Music and sound design. Let’s start with the easy stuff first. Robert DeNiro’s character, Jack, is a parole officer at the local prison and as we follow him to work in the opening credit sequence, we’re met with an unsettling music score that I could only describe as “insect gurgles.” It’s mesmerizing and I instantly loved the tone, but it was not befitting of a prison drama at all, instead it phones home as sci-fi.
A flimsy piece of evidence, sure, until you pair it with the sound design that occurs through most of the film during establishing shots. The sound is of random religious talkshows fading in and out through static as if there’s a radio being tuned through a bunch of stations. Or, it also sounds like what you would get if you were to be up in space scanning through radio waves in search of intelligent life.
Dialogue and story points. Edward Norton plays Stone, a prisoner who’s been in the clink for eight years for helping in the murder of his grandparents. In his initial meeting with Jack he pleads to be put on parole so he can be with his wife, Lucetta (Jovovich), who has been helping prepare his post-prison life. When Jack asks about Stone’s wife, Stone replies “She’s an alien. An alien man.”
Stone is feeling uneasy, rightfully so, about his chances getting parole and decides to send Lucetta on a mission to seduce Jack. As she begins to ingratiate herself into Jack’s world, Lucetta initiates a bit of small talk with him by brining up the idea of magnet therapy and how it helps rid people of toxins: “It’s all the microwaves and cell phones - everything going through the air that we can’t see.” Um, science fiction much?
Eckankar: Experience the Sound and Light of God. While Stone waits to hear if his blackmailing plan is successful he bides his time looking for a way to ease his mind. First, he tries reading about Christianity, but when that proves uninspiring he discovers a pamphlet on a New Age-esque religion based on a real world religion called Eckankar. The idea behind it is that we can connect with God through sound and light. Suddenly, Stone is enamored by the idea and slowly begins to change into a much more subdued personality.
The other component to the religion is the idea that everyone starts off as stones and have to work their way up to become human beings. To me, this solidifies the idea of Norton’s character as being some sort of traveller, not a vagabond in the basic sense, but in the extraterrestrial sense. He knows and feels that he has another purpose, a bigger purpose and this strange religion has somehow unlocked it.
It isn’t just this one concept that brings him to his ultimate epiphany, however it’s his witnessing of a fellow prisoner dying infront of his eyes that finally makes Stone feel like he has succeeded in working his way up to the “next level.” Stone looks into the dying man’s eyes and as his life expires Stone suddenly flinches back as if something had been transferred between the two. Your typical prison shanking scene it is not.
It’s about Religion. Sure, taking any of the elements above on their own could define the movie as being about one man’s discovery of religion and becoming born again. However director John Curran deftly mixes all these elements into something that looks, sounds, and feels like science fiction. Take Scientology, it’s nothing other then a science fiction creation wrapped within the notion of God. Or the idea of The Force in Star Wars (with its proper noun capitalization and all) that turns the basis of religion into science fiction with Obi Wan as its Pope and Yoda as its Jesus.
There’s many more levels to this, but I’ll let this sit with you for now until I watch it again. Seriously, there’s a lot of stuff going on in Stone and I’m just starting to uncover the layers. All I know is that it out incepted Inception which makes it one of the best science fiction films of the year so far.
May the Eckankar be with you.