Over time, the Internet’s evolved into an indispensable tool rather than a trivial pastime. Millions rely on it for information, business and, for some, a lifeline to the outside world. Everything’s becoming digitized – music, movies, banking, even the way we relate to one another. Real-time human contact and meaningful human connections are becoming the exception rather than the norm, yet humans are social animals, so to supplement a sterile digital existence, we become voyeurs of “reality” television.
Instead of intense drama and jaw-dropping action, The Flick is like Big Brother in reverse. There’s no real plot, no winners, no losers, no heroes and no villains. A slow progression of ordinary people leading small lives and struggling through existence unfolds in a reluctant three plus hours.
Dean Paul Gibson directs Baker’s work at a deliberate, unhurried pace that forces the audience to extract themselves from the need for instant gratification and to focus on the quiet, suppressed anguish of each character.
The Flick takes place in a small Massachusetts one-screen picture house that still shows 35mm film. As movies are becoming digitized, the theatre and its employees serve as a metaphor for holding on to something that will inevitably go extinct.
Sam, the most senior employee, is an agitated, timid man who appears to have stalled in life, doing glorified janitorial work at the theatre. His disappointment at being passed over for promotion to the projectionist room by flirty, aggressive Rose is all the more pathetic when it becomes apparent that he has an enormous, unrequited crush on her.
Avery is the naïve new guy on the block, unprepared for workplace dynamics that reek of school-yard bullying and every-man-for-himself mentality. Between movie showings, we watch Sam and Avery cleaning the seats while exchanging bland banter about misbehaving patrons, disgusting clean up jobs and playing their version of six degrees of Kevin Bacon.
Rose floats above in the projection room – like a goddess – but descends to inject chaos between the two, in addition to her own insecurities. The characters act as if no one is watching and the theatre is their personal fun house. They are the kings/queen of the castle, but the digital age is coming.
Personal revelations are dropped along with unremarkable comments during each ensuing conversation. Immense moments of silence amongst the characters speak more profoundly than the words actually uttered. It takes a full, unsettling three hours to grasp the depths of despair harboured by each character.
Detachment in the workplace and a passing interest in coworkers’ lives only allow us to know them superficially. How we see them is only what they have allowed us to see and few prejudices are revealed through the veil of pretense. It’s no wonder that acts of violence in the workplace often take people by surprise.
A superb cast of actors are demanded in order to hold long silences and make them feel natural. Haig Sutherland’s Sam embodies all the pathos of an unfulfilled life yet his slack-jawed expressions tell us he’s become too detached to fight.
He clings on to his small dream of being a projectionist even though that job is going by the wayside. A coprophobic Avery is played squarely by Jesse Reid. Awkward, often wearing a dazed expression, Avery appears simplistic but Cook languidly peels off the concealed layers of despondency and aggression.
Shannon Chan-Kent saunters onstage as a confident, no-holds-barred Rose. Her brazen attempt to seduce Avery both shocked and awed the delighted audience. When Rose’s meager job becomes threatened, Chan-Kent skillfully exposes the minute chinks beneath her brashness and nonchalance.
Lauchlin Johnston’s remarkably realistic set is achieved via seats sourced from The Cinematheque and a borrowed 35mm film projector from The Ridge. The authenticity is disconcerting while sitting in the audience, staring at people, staring back.
The Flick provides no answers to the struggle of everyday people. Perhaps though, it raises some good questions about how we conduct our hurried lives and whether we are genuine to ourselves. Directed by Dean Paul Gibson, Annie Baker’s The Flick continues at Granville Island Stage through October 29.
Photos by David Cooper.