Greatland review – (too) ambitiously weird Mad world

November 1, 2020
Alix Turner 0
Film, Film Reviews
2.5

Summary

A coming of age story and an allegory about a possible society to come. Looks bizarre, difficult to follow, but there might be depths worth finding.

2.5

Summary

A coming of age story and an allegory about a possible society to come. Looks bizarre, difficult to follow, but there might be depths worth finding.

Greatland is a fantastical coming of age story about Ulysses (Arman Darbo), who at the age of fifteen is obliged to follow ceremonies to enter society and receive an assigned offspring. His closest friend Ugly Duck (Chloe Ray Warmoth) is going through the equivalent process for female Greats, which involves being categorized into a lifelong caste. Ulysses learns a bit about how Greatland works and is not happy with where Ugly Duck is headed, determines to rescue her, and gets caught up in political chaos.

Underneath all that, Greatland is also a “farcical crash course in social engineering” and a political allegory. Everyone there is led – both reared and ruled – by the voice of Mother, and monitored by their wristwatches. The population doesn’t work and education – even reading – is frowned upon. A liberal approach to family and relationships has been taken to an extreme, with young people expected to marry trees or raise animals as their children.

Weirder than all that is the visual style of Greatland. I’m aware that writer/director Dana Ziyasheva was influenced by “the anima and animus surrealist imagery and the intransigent societal logic of A Clockwork Orange”, but to me, it was so busy and colorful in an over-the-top and camp sense that it was like Lazytown had been made in Fhloston Paradise. Incredibly intense to watch, I cannot imagine what the country might have been like to live in.

Granted, not all of the film took place in Ulysses’ home town: after he runs away to help his friend, he finds himself outside Greatland’s boundary, and amongst its true ruling class. This is where we encounter more sophisticated people, and a familiar actor or two, such as Eric Roberts and Bill Oberst Jr. Darbo is the one we see the most of, mind you: his Ulysses is utterly (yet in some ways reluctantly) accepting of this odd world and its customs, and understandably a bit lost at being thrust into adulthood. Young Darbo seems well cast for the role, though it is a demanding one, and it must have been difficult to maintain quality acting in such an abstract and bizarre setting.

I was lost too. If Greatland is an allegory (and I have no doubt it is), I couldn’t tell you what it is trying to say or represent. All I can say is that it is the way the Western world might turn out (in a dystopian sense) after a virus has taken hold; though this is not strictly COVID, as the film was written before the pandemic became widespread. As a simple fantasy romance, the film is perfectly engaging, but the society is way too bizarre (yes, even for me) and once the politics is introduced it becomes truly nonsensical. There is a Clerk who offers an explanation, just over halfway through, but I’m afraid that didn’t help me.

Greatland could become a cult film, just as Eurotrash was a cult TV show: flamboyant and brash, without much substance. Maybe. There’s no way to know at this stage if it could be just a fleeting novelty. I’m inclined to think I could find greater meaning if I watch it once or twice more. I’m not prepared to take the risk that it could just give me a headache though.


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