Lately I have been discovering something about those movies which most resonate with me. These are not merely the films which grasp my attention with brilliant artistry or stick in my mind with a clever line but those which strike a deep chord and firmly wedge themselves in my mind, the movies which ask to be mulled over and actually emerge in my life. These are the movies whose characters fight this sense that things are not quite right, not just in their own lives but with all of society are off. The characters strike off on their own to try and discover the truth and the ways things ought to be. Fight Club and American Beauty did it in 1999, and Into the Wild went after it again almost a decade later in 2007.
The latest of these films to catch my attention is The Cult of Sincerity. Released early this April, much of the accompanying press has been about its unique method of release, straight to YouTube. You can find the entire film there, free of charge. Revenue is generated through a partnership with the music site Amie Street. Undoubtedly, this is a fascinating idea, and I hope it works because I would very much enjoy the opportunity more independent films receive a broader release. However, my concerns lie less with the economics than the film itself, something which has been passed by in favor of singing the praises of its new business model.
The titular Cult of Sincerity is an idea developed by the lead character, Joseph, at open-mic night. Driven by his parent's recent divorce, the twenty-something lashes out against the entire hipster generation and a bar full of them. Joseph calls them to task and disparages their philosophy, their fashion, their lack of caring in the strongest terms possible. He wants out. He wants something to believe in and care about. Once off the stage, he goes about it moronically.
At first Joseph strives for doing the right thing all the time and generally makes a nuisance of himself rushing to open doors and give directions. After getting arrested for turning a dime bag in to the police, he tries to apologize for everything and only ends up revealing his own ignorance in the process. At least, he is trying. The majority of his friends, stuck in their respective narcissistic, nihilistic, juvenile ruts, fare no better, and their scenes demonstrate excellently what Joseph is striving to throw off. I am not ready to say "Sorry for the atom bomb," but I am bloody well not planning on falling asleep playing Guitar Hero and waking up to it in the morning or shooting the edgiest, most hyperreal film yet.
Still, Joseph's desperate search for meaning and the right thing does bear some fruit by the end. With the help of a friend, whom he screws with something terrible, and a guy at the bar, Joseph bears witness to either the most beautiful thing you will ever see or the most stupid, love. It all depends on whether you believe in it. And that is the trick, is it not? If you are not willing to believe in it, it can never mean anything.
I do not dispute that Joseph is spot on in identifying the problem. Though his attack is broad and against a segment of the population that is not terribly hard to disparage, there is something vile in hipster culture. It neither celebrates nor honors anything except that which can provoke a response, and the response itself does not matter so long as it exists. I have no argument with his antidote either. The only proper response to apathy is passion. The only remaining problem is telling us exactly what love is and what it demands of us. Joseph certainly does things that look loving and knows an awful lot of other people pursuing the same thing in their own ways. Certainly some are better than others, but none seem quite right. The rest is up to us, I guess. Normally, I would rail against a work that merely asks the question and fails to provide much of answer, but it seems appropriate here. Like Joseph, we need to go out and discover it for ourselves. We need to know that it is right and not merely be told so.
As for the film itself, it is an enjoyable watch. Understandably low budget, it excels in creating an appropriate mood and tone through its location, soundtrack and acting, Joseph's roommate particularly impressing me. The writing is generally strong, not quite ready for an Oscar, but honest. The Cult of Sincerity's only severe weakness is its failure to distinguish itself artistically. Its shots, varied and engaging, feel as if they have been lifted straight from film school textbooks. Its creators are young though, and I anticipate seeing their later works as they mature and their unique voices develop. Then, of course, there is its true independent aesthetic, shot guerilla style and on-site. It makes for a much different experience than any sharp studio film or "independent" movie starring Nicole Kidman or George Clooney.
Interested in seeing it for yourself? Here is the link to the complete movie. Not ready to sit at your computer for the next hour and a half or want a better sense of whether it is worth your time? Here is the trailer. The cultofsincerity channel offers scenes of some of the more philosophically engaging moments and the other two links, in case you want them all in the same place or whatever.
2 years ago