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Tape

Tape is the latest in a string of films that have managed to make me feel uncomfortable, hitting too close to home while I’m left wondering where home is. It’s a real-time exposition from Richard Linklater, whom I am most familiar with due to Waking Life, and the similarly rotoscoped A Scanner Darkly. The entire film is comprised of three characters physically present, with a framework of historical reference slowly built through dialog and character study. I am always a fan of solid real-time expositions, because they are nearly forced to implore the mundane as a critical element.

Tape does this well - there were very few times where I felt strain on the narrative as a result of the passage of time. In fact, the only strain I did notice was part of the experience - when our characters start retreading familiar threads.

The three characters in Tape lounge in the hotel room.

While each character’s motivation is carefully explored, Ethan Hawke’s Vince continually prods at a familiar hopelessness revolving around his purposes. Jon, which happens to be Robert Sean Leonard in a familiar role for anyone who’s seen _House _(not just in mannerism), is prodded in the meantime, pushed from a stable position in his society to an unstable state, which in turn vaguely relates to the questionably dark moments lying in his past. The majority of the film is spent with these men, and every once in a while Vince pushes his experience into new realms with his habitual intake of various illegal substances, coupled with alcohol.

Vince drinks a beer, looking up to the viewer.

Vince’s actions, although drastic, do not seem at all far-fetched. The conversation in Tape is, for the majority of the movie, very believable. I appreciated feeling somewhat as though I was amongst familiars, because it provided just enough comfort to be able to fall in to the narrative’s conflict and take sides, swaying back and forth between Vince and Jon as they each make points, all of which seem to hold at least a sliver of credibility when considered through the correct lens. I found myself looking through many different viewpoints as the narrative progressed, which is one of the experiences that I enjoy looking to film for - quite plainly, it’s an enjoyable experience to have the mind stimulated, and Tape does it well, if you let it happen.

Amy looks suspicious.

Near the end of the film, the dialog becomes increasingly confused as many of the primary emotions present come to their crux, but as every character reaches this point at a different time the levels of energy present in each provide a surprisingly effective balance throughout the end sequences. None of the ideas brought forth are that complex, but watching the characters try to present their cases is what brings the viewer closer to each of them. This is where the acting in Tape truly shines - each character gave me the impression of being fully realized, rather than containing some lost potential. Jon seemed like the least realized character, although it did not detract from the overall quality.

Vince causes Amy to shy away.

Amy’s presence introduces a cringe-worthy state of affairs given Jon’s potential sexual misconduct with her, but neither of the characters have the ability to communicate directly about it. I was surprised when even Vince, who planned their interaction, could not even communicate entirely directly about the situation. The observation of our unwillingness to confront issues directly is made particularly hard to watch, and convinces me personally of the harmful nature of the boundaries that currently exist in our interaction. It’s not a new concept, but a large part of the film is dedicated to displaying exactly that; it’s a playful way of illustrating time-wasting by wasting time, for what better way is there? But it’s a bit more complicated in Tape, because we are left in a gap where not only do our characters tip-toe around issues, but they also are working with questionable motivations that, even if they seem obvious, always leave the question of their true complexity partly unanswered.

Vince looks suspicious.

Vince's hand pushes a tape toward the viewer.

These issues are pushed toward the viewer, much like Vince pushes the recording of Jon’s admission on him. He is pushing everything on everyone, a true force in lives that otherwise could go on much as they were. He continuously latches on to ideas that seem admirable to him in a desperate struggle against his shallow undertakings, and does what he can to implement them. Why shouldn’t he? To avoid disruption? To be nice? The question of his ultimate value is hanging in the air after the credits roll, and we’re not left with resolution but with only the consideration of the events that took place. Yet another reason I appreciate the real-time aspect of the film - we get our finale, but what has it accomplished? Certainly Vince has affected the lives of others, but to what extent? We saw everything that happened, but have only the fragments of data that were laid out for us by the characters - it’s a puzzle to be put together based on considerations of the outlooks of each, and though it may seem easy enough there’s always the question of whether we forced pieces together in the wrong fashion.

John looks exasperated.

The cinematic quality of Tape is something that I unfortunately deprived myself of. I watched it on a Wii with Netflix, instead of utilizing my computer monitor as I should have. When returning to search for some of the stills I wanted to present, I was immediately hit with a different visual tone, and it was clear that I missed an important aesthetic because of the size of the screen I watched it on, which was too small and not authentically wide. Even looking at the stills I captured it’s clear to me that I need to utilize a higher resolution for my primary viewing from now on. Someday I’ll be able to project for myself, but until then…

Rating: Worth Seeing