In the Dark

Transcendence, Anyone?

The Man Who Wasn’t There
Produced by Working Title Films
Directed by Joel Coen
Screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen
Released by USA Films

2001: A Space Odyssey
Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick
Distributed as a re-release by Warner Bros.

Of the many films I’ve seen recently, including the inoffensive but terminally mild Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, only two require extended comment: Ethan and Joel Coen’s The Man Who Wasn’t There and the re-release of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The first deals with a barber leading a life of quiet—no, silent—desperation in the grimly black-and-white city of Santa Rosa, California, in 1949.  The second is an alternately sublime and satiric imagining of the course of human evolution from apes to astronauts.  Despite their obvious differences, these films are thematically united: Both focus on human beings turned robotic by social forces they barely comprehend.  And, in both films, this state of stunned conformity becomes a prelude to an almost unseemly hunger for transcendence.

The Man Who Wasn’t There is a clever, provocative homage to James M. Cain.  Character...

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