I think it’s already occurred to me, what doesn’t work about Mute is the fact that it doesn’t feel like a product of its own setting. Director Duncan Jones’s fourth feature film is a noir of many ideas, but never do they feel as fully realized as he wishes. For during the running time of Mute, all that I was wanting to say was that it kept reminding me of Blade Runner and as I sat there, it never left my mind – because I knew on the spot that I would much rather be watching said film. At least from watching Blade Runner, I get the idea that I’m watching ideas coming together, but considering the state in which Mute‘s production had lasted, it almost feels like it has no excuse to be so empty thematically. In fact, if this was Duncan Jones’s own attempt at being Blade Runner, it feels more like the complete opposite of Blade Runner.
Set in Berlin forty years from now, Alexander Skarsgård stars as Leo Beiler, the film’s mute protagonist. Being raised within a devout Amish family, he has trouble coping with the direction in which technology has advanced all through the years, with his mother having refused surgery for the muteness. From reading that alone, I’m still wondering why Mute has to be the way it is, because the most unnecessary details about Mute seem to be the ones that it presents as the smaller ones. Why is our protagonist Amish? Does he need to be mute? Or better yet, why is this film even set within the future? From the film’s production history, the impression that it leaves is that it feels like a clumsy mishmash of ideas that only were added in such a haphazard manner, because they never have time to breathe.
It’s hard enough to determine how these ideas are all breathing under the same roof because the story seems to be told in a series of puzzle pieces that don’t ever add up properly, because the very nature of its structure is so incoherent. By the time the climax comes, it feels like a wholly different movie has been added in, because it’s difficult enough trying to tell what direction Mute wants to go because of the subject matter that it tackles. But given as this is Duncan Jones, the son of David Bowie of all people, writing and directing Mute, it seems so strange that he’s also telling a story that feels so vaguely homophobic, made clear from an outright pedophilic subplot. What doesn’t help is that it simplifies such details rather than allow them to run their course, especially in the mute protagonist, for it seems played off like mere patronage rather than giving a dimension to the character in the way Sally Hawkins’s Elisa Esposito had carried in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water.
As expected from a Duncan Jones production, the visuals are fantastic, yet I can’t help but feel as if the environment itself is also not up to par. It just feels familiar, not in the best sense, but rather because you know the environment so well it also feels so strangely boring. There’s no wonder in looking around at a world that you feel you already know because of how much Duncan Jones wants to show that he loves Blade Runneror The Big Sleep. The worst part about this comes forth when it seems as if the film already misses out on why both films were made to be as engaging as they were, within the mysteries of their own stories or the world in which they inhabit – presenting itself like a labyrinth that tells you which way to go, only to go back on itself rather frequently.
Mute has the bearings of a great movie, but given as this is Duncan Jones’s fourth feature, I’m surprised to see that it feels more like an effort from an eager film student willing to show off his influences because it seems to have nowhere to go. It just feels so odd that this is where he’s come to after having brought us an impressive debut in Moon, but even from the very idea that this is supposedly told as a sequel to said film only goes to show how lost this film is within what it truly wants to be. But there’s already something more interesting to be told from Alexander Skarsgård’s performance, which isn’t bad at all, rather it just feels lost even trying to make sense of what goes on in the world around it, because it’s hard for me to tell whether or not even Duncan Jones knows that.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Netflix.
Directed by Duncan Jones
Screenplay by Duncan Jones, Michael Robert Johnson
Produced by Stuart Fenegan
Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 126 minutes