Some films defy the very notion of narrative storytelling, offering up dense, often nonsensical images that are anything but e cookie cutter style of filmmaking that is churned out by Hollywood. One such film is The Unity of All Things, which doesn’t just challenge convention, it also challenges its audience.
There isn’t really a story to speak of. Very loosely it is the tale of a pair of brothers who visit their mother, a scientist who is working on a particle accelerator. They develop some form of incestuous relationship and… well, that’s almost it as far as the story goes. Everything else is less focused on narrative and more on subverting expectations, allowing you to question what makes a good film, and whether story is an important part of that or not.
I would argue that yes, cinema is about telling stories, but the beauty of it is an artform is that you can adapt it to do whatever you want it to do. Much like films such as Rubber or Wrong from erstwhile Mr Oizo himself Quentin Dupieux, or any one of a number of surrealist directors, like Luis Bunuel or Alejandro Jodoroswky, it is more about the images and presentation than it is about telling a Hollywood-friendly narrative.
And so the focus turns towards the images being presented, their structure and layout. This is where The Unity of All Things is a winner to a degree, because the choice and variety of images work rather well indeed. And let’s face it, with a narrative as obtuse as this, you need anything and everything else to work in order for the audience to be engaged.
The cast therefore are presented as little more than meat bags, whose sole purpose is to deliver a line of dialogue in places and, mostly, be told to stand in one particular place or another. It doesn’t go so far as to break the fourth wall, but from a tonal perspective we’re not far off that mark.
It is this very challenging nature that gives the film its purpose. Somewhere amongst all of the strange imagery, frequently odd dialogue and a noisy, almost constant background sound is an array of themes, allegories, concepts and notions that you can dip in and out of and take from the film at your own leisure. Is it a tale of matriarchal restriction? Is it about identity? Birth and death? The cycle of the universe, that we are all just energy? Take your pick. The themes you pick up on will depend on your perspective, and whether you can sit through to the end and take it all in.
While I can’t say I’m a fan of this particular branch of cinema I can at least appreciate what it’s trying to do. As a collection of images and slow moving sequences it works, as a story it does not. But if you ever find yourself struggling to sleep late at night, pop this on for half an hour and see if it does the trick.