After a world premiere screening in 2015, director George D’Amato took Blur, the indie film he co-wrote with Todd McGinnis, on a worldwide festival tour. Now back home, D’Amato is looking for distribution so that a larger audience can get a glimpse of his meditative work. Blur is a piece that will titillate you in troubling ways all while patiently telling a story of a marriage in crisis. From the creators’ perspective, it’s clear that technology is the problem and the closer we draw to it, the further we move from the ones that matter most.
Driving across the country from San Francisco to New York City provides married couple Harper and Paul Walker (Sophia Troop and Charlie Hamilton) the opportunity to spend some quality time without the distractions of everyday life and enjoy the unspoiled views of the American landscape along the way. The further into the drive they go, however, the more Paul suspects that Harper is hiding something from him; something she keeps secret within the phone she’s constantly typing away on.
In an era of Tinder, Grindr, and Bumble, the digital side of relationships tends to take on a more consumable feel. For those already in relationships, there’re the pressures of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat to always present your best self. We embody the mythical ouroboros, the serpent eating itself, constantly in a state of creation and destruction. In many ways, this concept is the heart of D’Amato and McGinnis’s story. Harper and Paul represent a view of present-day relationships; one in which the value of the here-and-now is passed over in favor of the instant gratification of the online world. D’Amato and McGinnis establish before the title card appears that this particular view splits Harper and Paul as they gaze upon a beautiful vista, a train car traveling at its feet, and Harper excitedly walks away to answer a call, leaving Paul to enjoy the view alone. She describes what they’re doing as a “second honeymoon,” yet her distance from her beau tells us that her investment in the moment is less than his. Clever scene directions like this, as well as costume choices, make it definitively clear where Harper’s view of digital consumption lies ass evidenced later when Harper pulls her phone from a garter belt to sneak a few texts to an unknown receiver while Paul is off in the restroom, she prefers her tech close by. Like any story where fidelity is a core factor, there is a breach of faith when Harper consummates the digital affair in one of the strangest sexting sessions whose prolonged and extensive staging creates far more physical discomfort for the viewer than a traditional physical affair may induce.
What’s most striking about a film whose intent is to push its audience to consider how it engages with digital technology and what that relationship does to our physical connections, is how Blur contains very little dialogue, answers few questions incited by the narrative, advances its narrative through musical montages of landscapes and colonized scenery, and culminates in sequence that’s more interpretive than concrete. Though at times a bit frustratingly disjointed, this largely introspective approach to the narrative fits nicely with D’Amato’s direction. His characters internalize their needs until they burst, which contrasts wonderfully with the seemingly endless winding road they travel upon. Considering that the interaction between Harper and Paul is the driving force of Blur, choosing to contrast their physical journey against their philosophical one is bold.
Without question D’Amato and McGinnis present an engaging story not just about a marriage in dissolution, but the part we allow our digital habits to play in distracting us from what’s right in front of us – one part compelling narrative and one part rousing metaphysical question. Troop and Hamilton deliver great performances that feel completely natural in their portrayal of a married couple, which makes it all the more painful when the ending is inconclusive. This is a strong signal of how well they engage the audience with little more than glances or movements. We know who these people are and what they value. Combined with a clever script, Blur is certainly a captivating watch. Frustrations only arise in the viewer through some of the more abstract vignettes – an elongated scene with Paul running backwards, musical montages with seemingly no connection to the story or theme, and the final shot of the pair, as examples – which seek to heighten the drama, yet provide little else in the way of linking the intent of the scenes to the overall theme or narrative.
That said, without question, what D’Amato and McGinnis ask their audience about their own digital habits is clear and the fallout extraordinary. Even when the script goes to uncomfortable places, it never feels inappropriate or egregious. It is merely taking the concept of loving ones phone to its furthest conclusion.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.