"Pretentious, Self-Indulgent Junk"
THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is silly, slow and ultimately pointless. It’s supposed to be some kind of arty crime thriller, but there are no thrills, only cryptic, indulgent ambiguities and character sketches that are never really resolved.
The cryptic story, such as it is, involves a laconic African or Caribbean man who is hired to help some mysterious crime syndicate smuggle some diamonds in Spain. The lone stranger travels around Spain making contact with various people. He usually meets them at various cafes, where they exchange small matchboxes after saying coded dialogue. The people he meets often indulge in meaningless one-sided conversations while the stranger listens wordlessly.
Inside the matchboxes the stranger is given are a series of tiny papers with numbers on them, which the stranger seems to memorize, then eat. Only in one of the other boxes do viewers see that there are diamonds. Once, a completely naked young woman with black glasses appears in his room, but the stranger says he abstains from sex when he is on a job.
Eventually, the stranger’s journey ends in two murders, including an apparent act of revenge, but nothing is explained, including the mysterious numbers or the reasons behind the murders.
THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is purposely weird and mysterious. Several stars, including Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton (the White Witch in THE CHORNICLES OF NARNIA), make cameo appearances. Playing the black stranger is a virtual unknown, Isaach De Bankolé.
Jim Jarmusch, the writer and director of this gratuitously cryptic mess, who also worked with Bill Murray on BROKEN FLOWERS, says in the production notes that three things influenced his movie. The first one is William S. Burroughs’ essay “The Limits of Control” which says that words and perceptions are how people control things. The second is the Lee Marvin movie POINT BLANK about a very controlled professional criminal who finds himself in chaotic situations “antithetical to his own meticulous procedure.” The third is Buddhist philosophy, especially the notions that “everything in the universe is one thing” and “the only thing we have is the present moment.” The black stranger intently practices Tai Chi moves throughout the movie. In another scene, a female flamenco dancer performs similarly slow movements with her hands as she dances. It should also be noted that the movie suggests that reality is arbitrary and ultimately meaningless. Tellingly, the director also says he is more concerned with character rather than plot.
Of course, most of these ideas are not really connected. Also, by providing only a minimal plot and vague characterizations to connect them, Jarmusch ultimately leaves the viewer bored and uninterested. Furthermore, he never gives some of these ideas, especially the Buddhist ones he mentions, a strong moral or spiritual foundation to connect them, except for the nihilistic piece of dialogue that reality is arbitrary and, hence, meaningless and a rather vague attack on American capitalism and imperialism (Bill Murray’s American businessman appears to be behind most of the cryptic criminal events in the plot). Finally, as Aristotle notes, the characters should support the plot rather than the other way around. Naturally, if both your characters and your plot are vague, cryptic, mysterious, and repetitious, then your whole work suffers irreparable damage.
No wonder this movie is such a mess!!! Ultimately, not only the plot and the characters, but also the nudity, the ending, the brief foul language, and the implied and depicted violence are gratuitous, pointless, meaningless, and anti-climactic. What Jarmusch mistakes for art and cinema is just pretentious, self-indulgent junk.
(HHH, APAP, AcapAcap, B, C, LL, VV, SS, NNN, D, MM) Very strong nihilistic, humanist worldview ultimately involving criminal activity and revenge and saying reality is arbitrary and, hence, meaningless, with strong but brief implied anti-American and anti-capitalist content, plus a side character says God only knows and there are one or two references to Christianity in Spain; 14 mostly strong obscenities and two strong profanities; depicted strangling by a guitar string and an implied murder; depicted exhibitionism by completely naked, young woman who offers herself to protagonist but he says, “Never when I’m working”; shots of completely nude young woman in several scenes, but some groin shots are obscured by plastic, see-through raincoat; no alcohol; smoking; and, implied revenge, vague criminal activity, assassination, and a nihilistic statement “reality is arbitrary” is repeated.
THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is silly, slow and pointless. It’s supposed to be some kind of arty crime thriller, but there are no thrills, only cryptic, indulgent ambiguities and character sketches that are never resolved. The cryptic story, such as it is, involves a mysterious black man involved in some kind of criminal enterprise. He meets various people in cafes across Spain. He gets small matchboxes containing tiny papers with cryptic numbers, which he then eats. One of the matchboxes he gives to a person contains tiny diamonds. Eventually, the stranger’s journey ends in two murders, including an apparent act of revenge, but nothing ever is explained.
THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is purposely weird and mysterious. Several stars, including Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton (the White Witch in THE CHORNICLES OF NARNIA), make cameo appearances. Playing the black stranger is a virtual unknown. The movie is clearly more concerned with character rather than plot. Both, however, are purposely vague, cryptic and mysterious. Ultimately, not only the plot and the characters, but also the nudity, the ending, the brief foul language, and the implied and depicted violence are gratuitous, pointless, meaningless, and anti-climactic.