An essay about unconscious drivers.
So you burgle an artist’s high-spec, luxury penthouse apartment, the heist goes wrong, and you get trapped inside; on the face of it, that’s the extent of the plot. Yes, director Vasilis Katsoupis managed to make an hour and forty-five-minute movie out of a story that essentially centered around one man’s attempt to survive, cope with, and escape from this grueling predicament that he found himself in.
I watched this film a week ago, and initially, I wasn’t going to write about it because, at the time, I didn’t feel like it made a significant mark. However, last night I watched ‘A Walk in the Woods’ and it suddenly dawned on me that in the space of seven days, I had watched two totally opposing movies.
Rewind for a minute back to 2017, to a psychoanalytic psychotherapy session I had as part of some training I was doing at the time. There I was, sitting on the couch with my back to the therapist, in true psychoanalytic fashion, when he said to me,
“I wonder why you feel drawn to watch programs of that genre?” He was making reference to a series of prison documentaries I’d been watching.
“You do realise you don’t watch anything by accident, don’t you?” He quizzed me.
“Everything you do is determined by an unconscious driver. Everything.” He continued.
“Even down to the television you choose to watch. You don’t control your decisions. You might think you chose those prison documentaries, but you were unconsciously driven to choose them.” His words have forever stuck with me.
And here I was again, drawing upon that conversation, wondering why on earth a week ago I’d been watching a film about being totally confined, compared to the film I’d just finished, which had been about a person’s complete freedom.
Nemo, the lead character from ‘Inside’ played by Willem Dafoe was confident. Secure in his ability to commit a high-profile theft, and trusting in his remote partner who was audibly guiding him through the process. As confident as you or I would be engaging in a regular day at work.
But, the moment the apartment-tech failed and caused the system to malfunction, was a moment that hadn’t been planned for. Tech failure: doors bolting themselves shut, disabled intercoms, loss of phone signal, and entrapment weren’t part of the plan. A horrifying moment of realisation dawned upon Nemo as he registered his new reality; he was – ‘Inside’.
Naturally, he looked around the place to seek an alternative exit, but there was no hope. The apartment, which resembled the Tate Gallery, was more like a bank vault than a conventional home. Designed to keep people out, it didn’t lend itself to accidental confinement.
Everything was run by technology. The locking system, the intercom, access to water, the temperature, the household appliances, everything.
Nemo rapidly realised he’d have to survive alone, whilst trying to figure out how to escape.
There were some foolish ideas:
- Trying to scream for help through a soundproof door.
- Trying to break bullet-proof widows by throwing things at them.
- Starting a fire, to set off the smoke alarm, which did nothing more than active sprinklers, drenching the entire apartment.
There were some clever ideas:
- Leaving pasta to sit in cold water for several days so that it became soft enough to eat, so as not to starve.
- Collecting irrigation water from the indoor garden, so as to survive.
- Forming mental connections with maintenance staff through the one-way surveillance system, so as not to feel alone.
There definitely seemed to be more questionable decisions than rational ones!
There were also some questionable gaps in the movie’s storyline:
Why did the advanced technology not alert the authorities to the break-in? Was that simply because it malfunctioned before it had a chance to?
Why did Nemo make so many counterintuitive decisions? Perhaps that’s what happens when a person faces total desperation square in the face, for days on end.
Why did Nemo seem determined to cause as much damage and destruction to the apartment as his time there unfolded? Was that just a passive reaction to how angry the situation was prompting him feel?
What relevance did Nemo’s wall drawing have to anything? Katsoupis made a point of making it significant to the viewer, but what on earth did it mean?
Then there was Nemo’s escape.
For the duration of the film, Nemo had been gathering items of furniture from around the apartment and had been piling them in the middle of the living room, underneath a skylight, many feet up in the air.
The pile was by no means sturdy, I mean he fell from it once in the film, which for anyone outside of Hollywood would have broken at least one bone, if not their spine. Could Nemo really have survived that fall!!
And, would that pile have really held up for the time it took him to dig out the skylight? Which was days, hours of him chiselling away. I don’t for a minute believe that it would have, nor do I believe that he would have had the strength to dig through a concrete ceiling, with his arms outstretched above his head in that way, when he was severely malnourished, thirsty, and either sweltering or shivering.
So, not only was there an endless supply of technicalities that one could raise an eyebrow to, but you’re left wondering: what’s the point of the film!
There were a number of subtle inferences throughout the movie, which made you question if there was a deeper message.
- There were many close-ups of the art within the apartment and I questioned if there was a second storyline that I’d altogether missed.
- There was a scene (a vision, or a dream) exploring the former professional relationship between Nemo, and the artist whose home he’d broken into. However that was so subtle, I didn’t really grasp that either.
- I couldn’t tell if the woman from the dream was the same woman who’d been seen cleaning the apartment building on the CCTV cameras, or if that was just a casting coincidence.
- I didn’t understand the significance of the artist’s self-portrait being a replica of his dead body. But then perhaps I wasn’t meant to, was that simply art?
- Did we at one point see the artist in the foyer of the apartment block? And if so, why was he only shown in the foyer? After having been away for days, why did he not come up to his apartment? And, if it wasn’t him, why did they use an actor who looked so similar?
As I’m writing this now, I’m suddenly wondering if I’m joining the dots.
There was another, more conventional self-portrait hanging on the wall of the living room. Within it, the artist can be seen standing in his living room, with his daughter. They were both staring directly out of the painting as if watching what was occurring inside the apartment.
In another room of the house, there is a somewhat chaotic painting, which appears to have Nemo’s face hidden amongst the endless other doodles.
Had the artist foreseen Nemo’s burglary plan / had the artist prompted Nemo’s plan?
Either way, had the artist enticed him, drawn him in, lured him into his gallery-like home intentionally? Had the artist knowingly to himself, unknowingly to Nemo, become Nemo’s unconscious driver?
Had Nemo been blindly thinking he was in control of the decision to steal from the artist, when in fact, all along, unconscious forces in the form of the artist were pre-determining all of Nemo’s actions?
Was the entrapment being recorded by the artist?
Was ‘Inside’ just the artist’s latest piece?
Was Nemo a feature of a piece of art?
Was this art, within art, within art?
If the answers to my questions are yes, then this is a remarkably clever film!
If the answers are no, then I don’t know what on earth I watched other than an ill-equipped thief, making a terrible job of a burglary, with a highly questionable sense of self-preservation, who quite frankly made an almost unbelievable escape for survival.
In the world of therapy, we don’t have the luxury of knowing any more than the narrative we are given by the client. In this instance, the movie has become my client.
Right now I have two choices:
- End this essay as a therapist, and remain in a grey space, with my two potential hypotheses. Unknowing.
- Research the film to uncover if indeed my unconscious driver theory (or a version of it) was correct.
I’ll leave you guessing as to which I option I chose.