Shall We Discuss the Impenetrable Holy Motors?

Holy Motors is one hell of a ride - an independent film to mess with the most independent minded viewer. IMDB
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Can we just stop for a moment… stand, and applaud? Can we? Just a bit of a standing ovation for Leos Carax and the inscrutably visionary work that is Holy Motors? Because wow! What did I just watch? 

I started talking about interesting and crazy films here at THiNC. simply because I was tired of the simple movies that Hollywood tends to churn. Sure, we can have fun with the occasional action blockbuster. But what’s wrong with giving the plot a non-derivative idea or plot line (take for example Edge of Tomorrow which was a great Hollywood film playing with a truly intriguing idea for once.) But I could not have guessed that you guys would bring me a film like Holy Motors to discuss. Nope. 

If you haven’t seen Holy Motors yet, one thing I loved about the film is that while Holy Motors is about as avant garde as they come, it was still a joy to watch. It’s rare to watch a film this impenetrable that is still a blast to watch. I know you know what I’m talking about here. Those just completely off the wall movies where the protagonist transforms into a worm, then a celebrity, and then mates with a celestial body. Those, what the heck movies that actually don’t want you to know what they are talking about. That isn’t this movie. Holy Motors actually is a blast to watch, even while you are saying WHAT?! Now WAIT! Over and over again. It’s one of those art house films that seems always at the verge of our consciousness. Right on the verge of being knowable. But never really there. I had a lot of, “Oh, I see – I see… no, wait. No I don’t.” moments as the movie motored on. But that was part of the fun for me – constantly trying to pin this unpinnable movie down. So yeah, check this movie out, and the join us at the bottom of this post to discuss what the heck is going on with this crazy flick. But for now? A trailer:

Have we ditched all the illegal interlopers yet? If you haven’t seen the film, por favor, vas! 

Complete Holy Motors Walkthrough 

This movie is so crazy, and so disjointed, a literal walkthrough of the movie would do us both very little good. And yet, I have pages and pages of notes that are dying to be read! hahaha. There is a very clear order to the structure of this movie. And all this insanity, it specifically spews from a clear and defined pattern. 

Leos Carax (as the Sleeper) opens the movie, waking, in his room, and unlocking a hidden door in the wall with a socket wrench key that is his middle finger. (?!?) Like, literally no idea. And from now on, when I literally have no clue at all, (?!?) will be the indicator. I expect you’ll see it a lot as this discussion continues. Anyway, the Sleeper stands the balcony, and looks at the screen which tells the story we watch from here on out. 

Our order and structure starts with a banker (played by Denis Lavant), leaving an expensive home, and climbing into a limousine, Oscar asks Céline (played by Édith Scob) how many “appointments” he has for the day. Her response? Is nine. So, taking this as our framework, and our nine appointments as fact, let’s work backwards from there. For now, let’s just assume we know what an appointment is. When in fact, we have less than zero ideas as to what these appointments are all about. But I promise, we will get back to this question. For now though, let’s just walk through the appointments and a general idea of what happens in each:

Appointment #1 – While in the car, Oscar, the banker states that society is after them for causing the chaos in the economy, etc. And he says that they need more than bodyguards, but also guns. (this is important in appointment #7). Oscar changes into a beggar woman’s clothes, and begs on the street.

Appointment #2 – Oscar changes into a motion capture suit, and walks into a large film set where he dances an elaborate fight scene. He is eventually joined by a woman, wherein it is revealed that they are large dragon-like beasts, in some sort of violent mating ritual(?!?) 

Appointment #3 – For his third appointment, he dresses as a sewer vagrant, with one blind eye, and long red goat. He climbs into the sewers, then up into a cemetery. He then wanders onto a photo shoot, where the photographer thinks him grotesque, but wants to shoot with him. But he bites the assistant’s fingers off, and abducts the model (played by Eva Mendes). He hides her in some alcove of the cemetery, and falls asleep in her lap. 

Appointment #4 – He dresses as a regular looking fatherly type, and picks up his daughter from a party. His daughter says that she had a lot of fun talking with boys and enjoying the party. But, it turns out, she was lying, and she spent the entire party hidden away in the bathroom. Oscar tells her that her punishment is that she must live with herself.

Appointment #5 – The fifth is the Entracte – or the Intermission – wherein Oscar joins in on an add hoc accordion parade through the streets of Paris. (?!?)

Appointment #6 –  Oscar has been given a job in his sixth appointment, and that is to murder Alex with a switchblade. Which he stabs in the neck. Alex, his victim is also played by Lavant, which makes the scene triply crazy when he starts to dress the stabbed guy just like himself by shaving him, changing his scars, and jewelry, specifically to make others think it’s him. But! Alex isn’t dead, and he stabs Oscar in the neck in return. Oscar is able to limp his way back to the limo.

Appointment #7 – Oscar tells Céline to stop the car, jumps out, and heads to the people sitting at a cafe. He heads directly to the banker from pre-appointment #1, and says, “Hey banker!” And then he shoots the banker (played also by Lavant) in the head. The banker’s security jumps to and begin shooting Oscar over and over. But Céline jumps in and tells everyone that there has been some misunderstanding, and that Oscar is late for an appointment.(?!?) Wherein he gets up and heads to the limousine. 

Appointment #8 – Oscar gets himself made up like an old man, and heads into an expensive hotel. And he lays down on the bed, and is soon joined by his niece. It’s soon apparent that the old man is dying, and his niece is really saddened by it. Apparently, her uncle made her independently wealthy, and that in turned helped her marry someone who hasn’t been very good to her. And he says to her, “If you’ve been hated, you’ve also been loved.” And then he dies. A few seconds later, he tells the woman, mourning, “Excuse me.” and he gets up to leave. (?!?) And then he says to her, “I’m sorry, I can’t wait, I have another appointment.” And the woman? She responds with, “I have another appointment too.” So BOTH of them are running appointments.

Non-Appointment Accident – As Oscar is heading to his next appointment, two limousines collide, and Oscar recognizes Eva as an old romantic acquaintance. The two head up to the top of a building and chat, and catch up. But Jean, has an appointment – to play as an airline stewardess named Jean who is meeting up with Henry. Oscar slips out, and as he is walking around the front of the building, he sees that Eva jumped with Henry to her death. (?!?)

Appointment #9 – The dossier for the final assignment says, “Your House,” “Your Wife,” “Your Daughter,”. Céline gives Oscar a key to the house, some money for the next 12 hours. He kisses Céline goodbye, and heads to the house. And at the house, we see that his wife and daughter are chimpanzees. 

Non-Appointment Closing – Céline drives the limousine to the Holy Motors garage, parks, puts on a mask, (?!?), makes a call, and then leaves. When all the people are gone, the cars begin talking. At first they talk about how it’s good to have a lot of appointments, a rolling stone gathers no moss after all(?!?). But then talk turns to how they all won’t be needed anymore, soon they will all be junk-yarded. 


Holy Motors Appointments

As I mentioned above… we HAVE to talk about what an appointment is. Because right now (?!?) I have no idea. Now, we know that these appointments have been going on for years and years. And that Oscar has been running these appointments for so long that there are many that wonder if he needs to stop. That he is too tired to run them anymore. 

And in another section, between the sixth and seventh appointments, he is visited by a man with a port-wine stain over his eye. This man wonders aloud if Oscar is still up for appointments. That Oscar seems to be slowing down, tiring of the jobs. Oscar tells the man that it is changing – that he misses the days when he was conscious of “cameras.” But, he tells him, “I remain in the profession for the beauty of the act.”(?!?) So what do we take this to mean? As it is the most explicit detail showing us what the “appointments” are all about. What if we list a few theories explaining what the appointments might be:

The Appointments are Practical Jokes: What if these appointments are attempts at gags, or jokes on random unsuspecting witnesses? You know, like this time travel subway stunt right here. The appointments are just cinema verités, played out in the real world. Sometimes they are shocking, sometimes they are touching, others funny. But ultimately they are meant for those watching nearby.

Problems with the Practical Jokes Theory: So there are a lot of problems with this theory. The first being, there are several events that happen with nobody but the players as witnesses. Wouldn’t you always need a witness to make a joke worth while?

The Appointments as Acting Hobby: I write this blog as a hobby… and there isn’t always someone to read it. Hahah. What if the appointments are just a way for an actor to play out his fantasies. They aren’t recorded for the screen, they just exist as raw acting skill. Whether experienced by others or not. They just are because the actor chooses to act.

Problems with Acting Hobby: Seems like we are getting closer to the truth here. But not quite. If I were to run out into the street, and shoot someone in the head… I probably wouldn’t make it ten feet before I was killed. I don’t think this theory encapsulates enough of what is going on here. Did you notice in that hitman piece, all the other security guards where in on the appointment too? Otherwise, Oscar would have died. Right?

The Appointments as Cinema for Cinema Sake: Go back to the beginning. How did the movie begin? We have Carax, get out of bed (a ripe philosophical idea – waking up to epiphany, etc etc), unlock a door (another ripe philosophical idea that marches alongside waking up… revealing, unlocking, uncovering truth) and step into the balcony of a theater. 

Carax, the writer, and director, is saying something specifically about cinema, and life. That life is cinema, and cinema is life. That these little vignettes are slices of cinema verité. And as I didn’t know Carax before this movie, I realized that Carax dropped in slices from his own life throughout the movie. For example, Céline, and the mask she wears at the end, is a movie reference from Edith Scob’s past as Dr. Génessier’s masked daughter in the movie Eyes Without a Face. And remember that scene where Eva/Jean jumps to her death? That is a reference to Carax’s wife’s suicide the year before. 

And so Carax has flipped film on its head. It’s a film about life’s scenes. Life’s enormous and memorable moments. Recurring over and over again. That moment when you talked to your uncle before he died in his room. That moment when you bumped in to an old love and you caught up for a moment, just before life carried you both apart again. That moment when you saw that horrible, scary person, doing that horrible scary thing in the cemetery. It’s not just cinema verité, it’s life verité as film. He’s turned it all upside down. 

A Few Final Holy Motors Thoughts

Please tell me you noticed, that throughout the movie, numerous times, Denis Lavant played roles opposite himself. I mean, that has got to be significant. It means something. It has to. What? I don’t know. But it’s got to mean something. And please tell me that you noticed how the film folded in on top of itself over and over again. 

How the film started with the banker warning others about the dangers of life, and then flipped to Oscar, then Oscar killed the banker. Or how Oscar and the woman caught up, and then she was in an appointment, and then she jumped. But is she dead? All the other deaths in the movie were fake. We can assume she is really dead due to Oscar’s muffled cry at the sight. And how the appointment with the daughter was the daughter at the beginning of the movie as well. These are all scenes from Oscar’s life. These were all moments circling in Oscars life and spiraling outwards into the world and then back again. 

When I interviewed Murray (a reader from Iran – highly informative read by the way) he mentioned Holy Motors, and I jotted it down as a much watch. But as happens a lot in my life, I was overcome by events. Then the other day, when Furqan, a reader from Pakistan (absolutely love how international the readership of this blog has become) reminded me of the movie, I just knew I had to actually watch the movie this time while it was on my mind. 

My life has been just a little bit crazy this past week – having just adopted two boys from Haiti. They saw their first snow, rode their first bike, took their first shower in warm water, heck, walked on their first carpet. It could be said that these were their scenes in their Holy Motors movie. So I’m sorry I haven’t reviewed more movies this week. But alas and alack, it is what it is. Until next time – I would love to hear your thoughts on this crazy and amazing film. 

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