Hollywood is in the business of entertainment. We all know that.
But occasionally filmmakers turn their attention to more serious topics of social importance like mental illness.
The latest film on this subject is the debut, independent film The Sound of the Wind from 25-year-old writer-producer-director Jared Douglas, now available on virtual cinema.
It tells the fictional story of Lucio a troubled young man with a bag full of money on the run from people, either real or imagined, who he believes are after him.
The theme of someone being chased is a familiar one in the history of cinema. It’s simple and straightforward and deeply psychological.
When you think about our collective psyche tracing back to the dawn of mankind (and our even earlier ancestors) there is nothing more terrifying and existentially threatening than being pursued by something that wants to kill you and perhaps devour you. It’s the stuff that nightmares are made of. We’ve all had them.
So we can identify with Lucio and his dilemma when the films opens and he is already desperately seeking escape and shelter in the darkness of night.
He’s terrified. And even the emotional pleas from his wife and his love for his young daughter can’t seem to save him from himself.
It’s a dark, frightening journey, inspired by some personal experiences from Jared Douglas’s life.
His stated purpose in making The Sound of the Wind was to shed some light on the issue of mental illness and address the stigma that sometimes prevents people from talking about it or seeking help.
Christian Gnecco Quintero plays Lucio in what amounts to a single character story.
The camera relentlessly follows him every step of the way, never glancing away or cutting away when you expect it might. In the repeated sequences in which Lucio’s wife tries to frantically reach out to him over the phone, the camera stays unflinchingly with Lucio.
It’s an intense approach and a daring one that puts so much burden on the man playing Lucio and the audience watching him throughout.
While he encounters other characters they offer little distraction from Lucio’s plight as he sinks deeper and deeper into his state of paranoia.
The theme is dark. And everything in the movie underscores that mood of darkness and depression.
The lighting is gritty and raw.
Scenes are scarcely illuminated with the exception of minimalist slivers of light. You’re reminded a little of the shots of Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now ominously moving in and out of the shadows.
There are occasional scenes that push the envelope even further by being rendered in almost total darkness.
And then there is the sound of the wind, as the title suggests, underscoring the threatening mood of being watched and followed.
The sound design supplements the stark visuals. In particular, the eerie sound of the wind reminded me of that famous scene in The Silence of the Lambs when Clarice painfully recollects her childhood memories about the slaughtering of the lambs.
It’s a scene that I’ve never really stopped thinking about.
While many directors might have chosen to actually shoot these horrible flashback scenes and serve them up to the audience, Jonathan Demme resisted the temptation, knowing that what the audience might imagine might be far more disturbing than anything he could put on the screen.
The only element that he adds to the unwavering extreme close-up of Jodi Foster’s face is the sound of the cold howling wind.
I’m not comparing The Sound of the Wind to an Oscar-sweeping movie like The Silence of the Lambs, but there are moments here where elements like these are utilized very effectively.
Like Jared Douglas, Orson Welles also made his debut film at the age of 25.
I am referring, of course to the critically-acclaimed Citizen Kane.
It’s an unattainable goal that crosses the minds of many college-age film students and filmmakers who know that factoid and are haunted by it when they turn 25 (myself included).
But no one, other than Orson Welles is ever going to have the good fortune of making the world’s greatest movie on their first attempt. It just doesn’t happen.
In fairness, you have to factor in the fact that he had the assistance of some of the best collaborators in the business at the time.
For the rest of us, producing your debut feature film a matter of applying what you’ve learned, raising as much money as you can and taking your best shot.
We all have to start somewhere.
And in that sense, The Sound of the Wind isn’t a bad debut film.
You have to applaud the effort. And, for the record, I’ve always maintained that any filmmaker who manages to complete any film project deserves some degree of admiration.
Even the worst movies of all time should get some credit for the sake of just having been made, despite all the obstacles. I sincerely mean that.
What I liked about The Sound of the Wind is that it has the ambitious substance and grit reminiscent of movies like Taxi Driver.
Technically, it is a movie that establishes a dark tone and never moves the needle off center.
For me, the biggest shortcoming was in placing the whole move on the shoulders of essentially one character.
It can be done, but you’d better have a Hemingway novel and Spencer Tracy aboard when you set out to make a movie version of The Old Man and the Sea.
It’s a lot to ask of an audience to share the fear and suffering of a lonely character for 85 minutes.
It might be the case that this movie might have played a little better in a shortened form.
Short dramatic films can pack quite a punch. And not every short film subject is necessarily expandable into an engaging, feature-length film.
The other larger issue is how a movie like The Sound of the Wind will be received in the era of the corona virus which has created a real life world of fear and paranoia that didn’t exist when the movie was written and produced.
None of this would have been on anyone’s radar.
I’ve often pointed out that context changes everything.
In this case, I wonder wheher the greater, looming context of the COVID-19 pandemic might work against any interest in seeing a well-intentioned message about fear or paranoia or mental illness or the stigma of discussing these subjects.
Sadly, this might not be the time, but only time will tell.