The Surface was written and directed by Saul who normally directs short films. His two recent, Go-Go Reject and Adults Only, were about two aspiring artists. One involved an aspiring dancer. The other involved an aspiring photographer. In this film, Saul sets his sights on an aspiring filmmaker. That filmmaker is Evan, a lanky, long-haired, college student who comes across as a little bit depressed. He seems disconnected slightly, especially from his current boyfriend. Yet, he also seems desperate to make a connection or express something. He makes a drunken rant about the Pacific Ocean with random people that speaks to this.
Saul gives insight into Evan’s head through narration. We hear a voice-over of Evan who believes he wouldn’t know his own family if they lived next door because he never met them. He also wonders what it would be like to see himself as a child. He says he was abandoned like an animal. This is juxtaposed with Evan swimming in a pool. The opening is in fact Evan floating alone in water, reinforcing this idea of him being adrift in his life.
It’s not until later when Evan is talking to his new boyfriend that it’s revealed that the voice-over narration was pointing toward Evan being an orphan and growing up in the foster care system, literally not knowing his own family. Yet, it’s through the introduction of Evan’s new boyfriend Peter, played by Michael Redford, that he can perhaps rectify things.
Evan wonders what it would be like to see himself as a child. He knows he can’t. Instead, he purchases a 8mm movie camera from Peter’s father. He even is given old, home movies of Peter as a child. Evan watches these home movies obsessively. It’s not a stretch that Evan is perhaps envious. The idea that these home movies exist represents something Evan never had, a loving father who cared enough to capture his son’s childhood, creating a bond or a connection that Evan desires.
That desire is later transformed into sexual desire. His eye for Peter is unmasked during the first time Evan turns the 8mm camera on the much older man. The overly romantic view may be too overly romantic as we delight in the warmth and beauty, and perhaps loneliness of Peter, this handsome, gingerly soul. Peter isn’t depressed, but Evan’s presence in his life awakens him. Evan’s film about Peter is titled “Memory,” which non-ironically awakens memory in Peter, buried memory, and Redford portrays that awakening with quiet heartbreak, as he is a man also dealing with loss, not on one but on multiple levels, and is quite sympathetic.
This sympathy is undone a little within a very interesting and cinematic moment that Saul crafts. It’s nothing too complicated, but a scene, which has Peter taking off his clothes in slow motion, isn’t Saul being gratuitous, somewhat prurient or leering at Redford’s partially nude form. Saul brings in dialogue from the next scene underneath Peter as he slowly disrobes. Listening to the words, it becomes clear that Saul isn’t just undressing Peter physically but undressing him emotionally or psychologically, an undressing that doesn’t just start in that moment.
Peter reveals that he believes people come and go and that he’s fine with it. He accepts it. Given Evan’s history or lack thereof, he secretly is the opposite. Evan doesn’t accept it. He wants something stable, something permanent, a family, and Harry Hains, the Australian model-turned-actor in his feature debut, embodies Evan and perfectly conveys this desire, this envy, this depression and this lost feeling.
In an interview with Hains, he told me that as an immigrant who came to Los Angeles after bouncing around other countries first, he identifies with this lost feeling. Hains gave up a pre-med track and the chance to be a doctor to pursue acting. In real-life, Hains isn’t as disconnected from his family as his character, but Hains describes Evan as a drifter and “looking for his place in the world,” which could describe many people, including Hains himself until 2014.
Read the article where I interviewed Saul and Redford about the making of this movie.
Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 19 mins.
Check out The Surface now available on VOD and DVD.
For more information, go to the film’s website, TheSurfaceFilm.com.