Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad, 2015)
Oh God, where to start? I’ll just make it plain and simple: Love & Mercy is an amazing movie and I can’t wait to watch it again. The highly-anticipated, much-hyped Brian Wilson biopic deserves every single word of praise it’s getting, for it is an accomplished portrait of the musician’s troubled years and a gorgeous-looking piece of cinema.
Actually, Love & Mercy is not even one movie, it’s two movies that run simultaneously, complementing each other in a symbiotic filmic relationship. These two parallel stories — whose double casting works in a way similar to I’m Not There’s — draw a full circle instead of running chronologically, as John Cusack’s story (Brian Wilson in the ’80s) roughly takes off after the ending of Paul Dano’s (which on its turn begins shortly after Wilson decides not to tour anymore with the Beach Boys). And these are indeed parallel narratives, for just like parallel lines they only meet at one point: the infinite. And the infinite of Love & Mercy is defined by the immense pain carried within the composer, a sadness so deep and despairing that it’s visible even when Wilson is just sitting there, motionless and eyes lost in a non-existing horizon.
And if Love & Mercy seems to come full circle stylistically, it also does so formally; during the first moments of the movie we are greeted with a vertigo-inducing editing rhythm that seems to illustrate what is going on inside Wilson’s head (a prelude to the Eugene Landy’s era, therefore linking both stories?). That same dizziness appears near the end, as if it’s completing the omen: no, the world hasn’t been kind to Brian Wilson, but the worst thing is whatever’s happening inside his own mind — and although we may point the finger at the villains of the story (his father Murray and his psychiatrist Gene, both played by Bill Camp and Paul Giamatti respectively), it’s heartbreaking to see that Brian’s demons are mainly brought to life through what he makes of his relationships with other people and, most importantly, with himself.
Throughout the movie we are given short, yet disturbing samples of what is going on inside Wilson’s mind, quickly realising we can hardly bear a few seconds of all those “voices” he constantly hears, let alone a lifetime of them. The brief, yet violent moments we are invited to “share” with Wilson become even more disturbing when we imagine him having to live with them on a daily basis (as he himself says, “since 1963”).
Even if the wonderful music of the Beach Boys (the movie focuses primarily on the Pet Sounds/’Good Vibrations’/pre- SMiLE era, so it’s a gift for the ears as well) comes forward to sweeten some of the more agonising situations — which on their turn have already made their way to the other side of the screen and are taking over our souls the way a dark cloud suddenly invades a blue-skied summer day — Love & Mercy’s despair is so intense you’ll leave the cinema with a feeling of having been thrown around a boxing ring for two hours. It is, nevertheless, one of the most poignant, beautiful portraits I’ve seen lately, and, according to most documentaries and biographies around, painfully accurate. It’s actually this accuracy that weights us down the most, for it allows us to step into Brian Wilson’s mind and swim adrift among the genius and the madness.
Frightening in its greatness and magnificent in its fragility, Love & Mercy evolves within a very thin line traced between beatitude and insanity, while it wins us all, soul and flesh, in the process. The exact same thing happens with Brian Wilson’s music.
Originally published at thefourohfive.com on July 15th 2015