Under the Silver Lake – Film Analysis

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways,” as Freud put it.

In 2014, David Robert Mitchell, the director of “It Follows,” which we had the pleasure of watching as part of a Film Festival, returns with a brand-new film four years later, once again gracing us with his presence at a film event. As someone who adored “It Follows” to the extent that I could write page after page about it, I was eagerly anticipating his new film.

Related Article  It Follows - Film Review

However, when I watched the trailer, Under the Silver Lake, which I thought would be a thriller, turned out to be a project far more different than I expected. David Robert Mitchell’s “Under the Silver Lake,” which seems like a personal film, is difficult to comprehend, incredibly convoluted, yet equally aesthetic and intriguing. I’m confident that no one fully grasped the film, and I don’t think it needs to be fully understood. I can’t even claim to have completely understood it myself. Therefore, in this article, I will attempt to make sense of what I saw in a logical manner, without either praising or criticizing the film. One thing I am certain of is that the film tells us that in this world where we seek meaning, everything is, in fact, meaningless.

Regarding the plot of the film… Sam, portrayed by Andrew Garfield, is a lost soul wandering the streets of Los Angeles, unsure of what he’s doing and no longer wishing to know, randomly continuing his life. His life is so meaningless that the search for meaning mostly leads him to pursue sex. But one day, a blonde woman (Riley Keough) moves into the apartment across from his, and Sam naturally desires to be intimate with her. However, no matter how they manage to get closer, the next day he discovers that the woman has vacated her apartment entirely and moved away. Sam becomes obsessed with this mysterious departure, embarking on a mysterious journey through the streets of Los Angeles to find the woman he couldn’t have.

Sam leads a relatively meaningless life, and he questions it. He gets hung up on the questions people ask him. He doesn’t believe in the necessity of people having jobs or titles. But the realities of life make these things necessary. Even if Sam doesn’t believe in them, life doesn’t function according to his beliefs; bailiffs are counting down the days to evict him from his home.

Under the Silver Lake

His carefree, meaningless, and sex-driven life takes a turn with Sarah’s move to the apartment across from his. His interaction, even intimacy, with Sarah suddenly becomes incomprehensible when she leaves abruptly. Why would someone move in the middle of the night? Sam, who embarks on an investigation, plunges us into a detective story. Meaningless, empty scenes suddenly transform into a modern noir film example. The editing starts to employ the foundations of detective films, and the music becomes eerie, reminiscent of the music in noir films. We, too, embark on an eerie journey with an uncertain destination.

Throughout the Under the Silver Lake, there are constantly things we don’t understand. A one-eyed pirate who runs away from everyone, secret fanzines left in stores, mysterious parties with unknown purposes, and peculiar guests at these parties. Sam starts to follow three women who entered Sarah’s house and took her belongings. The number three appears repeatedly in the film. Especially women, and many details appear in threes. The women in the escort service are in threes, brides are in threes, the music band is in threes, children drawing cars are in threes, and an even more interesting detail is the number of women Sam has sex with throughout the film: three.

Sam finds himself unable to gain anything from the parties he attends or the people he meets. He discovers a solution in an anonymous fanzine left in a store, titled “Under the Silver Lake.” Upon contacting the owner of the fanzine, Sam is exposed to things that defy reason and logic – a dog killer, an owl’s kiss… If the topic had gone further, it might have delved into the Illuminati and Reptilians. I’m not entirely sure if they made a reference to Reptilians because Sam constantly claims that the wealthy lead life and know everything. Let’s continue… Of course, this lunacy resonates with Sam because he lives such an empty life that he’s in search of meaning, a purpose, and this detective story begins to infuse meaning into his aimless existence.

“Under the Silver Lake” is a film rich in general knowledge. You need to be well-versed in superstitions, American culture, and legends to grasp the film. All the parties, in the vein of “Eyes Wide Shut,” contain hidden messages, strange characters, and distinctive features connected to our mad pirate. Many superstitions, like thinking there’s a message when you listen to music in reverse or believing that treasure maps are hidden in cornflake boxes, are mainly used in the film. Sam, by piecing together all the details he’s been following, seeks a message, any way to reach Sarah. Somehow, he finds it. Just when we wonder how much more there can be, Sam delves even further and deciphers the message in the reversed music and the map in the cornflake box.

As I mentioned earlier, having a good general knowledge is essential to at least follow or understand the film. Many things shown in the film are connected to culture in one way or another. The Mario detail in the film is a reference to the caves Sam will discover later. If you’ve played Mario, you know about the secret tunnels and warp points. You can play Mario straightforwardly or use the warp points to make leaps. Mario has been specially chosen for the message, “if you search, you will find.” The Stranger Things alphabet, the masks behind Ford in Westworld, the Black Lagoon poster in Sam’s room related to the lake, and many more details are found throughout the film.

Sam manages to find Sarah by any means necessary, but to do so, he must pass through two critical points. These two crucial points actually contain all the messages of the film. The elderly musician he encounters, who has shattered his mind, actually summarizes the film’s message for us:

“Oh look at you! Everything that you’ve hoped for, that you’ve dreamed about being a part of, is a fabrication. Your art, your writing, your culture is the shell of other men’s ambitions – ambitions beyond what you will ever understand.”

Everything you seek meaning in, everything you attribute meaning to, is actually meaningless. The music you get excited about, the music that makes you cry, was actually written to make money. The films from which you extract profound messages are also things made for money. Regardless of how much you believe that we are not alone in life, that there is meaning, a purpose, in the end, none of it exists.

In reality, everything that happens to Sam is because he wants to believe in it. Even though the elderly musician tells him the truth, Sam continues to seek meaning, which leads him to the secluded wealthy. They, in turn, tell him that life is meaningless, and that titles and awards have no significance. For them, life is just about sex, nothing more. This theme of meaninglessness reoccurs throughout the film. We come across numerous details that shatter the illusion of meaning, such as discovering that the balloon girl at the party is, in fact, an escort, and the simplicity of the singer called “Jesus” whom everyone wonders about saying, “he also takes a crap.”

Under the Silver Lake

Sam, realizing he missed Sarah, concludes his quest for meaning at his neighbor’s house. His hope dwindles, and his reality comes crashing down when bailiffs enter his home. We can see it written all over his face. His adventure in Los Angeles to find out where Sarah went, although filled with mysteries, is ultimately a futile endeavor. It’s a journey that leads nowhere and shouldn’t lead anywhere. Superstitions, legends, meanings, metaphors – they’re all our creations. When we look at the business side of things, in reality, everything is done for the sake of money and sex. It’s human nature. But sometimes, we feel so aimless, like Sam, that we search for meaning. But it’s not there. I’m sorry. It really isn’t.

The film’s biggest issue, in my opinion, is not its incomprehensibility but its length. Maintaining a tempo in a 2-hour and 20-minute film can be challenging, especially in a detective story where there’s no actual action, and the rising and falling tempo can occasionally become somewhat tedious for the audience. The film would have been delightful if it were a half-hour shorter. Meaninglessness is not the problem here. It seems that David Robert Mitchell has crafted a highly personal film. It’s entirely possible to understand it without asking him. I may have missed many of the details he wanted to convey about his passion for Los Angeles while thinking I’m well-versed in Los Angeles or American culture. The reason for this might be my inadequate familiarity with Los Angeles or American culture. No matter how much I think I know. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand details like the dog killer, Owl’s Kiss, the one-eyed pirate, or dam water. I still wonder about them.

In summary, “Under the Silver Lake” is an intriguing but challenging film in which the director attempts to depict his love for Los Angeles through absurdities. It’s a film that leaves your mind in a state of confusion but is aesthetically interesting. If it were a bit shorter, it could have been even more enjoyable. I certainly didn’t expect this kind of film after “It Follows,” but we once again witnessed David Robert Mitchell’s skill in directing and storytelling. Looking forward to his third film. Hopefully, I’ll be able to understand that one too.

Cast & Crew

director: David Robert Mitchell

writers: David Robert Mitchell

starring: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough

USA | 2018 | 139 MINUTES |


Ukrainian Creative Director | Motion Picture Writer | Horror Freak

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