For me, Steven Soderbergh is defined by two things, his amazingly prolific output, having often released two movies in the same year, and his even more amazingly eclectic output. For every crowd pleaser like Erin Brockovich and Ocean’s 11, there’s intentionally off putting experiments, like Bubble or The Girlfriend Experiment. But there’s one oddity that takes the cake for Soderbergh’s true pinnacle of crazy assed shit. After the breakthrough debut of Sex, Lies and Videotape, there were a couple of financial disappointments and stalled projects that never came to fruition. But because this is Steven Soderbergh, he didn’t just have a nervous breakdown, he basically filmed his nervous breakdown, making Schizopolis.
A non-actor, casting himself as the main character, Fletcher Munson (and his doppelganger), is one of the most normal choices Soderbergh made in the making of this movie. And his performance is actually good enough to make me wonder why he never acted more.
The IMDB synopsis says, “Fletcher Munson is a lethargic, passive worker for a Scientology-like self-help corporation called Eventualism. After the death of a colleague, he is promoted to the job of writing speeches for T. Azimuth Schwitters, the founder and head of the group. He uses this as an excuse to be emotionally and romantically distant from his wife, who, he discovers, is having an affair with his doppelganger, a dentist named Dr. Jeffrey Korchek.”
I have to assume that’s accurate, only because not assuming it would mean trying to figure it out for myself. And that might make my brain explode. I really had little to no idea what was going for the vast majority of Schizopolis.
The dialogue is pretty amazing in its glorious weirdness. Sometimes overly literal, like the priest who begins a eulogy with, “Lester Richards is dead, aren’t you glad it wasn’t you”. Other times maddeningly obtuse, like Fletcher Munson’s conversations with his wife, which consist entirely of only the scaffolding of a conversation, with exchanges like, “Generic greeting!”, “Generic greeting returned”.
This approach to dialogue reaches its peak when one character who has been seen several times, but not really explained, is confronted by two people who let him know he’s the most interesting character in the movie so far, but totally underserved. At which point, he turns to the camera and quits the movie. It’s the kind of art house absurdity that I usually hate, but for some reasons, in the hands of Soderbergh, I found it genuinely hilarious.
I wonder if even Steven Soderbergh knows what Schizopolis is about or is supposed to be? Part of me really hopes he is just as flummoxed as me. It’s ballsy to make a deliberately confusing or non-traditional movie and not care about whether or not people can keep up with your vision. It’s even ballsier to not even know yourself what’s going on, and forge ahead anyway, to the point of making a totally inexplicable feature length motion picture that no one can ever fully understand, because there is nothing to understand.