This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Duncan Jones
Films that take place in the future usually, per my experience, either show a desirable dreamworld full of technologies one could only wish to have, or a nasty, polluted dystopia that appears to be overcrowded and a little terrifying. I had yet to see a movie where aspects from both extremes were combined, not to mention one that threw in an Amish character for good measure. That is, until I saw MUTE.
MUTE, a Netflix original directed by Duncan Jones, tells the story of a mute Amish man named Leo living in a futuristic Berlin with his girlfriend. When she mysteriously disappears, he begins to scour the entire city, confronting some rather dangerous criminals. While he’s only directed six films, Duncan Jones has been around for a while, his first directing credit dating back to 2000. MUTE is Jones’s first film since the death of his father, the late David Bowie. This is also his first film since WARCRAFT, a film that failed terribly in the US box office. He’s proven that he does wonders for the indie genre with films like SOURCE CODE and MOON, so after his sporadic jump into a huge multi-million dollar tentpole, Duncan Jones took it back to his indie roots and delivered a beautiful cyberpunk story.
A still from a scene in MUTE. Look at that coloring. Future, but not too future, ya know what I mean?
There are several characters and plotlines in MUTE that don’t interlace for a long time. There is Leo, two AWOL American combat medics, and several wealthy and powerful businessmen who either make their living honestly or dishonestly, from club managing to brothel running. Throughout the film, all of these various plot lines are introduced and intertwine in ways that are subtle and a little hazy. Because of this, transitions between scenes and storylines are a little difficult to follow. However, all is revealed in a twist that had me—pardon my millennial vernacular—shook. I did not see it coming in any way, shape, or form, and every storytelling decision that I was questioning suddenly made sense right at this point. Also, with Leo being ridiculed for being mute and Amish and gay and transgender individuals having to do dirty deeds in the night, this film suggests no matter who you are and in what century you’re in, acceptance is always necessary. How can I have a gripe against that?
For movies set in the future, several liberties can be taken with special effects. That being said, they still have to make sense within the world. Never do MUTE’s special effects look ridiculous. I was completely able to suspend my disbelief and engross myself within the story. I was never pulled out of it. The cinematography itself was simple, yet shockingly effective. The framing was subtle, yet enough to convey the meaning it needed to. In a sci-fi flick such as this, complex camerawork would have been too much for the eye. The decision to tone it down is a brilliant one. The only technical problem I found was in the acting. The two AWOL men (Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux) and Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) were the only truly efficient actors in the whole film, and one of them doesn’t even speak. Everyone else caused me to withdraw from the story every now and again. That being said, it remains my one complaint.
Okay, maybe Paul Rudd’s facial hair is another complaint I have . . .
MUTE is surely among the better sci-fi films I’ve seen in a while, with plots lines that keep you guessing throughout the whole thing. It emcompasses themes of acceptance without being needlessly sappy. In fact, it can get pretty dark. A film that’s dark yet preaches tolerance could have a creepy and kooky ADDAMS FAMILY vibe. However, MUTE avoided that and made a gem of this topic and the cyberpunk genre thanks to the technical and plotline decisions. One may have to stick with it for a little bit to understand what it going on, but I promise you, it is entirely worth it.