. Scribble SCrRRRiBblE! gah! Absolutely everything seemed to mean something critical to the overarching meaning and purpose. I was chasing my tail for days as I watched, and then rewatched this movie to get the nuance of everything it was throwing at us.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What the heck is this movie The Frame? Well, on the face of it, it is two interwoven stories that are connected somehow. One about a gang member that is involved in high value robberies. Another is a paramedic with issues of her own. But the two completely different stories begin to connect in a very strange way. Here, watch this:
Right? So, you have here probably the lest helpful movie trailer of all time. But you are getting the feeling of the movie. And that is the most important thing. There are two threaded storylines, and there is on overlapping overarching, FRAME, within which these stories are set. These two characters become aware of one another and are trying to figure out what their larger picture in this story really is all about.
Yes. That is ambiguity at its best. But no, I’m not going to spoil this fascinating film. So click here, use your Prime membership, or Google Play credits, those iTunes cards in your drawer, or your Youtube Redness or whatever… and watch this movie. Then come on back to help us talk about this crazy movie. Cause, yeah, if you haven’t watched this movie, you are going to need to go now. Shoo. Leave.
First Pass Discussion of The Frame
Alright. Like I said up top, I have literally 7 pages of notes. Single space. Like, I literally stopped the movie mid-scene, and wrote riffs thinking about where Jamin and Kiowa Wanins were going when they crafted and created this movie. I won’t subject you to the entirety of those notes. But I will try and do a high level first pass on what exactly happens as the movie progresses… trying to do so without much conjecture. Then after we see where the movie literally went, we can then start delving and diving into what it was that the movie might have meant. Ok. So then shall we away then?
Thread A-1 As the movie opens, we are given our first thread. The thread I am calling Thread A. And in said thread (RIGHT SAID FRED!!!, I’m so sorry. So so sorry. Completely unacceptable. We have real work to do here. Ok ok. No more messing around.) we meet a gang member, Alex. He and the team boost semis and whole warehouse cargoes. Their latest job doesn’t go exactly perfect, but when Alex arrives at home, he flips the TV on and begins watching a show about thread B-1…
Thread B-1 –A paramedic, named Sam, on a show entitle Urban Hope. And Sam and her ambulance partner are called out to a house where the mother has been beaten unconscious. And Sam intercedes on a girl’s behalf, attempts to help the mother who isn’t breathing, and then puts down the father who attacks her. After her shift, she heads home and begins watching a show about Thread A-1.
Thread A-2 – Alex visits his father who is sick, and he tells him that he is planning to leave the city for good. But before he leaves, his father gives him his old violin. And as Alex is leaving he sees some strange black oil dripping from a nearby home. When he gets home he falls asleep and wakes to see…
Thread B-2 – Sam watches the latest episode of her favorite show, you know, the one about Alex the gang member? Right. And as she finishes watching as he gets his violin, it continues, and she just keeps watching as he sleeps on the couch in front of his TV.
Combined A-B – When Alex awakes, he notices that a woman on the television show he’s watched before is staring at him through his TV. But then they both begin to realize that they are seeing one another.
Thread A-3 – Alex tears his TV out of the wall and breaks his TV down into little pieces looking for the surveillance equipment in the TV. Then later, he heads to his gang bosses in order to get a passport and move out of the city. But they let him know that he’ll have to do one more job in order to leave. A 2.6 million dollar heist. And around the city are black spires of oil that are going up.
Thread B-3 – Sam, heads to work, only to be accosted by her mother whom she is obviously estranged with. Her mother asks for money and says, “I know who you are, and I know what you done.”
Thread A-4 – Alex goes out and gets a new TV, but his friend destroys it with a baseball bat. Then Alex goes out to a hotel and puts the TV outside the room.
Thread B-4 – Sam continues with her counseling and her therapists thinks that she should take time off work, and decides to give her new drugs.
Thread A-5 – Alex watches thread B-3, and sees the pieces about her past. And after watching he falls asleep only to awake to:
Combined A-B – Sam watches as Alex wakes up and sees her watching him. And she says to him, “You are David Carrenza from the show? Tell me who you are. You play a thief named Alex, you are part of a gang. Tommy’s about to get arrested because he made a deal with an undercover agent.” Alex responds with, “What do you want?” and Sam tells him that she watches his show every week. — Taylor here – did you notice that Sam went from using the name Alex, to using the name David Carrenza? David Carrenza is the actor’s real name… like, in real life.
Thread A-6 – So it was the information from Sam that let Alex know craziness was about to go down, which kept him from getting arrested. “You’ve got that sixth sense.” And after Alex sees that this woman on his TV is actually not completely full of it, he begins trying to figure out who this Sam person is. And that is when he finds out that Sam is actually the fictional name of the actress Tiffany Mualem. Like, literally, in real life. The actress that plays Sam is named Tiffany Mualem. Then he goes and buys a new old TV, and the two of these fictional characters have a conversation.
Combined A-B – Sam tells Alex that he has been trying to get out of the gang for so long. And Alex tells Sam that she’s a paramedic, that she grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, and that she sings when she is alone. And it’s then that Alex attempts to call Sam, but all he hears when he picks up are weird echoing noises. And since that didn’t work, Alex asks for Sam’s address in order to come and see her. But when he gets there someone else is in her apartment. And so they both simultaneously stand in the same place separated by something significant.
Thread A-7 – Alex goes and visits his dying father. And his father tells him that there is a light shining in him. That he knows that his son is scared. But that we are tested so that we can see through the eyes of God what he sees. And that he needs to let it all go.
Thread B-7 – Sam heads to her counselor, and he is worried about her. He thinks she’s been avoiding taking her meds. But she lies to him and says that she is taking the meds, and is feeling much better.
Thread A-8 – Alex is picked up by the other gang members he had been working with and he’s told that he is going to do exactly what they tell him to do.
Thread B-8 – We learn from the televisions in Sam’s reality, that the finale of Thieves and Saints is coming up and that something big is going to happen in that show. Maybe even that Alex will die.
Combined A-B – When Alex and Sam talk again through the television Alex tells Sam that he went to her apartment, but that she wasn’t there. That is was someone else’s apartment. They have the most substantial conversation yet of the movie. Sam wonders if she loves Alex and the character, and that is what has made this happen. Alex doesn’t let go of the idea of meeting, but Sam doesn’t think that they are actually located in the same place or reality or something. Sam tells Alex that something big is going to go wrong with his next job. That it’s the finale of his show.
And then they decide to meet at the Millennium bridge. They sit next to each other, but separated.
Thread A-9 – Alex is informed that some of his old contacts in the gang had died, that their throats were cut. And his phone rings and he’s informed that his father has passed away.
Thread B-9 – While still at the bridge, Sam’s counselor sees her at the bridge and hangs out with her. And he seems really shady about her and her interactions with him. Why is he taking this kind of an interest?
Combined A-B – They talk and Sam tries to impress on Alex that his show is going to end. And Sam is angry that someone would intentionally create this mess of life intentionally. It’s chaos. This isn’t a story. That there has to be something better to watch on TV. And Sam’s response is pretty stellar, “I don’t think this is chaos, being can be unbearable sometimes. You either have to believe everything is chaos or everything is a miracle. So I am going to be your guardian angel and tell you to please just run.”
Thread B-10 – So Sam decides to contact the film company that makes Alex’s TV show and gets an echo of her own voice.
Thread A-10 – As the final episode starts, the final heist starts and they kill everyone in the semis. Under the semis the find the drugs. And black oil in the trailers. And when a family pulls up in the middle of the heist, and the wife notices something isn’t right, Alex shoots one of the gang members about to kill the family. And he kills the rest of the crew and runs for it, and once he gets back home he reconnects with Sam via the television.
Combined A-B –Bleeding, Alex tells Sam that she shouldn’t be ashamed to sing, and that her past doesn’t define her. And so they sing the melody of a tune together and the world shakes.
Thread B-11 – Sam runs off in search of the production company offices that created Alex’s show. And when she is almost in she is intercepted by her counselor trying to get her to leave. But eventually she gets by him and finds a room with hundreds of light bulbs and a typewriter creating the script of Thieves and Saints television show.
Thread B-12 – And there on the screen in the center of the room she watches as Alex breathes his last. And then Sam finds the script of episode 50 of Saints and sinners? and scratches Sam’s death out. And writes, “Alex breathes, the bleeding stops.” And from here on out, the typewriter continues trying to kill Alex, but each time Sam changes it, and saves his life.
As Sam leaves the typewriter room, she snags the screenplay, and runs. Outside, the therapist and a gaggle (is that the official title for a group of nurses?) of nurses chase her in order to get the screenplay back. She lights the script on fire and then is hit by a car. But as the script burns, the nearby guy wielding a knife falls into a pool of oil.
Voiceover: “And so, all that was left was the man and the devil, trapped in the writer’s creation, it was then the man realized he was no man, but a thing, written, by a malevelant god. The only choice that would truly be his own was to take his own life. But the devil was no puppet, and the writer would not write him, and if the writer would trap him in this house, the devil would tear the house down.”
Thread A-12 – Having survived the attack on his life with the help of Sam, he stands in an empty city, with all of the inhabitants reduced to black oil. Alex wanders about the city, visiting places he knew while the show was running. Eventually he too finds his way to the production company’s headquarters where the script is written. The script attempts to force him to retreat, but he continues pushing back. The walls of the movie (The Frame) is what is forcing him, moving him. And eventually he wakes up back at his own apartment, but he can’t get out. Eventually he begins playing his violin as he is watching Sam on the TV, as a car is coming to hit her. But his violin playing forces the car to flip over her head and save her.
Someone Please Explain the Meaning of The Frame to Me
Alright, so now we need to do the real heavy lifting and figure this mindjob out.
And after thinking about it, on the face of it, what we have are two dueling television shows connected via the TVs in each similar but different reality. Above, the A threads are from Alex’s show Thieves and Saints. And the B Thread above, comes from Sam’s show Urban Hope. Both are set in Denver. Both intersect with similar places and similar landmarks, ie the Millennial Bridge, etc. But they are not the same at all. These realities are categorically different. But really? What does it mean?
Possible explanations for The Frame
1. The Literal Translation of the The Frame
I am sorry, but there totally cannot be a literal understanding of The Frame. How would a literal version of this story even work? Two television shows get cross-wired in the atmosphere and begins interacting with each other? I mean, really? No. The only reason I placed this one here is to show that this movie above all else, needs to be metaphorical or allegorical or a story about a greater, and larger truth. But what could those truths be?
2. The Internal Mind of the Creator interpretation of The Frame
Or what if, what if it’s more simple than all of that? What if The Frame is the dream delirium dribblings of Jamin Winans? Winans being the screenplay author of The Frame. And what if these are nothing but the delusional rants of a mad screenplay rambler? And on his desk is screenplay one. And over on the other side of his typewriter is screenplay two. And he is there, with his coffee (or his weed!), and he is thinking huh, what if? What if it is nothing more than the mad ramblings of a delusional screenplay writer thinking, what if?
3. The Conversation of Good & Evil in the Frame
There are some who will take in this film and see its black oil, its towering black oil spires, and will think, it is a discussion of evil. Good and the inevitable demise of good under the weight of sin and evil. The Borg-ification of all things via sin. The taint of the bad and its spread throughout all things. You saw it didn’t you, when the other characters evaporated, they evaporated into splatters of evil stained ink! That proves that within us all we are evil. At our base level, we are tainted and broken. Nothing but a stain when it comes down to it.
And trust me, I love this particular discussion in most movies. The eternal truths of good and evil? Catnip. Scrumptious catnip to me. I adore this discussion. Getting atheists to discuss evil makes me giggle from my core. Not because I have anyway convinced them, but that I see ways we are similar and that the intrinsic truths of the universe will always be true regardless of our opinion of God. But here? No. This is not even close to the truth.
First, how many humans did we see in this movie? Think. Really think about this question. How many people, real humans did we see? You should be able to give me a number without much work counting. Why? Because the number is ZERO. There were none in this movie. I guess one could make an argument that we were interacting with both the TV personalities of Alex and Sam, but we were also interacting with their human counterparts. But no, if that were the case then they wouldn’t continue living in their fictional homes when done with the show. Right? No. We were only interacting with fictional faces of fictional films, their extras, the production values, the fake face of film when the cameras are off. And so, as such, there is no concern of good or evil. The fictional has no worry for its soul. It may tell us stories about truths about our own soul. But these characters specifically were not worried about their own souls. Right?
4. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern interpretation of The Frame
I’ve been talking a lot with my kids about Shakespeare lately. They’ve been curious at my fascination with the Bard and my love for his plays. “Tell us the story of Troilus and Cressida, tell us the story of The Taming of the Shrew. Tell us of Hamlet!” And one story I was very excited to tell them about specifically wasn’t just Hamlet, but the story of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and how they are dead. If you saw the Oscar award winning movie, Shakespeare in Love, you know the director of the movie Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
It is the story of 2 hapless characters who have been into the story of Hamlet in order to get Hamlet hanged for treason with letters from Hamlet’s father-in-law. But in the movie, the entirety of the Hamlet play centers around these two bit players. And as we follow them we watch them come off the center stage of the story, and the circulate in the background of the story wondering why they were called, for what reason had they been summoned. Right? These are metaphysical questions that these two poor schleps are struggling with. Not only can they not remember before that morning when they were called, they can’t remember which of them was Rosencranz and which of them is Gildenstern. It is an existential struggle for them to try and grasp who they are and why they are there.
So in this interpretation of the movie The Frame, the question is this, in the mind of the creator, are our characters real? Do they carry weight and meaning? Are they self motivated and autonomous, or are they free to roam about the story at will? And better yet, are these self directing characters (if we have deemed them such) the author himself? Are they us? There have been a ton of movies that have investigated the lines of autonomy from the character and the creator, but the most obvious recent example would definitely be Ruby Sparks. Right? Basically in Ruby Sparks if you haven’t seen it, an author conjures into real life one of his story’s characters, and he has complete control over her in every way.
But in The Frame we see both Sam and Alex make it to the holy temple of the typewriter. The location of the production company. They make it to the location of the screenplay writer. We see the typewriter, the spools of paper, the holiness of that location and the absolute control that device has over their movements and actions. It’s like if a 2D drawing suddenly encountered a 3D pencil cutting through their 2D paper, what would that look like. Well, what would it look like for fictional characters to interact with their all knowing, all seeing creator? Maybe it would look like this? And so, could it be, that we are seeing, in real life, a screenplay author, grapple with his idea of the muse, his idea of the idea, his thoughts on his characters, and where do they go when the play, the movie, the thing, is off? Could it be that we are seeing into the mind of the creator? Maybe?
Could we assume that the creator of Urban Hope is also the creator of Thieves and Angels? And so we have two of his characters from two of his shows, and looking out for each other? Is this the connection that we have been missing all along? The thread the combines these two disparate stories?
5. The Chaos vs. Meaning Theory to explain The Frame
Let’s put aside the television shows for a moment. One of the brilliant recurring themes of the movie was that of chaos over meaning. Pretty regularly we saw Sam and Alex arguing about whether the world was for a purpose or if it was actually just random chaos. Take this quote for example:
“I don’t think this is chaos, being can be unbearable sometimes. You either have to believe everything is chaos or everything is a miracle. So I am going to be your guardian angel and tell you to please just run.”
What if the weirdness of the world was just a metaphor? What if it was just a distraction from the actual metaphor the Winans were trying to communicate to us? And that deeper truth is that despite your past, and the chaos of your story, and despite the unbearableness of life sometimes, maybe you just have to believe that everything is a miracle. That we can be here for one another. That we can point each other to the larger good in the world. That we can intervene in each other’s stories, regardless of how different they are in order to save a fellow traveler. And that within each of us we have the power to have an amazing impact on those around us. Maybe?
Final Thoughts on The Frame
I loved this movie. It really got me thinking and pondering what it was exactly that the Winans were thinking when they created this brilliant little movie. At the end of the day it was a fascinating thought experiment to play with these ideas and see where they would go. I personally don’t have a favorite theory among the five. But I loved the film and the mind blowing vantage points we get on the creator, and the created. What did you guys think of it. I’m sure I missed like 10 more theories about where this thing could be going. What do you think?