Hollywood occasionally surprises me. Rarely, but occasionally. And today I’m completely and totally blown away. Why? Because Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway have somehow signed up on this crazy movie. It’s the rare unicorn of a big budget, mindjob movie that swings for the THiNC. fences. So, Alessandro, thanks for bringing this movie to our attention!
But this movie definitely has some serious controversy attached to it. Bad test screenings. Flame wars across the twitter-sphere. Anne and Matthew are angry. The Production company is angry back. It’s an ugly mess. (Don’t believe me?) But, who cares, if the movie’s great…but is it? That’s why we are talking about it. I will say this, this movie does have such a crazy twist to it, people on Twitter are actually just dropping everything and heading to the theater to find out what everyone is talking about.
SERENITY (2019): An amazing bit of ill-conceived cinema that does not disapppoint. What we have here is top level, batshit insane, total wtf writing that puts any m night shyamalan twist to shame. A wacky, perplexing flick that makes BOOK OF HENRY look pretty okay. Wow. Just..wow— James Shotwell (@jamesdshotwell) January 25, 2019
What is the spoiler free rundown? Basically, Baker Dill, a freelance fisherman, up to his ears in debt is having trouble keeping his life together. And then his ex-wife Karen (played by Hathaway, of Interstellar fame) shows up to ask Baker to kill her husband by getting him drunk and throwing him overboard. OK, well, outside of that, I just can’t say more because I do not – I repeat – DO NOT, want to spoil this gem for you. Let me put it to you this way, because you are a discriminating audience, you will very quickly surmise that something else is going on here. I know I did. And very soon after that you’ll have five possible ideas of what me going on. Because this movie? As it stands, is so horrible, there has to be a reason for it. And trust me, there is. A very big twist that will catch you off guard. Just be sure you are going in blind to this one, OK? Which means, don’t read any further until you’ve already seen it. Got it? (Don’t make me fire you as my best friend.)
Right – so, with that, seriously – go see this movie. Is it a great movie? No. I just texted someone after leaving the theater and I said, “Hahaha! It was such a bad movie! And then it was so so good, and then it was so WHAT THE @#[email protected]$?!?” Bottom line, we need to encourage Hollywood to make more what the hell is happening here movies. But this thing is cratering so hard, you will need to see it three times to make a difference. So let’s get going people. We have our work cut out for us.
2019 Serenity Movie Quick Walkthrough
There is an entire cottage industry of films, made mainly in the 90’s and early aughts that seemed to rest firmly in the noir film space. (Including, I might add, the movie Unfaithful which Diane Lane acted it – making her part in this movie all the more mind blowing.) And that is what this movie is playing off of. It seems like a trite, kitschy, paint by numbers movie that is too cookie cutter for even Hollywood’s standards. Which is what alerted me to a twist coming right out of the gate. There has GOT to be more to this movie than meets the eye.
So let’s bang out the basics of this film. This is your standard, vengeful wife – stuck in a bad marriage, finds a poor schmuck to off her husband movie. You know, the kind where the schmuck thinks she’s fallen for him and they’ll live happily ever after, but doesn’t movies? Yeah, that’s the kind of movie we are talking about here. But that isn’t this movie. Nope. Serenity is a different movie from that entirely.
Then what is it? Well, McConaughey, playing the role of Baker Dill (anagram for ‘Bad Killer’, yes, seriously) is a very nearly broke fisherman. He is even turning tricks for Constance (played by Diane Lane) to make ends meet. But along comes Karen Zariakas (Anne Hathaway), Baker’s ex to enlist him in the role of schmuck. Why? Because Karen’s current husband, Frank Zariakas (played by Jason Clarke, from Knight of Cups), is a total and complete douche. A rich douche, but a douche all the same. And so Karen needs Frank to die, and who better to make that happen than her ex-husband Baker? And so she attempts to rope him in however she can. But it might be their boy, Patrick, that Baker might be swayed by the most in this equation. But we’ll just to see what happens on this front.
Now, let’s talk about Reid Miller. Reid is that curious fellow that might be confused for a butler that is seen whisking this way and that, always 20 seconds behind on getting to talk to Baker. Well, eventually Reid makes it to Baker, and he let’s him know that he is with a fishing supply company that wants to offer him an exclusive fish finder. Wait, a what? You know, like a sonar that will help Baker hunt his elusive tuna that he’s named Justice? Right. That kind of range finder. No. No, it shouldn’t make any sense yet. But it will. Sort of.
Let’s stop and think though for a moment. We’ve got the gorgeous ex reappearing in Baker’s life. We have the iconic abusive husband. We’ve got the stereotypical fishing supply executive that has been doing his best to give Baker this one of a kind fish finder to help him in his hunt. And you have a town full of people that always know everything that is going on. If that plot sounds so thin it might actually be a video game… you are heading in the right direction.
The Big Mindjob Right Hook of Serenity
Reid, the fishing mogul, lets slip exactly that. That? That, what? That they are all actually living in a video game. Yes, a video game that is actually being written by Baker’s son, Patrick. A game that he spends all his time on in order to feel closer to his father. You see, Baker, Patrick’s father, actually died years before in Iraq. Which, should explain A LOT of weird choices this movie has made from minute one. The cheesy acting of our damsel in distress. The 1984 Tubbs and Crockett routine of Matthew McConaughey in his role as Baker. (BAD KILLER FOR THE LOVE OF ALL!!!) It should explain the silly butler routine coming from Reid Miller. And it should explain all the admonitions of the town’s people as they attempt to thwart Baker from killing the last boss of the game, Frank. If you look at it from this perspective, things start to make a lot more sense. Not 100%, because there are a ton of really glaring flaws still to be investigated from this new vantage point. But I’ll get to those in a second.
And from here on out it all leads towards one inevitable conclusion, which is the death of Frank at the hands of Baker and Karen. Frank heads down to the docks for $10 tail, and gets all busted up. Karen and Baker have sex on the boat, because, of course, they do. And it’s up to Karen to convince Frank that he still needs to go fishing even after his head is all busted up. And it’s ultimately up to Baker to get past all the things tempting him away from killing Frank. Ultimately he does it by belting Frank in with the big tuna finally on the line, and ultimately Frank triple gainers into the water. But that death actually doesn’t even matter, because it didn’t really happen. No? Well, no, because we are living in the bowels of a video game dang it. I told you already.
So, let’s play this thought experiment out a bit… if the totality of this movie is 100% Patrick, building a video game in his bedroom, while Frank is beating Patrick’s mother senseless somewhere else in the house, then what is this all about? Then this entire movie is all about Patrick’s hatred for his step-father. It’s about Patrick’s grief over his real father. And as Baker, the video game character, completes the mission, in spite of all the hurdles place in his way, Patrick is now contemplating killing his father in real life. Which he does, by stabbing him to death.
The Serenity Movie Controversy
As I mentioned at the outset, this movie is being trashed in the news and in reviews left and right. McConaughey and Hathaway signed on to do a promotional tour for the movie. But at the last minute the movie’s promotional efforts were all scrapped by Aviron Pictures. But the actors find themselves in a bind. They can’t let the movie’s twist slip. And yet, the trailer makes the movie look like the epitome of stupid. So they are stuck in this horrible rock and a hard place dilemma.
But even so, I would argue that, even knowing the movie’s secrets, it logically doesn’t make sense, and finds itself halfway to the net. If my son were making a game about me after I died, I would hope he wouldn’t script in payments for sex from Diane Lane as a way for his father to get by. I also hope he wouldn’t script into his game steamy sex between his dead father and mother. I would hope he wouldn’t go into detail about his abusive stepfather’s predilections. The fish named Justice, and the fishing depth finder makes perfect sense to me. The NPC’s and the mission to get the fish or kill the father I buy. But the rest of it logically makes no sense for him to be writing a nineties film noir video game filled with sex with his parents and drunken debauchery? No. Not even a horny teenager is going to include his parents into his murderous revenge porn video game.
And so, while I agree with Anne and Matthew, that their video game/movie deserves more credit than it is getting, it doesn’t deserve a lot more. If that makes sense. Yes! I am excited that Hollywood took a chance on a mindjob of a movie script. And yes, I am so proud of these two actors for doing something experimental. But I would argue that the script is fundamentally flawed. It is caught in two different movie paradigms, trapped by its own illogic. While I did love the right hook mindjob twist in this movie, I don’t think it ultimately worked.
A Solution For The Serenity Problem?
Is there a spin, or a theory that could help piece this movie back together? Maybe an angle on this screenplay that would help make it make more sense? Hrmmm. What if, Patrick began writing this video-game when he was younger. Thirteen maybe. And the original intent of the game was born out of the day fishing with his father. The game allowed Baker to fish all day, and catch the fish he didn’t catch the day he spent with his son. OK. And that was really all it was about. Finding justice, and catching justice. (Yes, I am hearing what I am typing and just how lame that sounds.)
But then, our wünderkind adds an element of artificial intelligence to the game. He gives Baker an ability to think and to move within this world that Patrick has built for his dead father. And it’s from there that we get the sex with Catherine character for money. Never mind the cringiness of Patrick watching his virtual father sleep his way across town. And it is from the AI that we get this murderous thread running through the game. Similarly for Frank. Patrick has crafted personality trait scores for Frank to be a horrible individual, and then the AI just took over from there. Which brings about the strange amalgam of teenage cluelessness as well as carnality. Would that solve the glitch in the screenplay that is so obviously staring us in the face? Do you think that might excuse the bumpiness throughout the screenplay? Yeah, no, me neither.
I really have to say that this screenplay seems to be just a couple critical screenplay working sessions away from solving the major bugs in this script. (Maybe I’m being a little optimistic.) But even with the addition of the AI to solve these problems, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this movie in my Movie Recommendations list. Am I wrong on this point? What did you guys think of it? Below I’ve linked out a few bespoke recommendations that do tricky, way better than Serenity, and could have learned a thing or two from.
Edited by, CY
Bespoke Movie Recommendations