Narrative and Perspective
A palindrome is a word or phrase that is the same forward as it is backward. Knowing that, we see that Marcus Flemming’s “Palindrome” begins and ends in the same place. It is the journey, not a destination.
Fred (Jumaane Brown) is in an asylum. Aside from the attending nurse and doctor, he seems to be the only one there. Dr. Gladstone (Daniel Jordan) puts Fred through extreme treatments including severe electric shock therapy. While in these sessions, Fred experiences his subconscious and learns how to relive his past and try to make amends to Anna (Sarah Swain), the woman he failed.
Sarah called Fred and tells him that she is going to die at 11:01 PM. She knows Fred will be unable to prevent her death yet she asks him to look her up. The first half of the movie follows Fred, as he relives the fallout from an attempted robbery and tries to understand what Anna wants from him. The second half is all about Anna as she attempts to reorganize her life and reclaim her one true love.
There is an occasional interconnection between the two stories but they are really symbolic and stand for the ways for Sarah and Fred to come together. Themes of loneliness, grief, and mental health appear through different events in the ambiguous plot. And the view becomes filled with intrigue and excitement. Forget your previous feelings about narrative conventions and fall into what we see as a meditation on self-consciousness and self-determination.
The film is basically two stories about lives unravelling. Fred, stuck in a mental institution, has a live made up of facing conversations and painful “treatments” with \ Gladstone and he is trust into his own subconscious where he meets strange characters that challenge and force him to decide what he wants in life.
Anna’s story is one day in her life and we see her and Terri (Hester Ruoff), her girlfriend. The story has to do with Terri’s death and then we look at Anna’s and Terri’s relationship from the beginning. The focus moves to one evening— her final day and only one other person knows about it.
Fred and Anna’s stories come together in only a few moments, the first when Fred is first thrust into a deep, dark, sub-conscious state after electroshock therapy. He reaches some sort of awakening in an undisclosed location when he hears a phone ringing. On the other end of the line is Anna, who tells Fred that she is going to die at 11:01 pm. Here Fred begins a sub-conscious journey after his phone call with Anna. He wants to save her and he also wants to find out who he is. Three characters enter his mind— Daniel, a young man preaches about capitalism and who pulls Fred into a robbery; a nameless, nihilistic man who challenges Fred’s sense of idealism; and a young woman, Mary, who encourages the same idealism. The three represent unanswered questions as they try to destroy Fred’s sense of self.
After the robbery, we see Anna’s face at 6:23 pm at an art gallery. She is preoccupied with herself. Through flashbacks she meets Terri and their relationship develops and then comes apart. We get to know Terri, and learn that her drug dealing has landed her into trouble but until we see her dead and mutilated body, we do not know how much trouble. Knowing about Terri’s death doesn’t really matter and the plot moves forward towards 11:01 pm and Anna’s end. We see past and present come together just as we saw reality and fantasy come together in Fred’s story.
The last flashback is of Terri and Anna, on a date when Terri tells Anna that her name is a palindrome leading to the final scene. Anna hits the floor and we see by the clock that it is 11:01 pm. Fred is seen lying on the ground in the same position Anna landed. He then comes back to the room where he picked up the phone at the beginning of the film and calls Anna back, realizing that it is too late to save her. He blames himself even though there is no evidence to the truth of this.
Fred who chased the ideas of freedom and absolution, lives, while Anna’s limitations ended her life. I will not share the ending of the film.“Palindrome” looks at what happens when one sees a terrible happening and it explores the human psyche as it deals with grief and loss. We are taken on a strange journey through narrative and perspective. It will surely provoke thought.