Friday, January 05, 2007

Review: The Dust Factory

I don't remember why I had The Dust Factory in my queue. It's about a kid named Ryan who falls off a bridge and drowns and finds himself transported to a sort of limbo world (the titular "Dust Factory") between life and death. Maybe it was the fantasy world that originally attracted me; I don't know.
Whatever it was, it unfortunately didn't connect with me when I actually saw the movie. The movie is about grief and it's very possible that I didn't get it because I haven't yet lost anyone really close to me. Ryan hasn't spoken since witnessing the accident that killed his father, so he's profoundly affected by that loss. His grandmother (to whom he was also close) has also recently died, but his grandfather -- who has Alzheimer's -- doesn't even seem to realize it. His mom is sensitive to her son's feelings, but she's remarried, so there might be some feelings of betrayal going on in this kid too, which would represent yet another kind of loss. Writer/director Eric Small obviously put a lot of thought into this theme.
Where the movie loses me is when Ryan arrives in the Dust Factory. It's a beautiful, quiet place that looks just like the world did when Ryan left it. His grandfather is there, and since he doesn't suffer Alzheimer's in the Dust Factory, he and Ryan are able to communicate and form a relationship for the first time. There's also a young girl named Melanie (played by Hayden Panettiere, the cheerleader from Heroes, even more under-aged here) who's been in the Dust Factory for a while and refuses to move on. People who tire of life in the Dust Factory are given the chance to go to a circus Big Top and try to complete a routine on the flying trapeze. If they complete it, they die permanently and are sent to the afterlife (the movie wisely never tries to explain what that is), but if they fall, they hit the floor in a cloud of dust and are sent back to the world of the living. Melanie is afraid of even trying and her distrust of the process rubs off on Ryan. And I guess that's what really has me scratching my head.
The Dust Factory is a beautiful place, but it's also a lonely one. Especially for Melanie before Ryan showed up. What's keeping her there? Since the afterlife is never defined, maybe it's a fear of the unknown. If you complete the trapeze routine, do you go to heaven, or hell? Or do you just cease to exist? I suppose those questions might keep someone off the trapeze bars. Or maybe it's fear of that fall that sends you back to the living. No one who takes that fall ever screams or seems to be in pain, but it's still got to be a pretty terrifying drop.
The thing is that Melanie never explains her anxiety about the process and Ryan buys into it unquestioningly. Maybe that's to make us think and ask the very questions that I'm asking here. I buy that explanation just because it's so apparent that Small didn't write this thing in a hurry. Everything seems deliberate, even if I'm not picking up on all the details. So, maybe my real problem is that I saw a movie that starred a couple of young teens and immediately expected something light and fluffy and easily explained, instead of the dark, complicated movie that The Dust Factory really is.
I'm still not saying that I liked it, but I'm also not willing to say it isn't good. It is a good film; just not what I expected or wanted. A second viewing might increase my appreciation for it.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails