The other day I told you about the mindjob movie Color Out of Space. It was a horror thriller, with wide swaths of mental mindjobness that attempted to rearrange your neural pathways. Today I’m bringing you the more normal, corporate equivalent of that movie – The Wave. It tells the story of an insurance lawyer, Frank (played by Justin Long), who decides to take a night out on the town. But the night of celebration devolves into a mental nightmare after Frank imbibes in a hallucinogenic that completely upends his (and ours) perception of the world. So yeah, today we are talking about the crazy LSD infused mindjob The Wave explained.
When I worked the local video store desk during college, I had one go to winner that never failed. It was a movie that was called Mystery Date with Ethan Hawke. It was so bad, it was so campy good. It was sort of my The One I Love of today. My universal go to. But it was sort of a hyperreal, silly, over the top, date night movie, replete with the girl next door, mistaken identities, spies, assassination attempts – you know – the works. The Wave sort of comes from this same school of thought. It’s a throw everything at the wall, and see what sticks, sort of a movie. But the larger moral here is really fascinating – a worthwhile composition – that will make you think. That is, IF you can figure it out first. Because I had to sit and stare at a wall for a good ten minutes as I tried to make heads or tails out of this morality play. But maybe, if we sit and talk this one through in the comments section, we’ll collectively be able to understand this convoluted mindjob of a movie together.
The Wave Movie Walkthrough
The movie The Wave kicks off in such an annoying way, that if I didn’t have a clue as to where it was going, I would have bailed. You know the drill, wife is a nag. I’m a complete reprobate. And now I want to go out on the town with a buddy? That kind of a movie. Just utterly contemptible. But it turns the corner soon enough. The key here though is that Frank (played by the aforementioned Justin Long) has inadvertently slipped into being the most evil/vile human being anyone has ever met. He works as a big box lawyer who fights insurance payouts. You know, the insurance payouts that were purchased to save a family? Those. But he’s really good at ruining people’s lives – and doing it with great aplomb. And that, for Frank, is the meaning of life.
But when Frank’s coworker, Jeff (played by Donald Faison) recommends a night of celebration before his big presentation the next day, he eventually capitulates, and goes. Frank and Jeff end up at a crappy dive bar where they meet up with two women – Natalie (Katia Winter) and Theresa (Sheila Vand of The OA, Snowpiercer) – and Frank is immediately enamored with Theresa. He is in a horrible marriage after all, where his wife is just a belittling token of a cutout of a wife. After drinks, the foursome head over to a house party, where they split up. Theresa and Frank end up being offered a truly mystifying hallucinogenic drug offered to them by a scary drug dealer (played by Tommy Flanagan).
From here on out is where this movie starts to really get interesting. Everything is off the table from here on out. Relativity. Time. The entirety of physics as understood by Einstein and Hawking…gone. The trip that Frank goes on, it upends everything. Literally. He literally goes from taking the drug, to waking in the empty house the next morning. He has no idea what happened or how he got there. Worse, Theresa has completely and irrevocably, disappeared. The biggest problem for Frank though is that he is now currently late to his big presentation. Thankfully though, he makes it just in time to deliver an award winning presentation, and hold it all together (although only barely) in order to get the plaudits he was hoping for from his bosses. They do notice he isn’t doing well (what, Frank’s ability to stop time is weird? Huh.) and agree he should go home…and that Jeff should take him home. So Frank and Jeff go find Natalie and enlist her help in finding Theresa. And, as we go, the viewer is presented with one mind bending hallucinogenic trip after another.
I would detail every dead end, every juke and turn of this movie, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. Frank does come to realize that he is able to jump forwards and backwards in time. In an attempt to come down off his high, he ends up snorting, swallowing, and ingesting a metric butt-ton of of drugs. He then “inadvertently” steals a drug dealers stash, and ends up getting chased for the remainder of the film by said irate dealer. But ultimately, Frank’s goal is to find Theresa. To save her? To elope with her? We aren’t really sure. But it’s clear that Frank is pretty desperate to make this wrong right again. Even to the point of negating his marriage, and completely ignoring his wife’s histrionics for the rest of the film.
There are several interludes wherein Frank and Theresa find each other, but it’s as if Frank is tripping his hardest during these moments. The lighting is light as if they are both Galadriel from Lord of the Rings. Their eyes an explosion of light and starbursts. These moments are decidedly not real. That much is obvious. But what is going on here? Well, there are a number of quotes throughout the movie that give us tips and hints as we go. I mean, like for example, the number one biggest theme throughout the film is harmony – that the universe is all about balance. That Frank will learn, if only he would just pay attention. It’s as if Gandalf was trying to get Frank to shut up and listen for a moment. Then later, he stresses about whether or not he can do the right thing. But eventually he decides it was a lot easier to do the right thing than he could have ever guessed. But what is happening here?
Well, as the move careens towards the ending, he sees two key details as really important. One is when he watches a sign teeter and then crash down on someone inside a car. He stresses about having not tried to save the driver. But then later on he finds himself back in that moment…and he knows he has to run across the street and save the driver. So he does. But as he is crossing the street he is hit by a car. OK? That is the first one. The second one is the deal that he did at the outset of the film. He had figured out how to deny a massive claim, and null and void this insurance claim of a man who died of some sort of “pre-existing” condition. We all know this is wrong. Frank knows it. We know it. The law firm know it. They are just about bilking this claimant. And this begins to bother Frank, mainly because of Theresa’s promptings. As the movie winds down, he realizes that with his promotion he receives a very generous multi-million dollar policy that only Executives get access to.
Now, connect these two moments. Frank begins to grapple with the fact that he is most likely dying. Remember? The car crash? Right. So he decides the one right thing to do is to sign out his insurance policy to the family that he bilked. Balance. Harmony. The universe digs these sorts of things after all. The movie has been saying it to Frank more than I would care to enumerate. So, Frank does the right thing and makes this defrauded family the beneficiary. That solves the injustice thing, right? But his attempt to cross the street also speaks to a change of heart that was wrought in his soul by Theresa’s questions and proddings. And as the movie ends, with Frank dead, and his boss vowing to never payout the insurance to this particular beneficiary, karma makes one last play, and all the drugs that Frank stole earlier in the movie are discovered in the trunk of his boss’ car. Karma, after all, is a bitch. Or something.
The Wave Ending is One Big Mess
I had fun with this movie while I wasn’t thinking. If I ever tried to make order out of the madness though? It was all over. At some points it seemed like it might be a time travel buddy flick – like a happy go lucky Primer. But those hopes would be dashed when the LSD haze just slaughtered all sense, or semblance of order, or logic. At some points he’s jumping back in time. At others it’s just drug induced insanity, more like Mandy, Color Out of Space, or some such. And nothing really in between. But what happened? If you still aren’t sure…I’ll spell it out for you. (I’d prefer to give you options and theories to pick from, but there is only one option with this particular movie. And I have quotes from the creators of the film to solidify this truth.)
Frank is dying throughout most of the movie.
While on his drug bender, he ends up getting hit by a car. And while flying through the air, most of the movie is occurring. Remember when he wakes in the house and everyone is gone? Flying through the air. Time jumping? It’s all just a micro scale of his life flashing before his eyes. But the problem with that is extraordinarily material to both him and to you. If the movie is almost 100% him flying through the air as he dies, then it really is a very sad movie. Why? Well, because, though he was able to make a change to his insurance policy just before he dies, he wasn’t actually able to live a life that was anything but as a hard ass lawyer who stiffed vulnerable clients. Sure, he made the right decision right before he was struck by the car. But wow, what a sad life.
The really fascinating thing to me here is that from a spiritual standpoint, all that matters is that his heart attitude was in the right place before he died. And in that regard, the movie takes a very religious analogy and take on Frank’s mental state. Actually, it’s the story of Ebenezer Scrooge in a Christmas Carol! His life is flashing before his eyes…his horrible life. And as he is dying he is visited by the ghosts of his life, and in the last moment he makes the right spiritual decision to correct the wrongs and avoid the horrifying future awaiting him. Is that what is happening for Frank in The Waves? It literally only struck me as I was typing. Huh. Maybe? There are strong analogies for this to be true. Heck, I’m gonna go with it. I like it. I guess.
Edited by: CY