The Surface (Ariztical Entertainment, NR)

TheSurface sqThe interesting twist is that Evan’s path to self-discovery is sparked by his purchase of an old 8mm movie camera at a garage sale.

 

Michael J. Saul’s The Surface is a coming-of-age story about a young man, Evan (Harry Hains), who is both blessed and cursed by his natural beauty. When we first meet him, Evan is in his early 20s, going to college while living with and being supported by Chris (Nicholas McDonald). The blessing is that, from a financial point of view, Evan has a sweet deal—and one that would probably not be available were he a less attractive individual. The curse is that our first encounters with these two suggest that Chris doesn’t actually care much about Evan beyond his usefulness as bed partner and arm candy.

Life is more difficult for Evan than for many people, because he grew up in a series of foster homes. That fact is not played as a tragedy, however, but simply as one aspect of his existence. By making the central character essentially an orphan, Saul highlights an aspect of modern life that is often true of people who know their biological family, as well as of those who do not: You have to create your own family of people who love and care about you, and the process of creating that family is part of the process of finding out who you are.

Economic inequality can mess up the most solid of relationships, and it rears its ugly head early in The Surface. Evan is living a sort of half-life as the odd man out among Chris’s well-heeled friends, and Chris doesn’t miss a chance to remind Evan that he doesn’t really belong. Granted, Chris is being a bitch, but this uncomfortable arrangement also signals an important fact about Evan. Rather than taking the responsibility to make his own life, he has settled for following the path of least resistance and becoming an appendage to someone else’s life. That’s an acceptable short-term strategy, particularly when you are young and have limited resources, but it can also be a way to avoid the hard work of discovering who you really are.

The interesting twist in Saul’s take on this familiar story is that Evan’s path to self-discovery is sparked by his purchase of an old 8mm movie camera at a garage sale. It’s one of those chance occurrences that proves to have an expectedly strong influence, as it leads to Evan’s discovery of the power of cinema (and his own talent as a director), and also causes him to reflect on what is missing from his current life.

Watching old home movies shot by the camera’s original owner, Evan becomes enchanted by footage of two boys playing together. This draws Chris into a friendship, and then something more, with one of the boys (now an adult), Peter (Michael Redford). This relationship helps Evan begin to break out of his protective shell and realize the possibility of having genuine, non-exploitative relationships with other people.

There’s a lot of water symbolism in The Surface. Evan can leave his troubles behind while he’s swimming, whether in the ocean or in Peter’s pool, and we all know that water can function as a symbol of birth and rebirth. The swimming scenes add visual beauty to The Surface, as well, and it’s quite an attractive film given that it was clearly shot on a small budget.

Extras on the DVD include two behind-the-scenes short films, “Exploring the Surface” (17 min.) and “The Surface On-Set” (4 min.), as well as a music video (4 min.) of the song “Barcelona.” | Sarah Boslaugh

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