On average films about writers tend to be interesting whereas those focusing on the actual process of writing… not so much. Let’s face it writing can be a tedious task with lots of time spent staring at a blank page (or computer screen). Third Person is the latest film by director/writer Paul Haggis. The cast is made up of a virtual who’s who of talented actors including Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Maria Bello, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Kim Basinger and Adrien Brody. Third Person is made up of three interlocking plot lines each taking place in different locales: Italy, New York, and Paris. The common link tying the entire film together is the character of Michael, a writer struggling to complete his new book.
Third Person attempts to follow a plot structure similar to that of Haggis’ 2004 Oscar winning film Crash. As the movie progresses viewers become increasingly aware that the three seemingly unrelated storylines not only share many of the same themes and symbolic elements but are also interconnected in some way. Of course exactly how and why this is true remains a mystery until the movie’s heartbreaking ending.
One of the major themes of Third Person is that of loss, both in terms of being a lost soul as well as the tragic experience of losing a loved one. Each of the storylines prominently features characters who must cope with the tragic loss of a child. With that in mind it’s easy to see why each storyline seems to be haunted by memories of the past. Third Person depicts an array of characters all struggling to find a way to deal with feelings of guilt, sadness, and nagging regret.
Perhaps the biggest revelation in Third Person is the performance of Olivia Wilde. At various points in the movie her character, Anna, is depicted as being complex, distant, fun loving, secretive, cruel, seductive, damaged, cold, and vulnerable. When she realizes that Michael actually loves her, for example, Anna mocks him by sarcastically responding, “How can you be so weak?” Later on in the film after telling her how much he loves her smile Michael adds, “I know what that smile costs.” This singular line of dialogue provides a brief yet poignant peek into the true character of this complicated woman as a wounded human being struggling with her own inner demons.
Third Person has its fair share of flaws; one of them being its length. Unfortunately this is due in part to the fact that the filmmaker has included a number of meandering, pointless, and confusing plot twists. The movie features an array of red herrings which lead nowhere. Another problem with the film is alluded to within the actual narrative. During a scene in which a writer’s work is being critiqued the material is described as being about, “Random characters making excuses for their lives.” For better or worse perhaps this sums up Third Person.
Despite its problems, however, Third Person is a compelling film that keeps viewers guessing right up until the final frame. But when the credits begin to roll and the theatre lights go up some film goers are certain to find themselves left with a lingering sense of disorientation along with a number of unanswered questions. Indeed in order to truly appreciate its complexity Third Person requires viewers to take a little time to digest the material. In the end it’s worth the effort.
Third Person is out December 2 on DVD.