"Clerk Goes Berserk"
What You Need To Know:
ONE HOUR PHOTO is the latest in a long string of stalker movies. Robin Williams plays Sy, a photo clerk in a Wal-Mart type store, who processes one-hour photos. Sy is a meticulous worker, devoted to the quality of his photos and good service to his customers. He has developed a strong affinity for one family in particular, the Yorkins. Nina Yorkin, played by Connie Nielson, is a devoted and loving mother to her 9-year-old son. Nina’s husband Will is a successful businessman who is not really as devoted to the family as he should be, which is the trigger that sets Sy off on his dark pursuit.
Viewers may expect ONE HOUR PHOTO to be a rote, formulaic stalker film, but this film is more interesting and thought-provoking than that. All the characters, especially Williams, give very strong performances. The main problems with ONE HOUR PHOTO, besides the foul language, nudity and sexual content, are the movie’s humanist approach to problem solving, some references to Eastern religious, New Age philosophy and its display of disturbing, psychotic behavior. Also, a final family resolution scene may feel unsatisfying or unclear to some viewers
(H, B, Ro, Pa, O, FR, LL, V, SS, NN, M) Humanist worldview with moral elements such as slight acknowledgement of the destructiveness of sin or evil, family seen as important and good by several main characters, including psychotic antagonist, and infidelity condemned in appropriate and inappropriate ways, with Romantic elements such as characters ruled by emotions, and pagan, occult, New Age elements such as Eastern influence highlights book by Deepak Chopra book is highlighted and mother teaches son to “send good thoughts” to someone who is sad and needy; about 20 obscenities, mostly “f” word, and two profanities; brief violent moment as door is slammed open into someone’s head, child and child’s family ominously threatened and another very intense threat of violence includes implied sexual activity and some sexual poses; implied sexual activity, couple lies in bed and sexual act described by character; graphic photos of nude female, breasts and buttocks exposed, and couple lies nude in bed after committing adultery (soft lens effect); and, stalking, invading privacy and other miscellaneous immorality.
ONE HOUR PHOTO is the latest in a long string of stalker movies like PSYCHO, WAIT UNTIL DARK, or the more typical and modern FATAL ATTRACTION. With ONE HOUR PHOTO, director Mark Romanek tries to focus less on the violence expected when the stalker reaches his prey than on the reasons behind the stalker’s actions.
Robin Williams plays Sy, a photo clerk in a WalMart type store, who processes one-hour photos. Sy is a meticulous worker, devoted to the quality of his photos and good service to his customers. He has developed a strong affinity for one family in particular, the Yorkins, in his decade plus of developing their family photographs.
Nina Yorkin (Connie Nielson) is a devoted and loving mother to her 9-year-old son Jake (Dylan Smith). Nina’s husband Will (Michael Vartan) is a successful businessman who is not really as devoted to the family as he should be, which is the trigger that sets Sy off on his dark pursuit.
Director Romanek uses terrific camera work, lighting and set work to illustrate Sy’s disturbed, and disturbing, persona and psyche. He dresses him in beige polyester clothes that literally blend into his surroundings, along with beige Velcro shoes that disappear into the floor. Sy’s apartment is also almost completely devoid of color. Both his home and workplace are meticulously ordered (distractingly unrealistic for a huge discount store, but it sure is artistic). Sy waits on many customers, most of whom barely notice him or treat him with utter disregard, but what makes Sy’s day, and in fact his life, is waiting on Mrs. Yorkin.
One would expect ONE HOUR PHOTO to be a rote, formulaic stalker film, in which the bad guy wants to terrorize and harm his victims, but this film is more interesting and thought-provoking than that. Sy LOVES the idea of the Yorkin family and wants to protect it. Processing their photos over the years, he has even come to imagine himself part of the family, which the audience sees in scenes that are as touching as they are a bit creepy. Sy tells the audience that photographs depict the joyful times in the lives of people; that no one takes a photo of something they want to forget, and the audience watches him watch the Yorkins through their joyous family photos.
As Sy begins to work his way into the lives and paths of the Yorkin family, the audience discovers more (but not enough) about his past and begins to understand why he cares so much for this family. It is also revealed that the perfect Yorkin family isn’t really perfect after all. When two unexpected events dramatically change Sy’s world, he begins to take actions that bring the movie back in line with the more predictable plot the audience expects from such films.
Romanek did a lot of things right with ONE HOUR PHOTO. The cinematography, including some fascinating camera shots, underscored the characters world and mental state. All the characters give very strong performances, but the audience needs to know much more about them, especially about the marriage between Nina and Will.
There are several major problems with ONE HOUR PHOTO, besides the language and sexual content. First, the only non-humanistic approach to problem solving is based on the Eastern philosophy of Deepak Chopra, whose book is read by both Nina and Sy. At one point, Nina tells her son to “send good thoughts” to someone who is sad and needy. Also, an intense scene at the end of the movie goes much further than it needs to go, even in its implications. Finally, a final family resolution scene may feel unsatisfying or unclear to some viewers.
What ONE HOUR PHOTO will do, and could have focused on more, is make audiences think about people who, like Sy, are marginalized, abused and left out of the world. What is our responsibility as believers to reach out to these people and try to help them heal and bring them into the community of saints? Sy’s past is not, as the world often tells us, an excuse for his actions, but his past, as well as his sad, empty life, are something to give us pause and something the director should have explored further.
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