The film, A ‘Pitch-Dark’ Diorama, explores parallel worlds both real and fictional by examining a writer’s personal life and its effect on his characters.
Alas, if it were only that simple. Keep in mind this entire 2016 film, A ‘Pitch-Dark’ Diorama, is a creation, a work of fiction in and of itself. A novelist is deep in the woodshed attempting to finish his novel, Pitch-Dark. However, he meets an untimely demise. Another writer, a schlock novelist hack, enters the scene to finish the novel, Pitch-Dark. Within the novel, Pitch-Dark, the production of the movie, Pitch-Dark, is ongoing. Additionally, the characters in the movie, Pitch-Dark, have their own personal, albeit, fictional lives to attend to. Add to the mix, a detective investigating the murder of the young starlet featured in the movie, Pitch-Dark. Furthermore, a hard-boiled journalist remains skeptical of the second writer, the schlock novelist.
Are you having trouble keeping track of this? May I offer you a pen and paper? Perhaps a spreadsheet? What you really need is to see the film itself and then to think it over for a bit. See if you can put the pieces together. It is a challenge well worth the effort.
The film, A ‘Pitch Dark’ Diorama, is the work of Santosh M P, who both wrote and directed this movie. The film is set in Bangalore, India. Like the fine cuisine of that country, this movie presents an intriguing and spicy mix of multiple ingredients that result in a complex and savory whole. With time shifting and parallel universes, surreal and sometimes dreamlike, this sometimes also straightforward drama is certainly thought-provoking. Anyone needing their art spoon-fed to them should probably look elsewhere. Those that remain will find a satisfying and somewhat mystifying think piece that reveals its mysterious core as the movie progresses to its ultimate conclusion. As the schlock writer says, he is just looking for that perfect twist ending. But that is just part of the whole that makes up this very compelling and well done movie. It is no coincidence that the animated opening sequences of each section of the film are reminiscent of the psychiatric, Rorschach inkblot test.
The more time goes on, the more things seem to become the same. Bangalore looks very western in this film. The characters are much the same. Everything these days is universal and, in large part, people are the same everywhere. Jet travel, the internet, and the media, have homogenized the world. This film could easily have been set in New York or Los Angeles and not have missed a beat. The gritty detective investigation reveals that the people of Bangalore are no shrinking violets. But Rudyard Kipling knew that about the ancient country of India many years ago. Did you call Bangalore on your phone today?
Here are some questions to ponder if you need a Rosetta Stone or a flight of fancy to figure this one out.
Why does the sketchy lead detective have a bandage on his nose the entire film as well as those curling, pointy-toed boots? Does our writer and director, Santosh M P, fancy Chinatown and Breaking Bad? Is the bandage a metaphor for a wounded and/or damaged individual? Or does it mean he is going to fix things up and heal a wound, so to speak? Are the boots a signal of an elfin or perhaps mystical creature who has entered the proceedings rather than a real detective? And what is the deal with his assistants? He is clearly at the top of this pecking order from his car to his clothes to his way with the ladies. Is this a way of saying he is, in otherworldly ways, many steps beyond them? And what of the parallels between the schlock writer and the lead detective? Sketchy, amoral, out for a quick buck, they both seem certainly of a mercenary stripe.
This film is a good one to watch if you want to put your investigator hat on and solve a literary mystery or a movie mystery. Or is that a mystery movie that includes a movie mystery inside a literary mystery, including a detective mystery, a personal tragedy mystery, a publishing house mystery and a journalistic inquiry? Does this sound like JFK? Weird eyebrows are raised.
Is the detective us and are we the detective? Did the schlock writer save us from an unfinished demise, if not an untimely demise? And is an unfinished demise a fate worse than death? It could be, in the little world of two-hour universes. Perhaps we owe the schlock writer a big word of thanks for figuring out how to bring this untidy psychological mess to a reasonable and certain conclusion.
Who is the novelist’s girlfriend? She appears rather out of nowhere carrying some kind of very heavy baggage. And the hard-boiled journalist, who is also something of a wizened, mother-earth type, is she the detective in the parallel real fictional universe? Are her mother-earth tendencies there to leaven the harshness of the psychological drama unfolding everywhere else?
Somehow I can’t shake that detective. Something about him gets me. We need to keep an eye on him. He may be the key. He is certainly a better detective than the even more obtuse one in The Element of Crime. Admittedly, he is not bad at his job. But who is he and what is he doing? And who are we and what are we doing together? As he ascends the stairs at the end of the film we don’t really see his face. We see him ascending in his bizarre shoes, away and out of our lives for good. He did admit earlier in the film that he is a very unusual type of detective. Hmmm?
Sorry if I just presented you the Rosetta Stone from Hell. Oh, well. I think I need an ice cream sundae right now. With a cherry and sprinkles on top. Please.
As I said, this film is surreal and complex. There are many layers and levels. Parallel universes are supposed to run parallel. Right? What happens if they contemporaneously intersect? The idea of this movie is a unique one. As the real life dramas of the novelist play-out, so do the fictional life dramas of the characters making and playing in the movie, Pitch-Dark. In the novelist’s not-so-God-like and not-so-omniscient vision, his little diorama, his characters must react like marionettes on a string to his ever-deepening turmoil by parroting it in their own fictional lives. Destinies change with the push of the novelist’s delete key. The schlock writer, detached from the drama, wraps it up with a hack cliche and everyone is free to go on their merry way. Perhaps, it is all for the best. Nothing a pulp fiction writer can’t fix. Hey, he got paid, didn’t he? And now he’s on a book tour. It’s a win-win. The hack writer, like the detective, just wanted to close the case for everyone involved, including the viewer of the film. The schlock writer and the detective did what the novelist and the director of the movie, Pitch-Dark, could not do, although they more or less died trying. They finished it up.
For the YouTube presentation of the film, Santosh M P has elected to present it as a mini-series or web series. It is broken into five parts and each part has an introductory animated opening sequence, the aforementioned Rorschach inkblot-like animation. Then there is a good recap of what has preceded the installment in the series which helps the viewer to remember and catch-up. It can be viewed all at once or in installments.
The Vespertilio Motion Pictures website includes links to sites where you can watch the film, A ‘Pitch-Dark’ Diorama. This includes a link to the YouTube mini-series mentioned above as well as links to the mini-series on Vimeo and a link to the entire production as a feature film on BitTorrent Bundle. This very interesting website also includes still photos from the movie and a downloadable PDF of the screenplay. The link is below.
Santosh M P indicated to me that he has been, in part, inspired by the movement of Irish film director, Graham Jones, which is known as Nuascannán. For more on this important concept in film production, please see the link below.
Santosh M P has left much room for speculation in his even greater diorama, the film A ‘Pitch-Dark’ Diorama. This film requires room for one to think and to interpret. Why don’t you try to put your stamp on it? You never know what you might see or find. Perhaps this Rorschach inkblot of a movie will get your mind moving and churning and boggling. In a good way. Otherwise, I hear vanilla ice cream is really, really good. And soft, too. Either way, enjoy.