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DVD Review: Pin…

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In college, I took a film course. The professor, an intelligent and jubilant sort, was Canadian. During every lecture, no matter what it was about, he would find a way to digress and insult Canadian cinema for a minute or two. It didn’t matter if we were talking about Sergei Eisenstein’s intellectual montage theory or Lindsay Anderson’s use of Brechtian techniques in O Lucky Man!, he’d manage to loop the discussion around to the point where he could level a dig at his native cinema. According to him, Canadian cinema was cheap, dry, humorless, and generally rather embarrassing.

Pin… hails from Canada, and I thought a lot about that professor while watching it – mostly about how, in this instance, his complaints were spot-on. Pin…, a cruddy Canadian clusterfuck if I ever saw one, is about a strange young man named Leon (David Hewlett) and his strange relationship with a strange medical dummy. The dummy, which provides the film with its name, belongs to Leon’s father (Terry O’Quinn), an emotionally reticent pediatrician who uses Pin to communicate with Leon and his younger sister, Ursula. Problem is, this early interaction with an inanimate object scars Leon to the point where he begins to treat Pin as a real person. (The title’s allusion to Pinocchio is clumsy and, considering how the film develops, a bit puzzling.)

Already we’re in the realm of the fantastic, but it’s rather disconcerting how much of this takes place in a world I consider unrecognizable and false. This film has more what-the-hell moments than the collected works of Peter Stormare.

Consider, for instance, the scene where 13-year-old Leon sneaks into his father’s office to talk with Pin. As he converses with the dummy, he hears someone coming. He hides in a closet and he bears witness to a nurse humping Pin. This incident has no bearing on the plot and is never referred to after it happens. What the hell? A little later, Leon is speaking with 11-year-old Ursula. Ursula – Ursula, not Leon – is reading a titty magazine. What the hell? There are other, significantly more uncomfortable scenes that mine similar lunatic territory. (The introduction of a poetic hero named Testes is notable for being played completely seriously.)

These scenes added together give the impression of a filmmaking crew soldiering on while failing to understand how silly their material was. By that, I don’t mean to imply that a silly premise can sink a movie every time. Some great movies have been made with silly premises – Ted Post’s The Baby or Robert Martin Carroll’s Sonny Boy spring to mind, being films about states of arrested development (as Pin… is). These films, though, generally are made with some awareness of their own silliness and with a sense of humor. Both these qualities are lacking in Pin…

But then, what are we to expect from writer/director Sandor Stern, who made his name by writing the screenplay to The Amityville Horror, that kingpin of straight-faced stupidity? The absurdity of the situation is a big problem with Pin…, but it’s not the only problem. The film struggles not only against its inherent absurdity but with a bald, proto-Freudian idea of psychological depth that is so obvious as to be absurd. Leon’s burgeoning psychosis is apparent enough that it’s nigh impossible to believe that he would be allowed to live anywhere other than a padded room.

The guy has conversations with a freakin’ mannequin, for crying out loud. He refuses the company of others. He writes epic poems about imagined incest. (What is it with Canadian cinema and incest, anyway?) He blows his top if anyone questions the reality of his imaginary friend. Leon is a certified grade-A nutcase, yet everyone (or his sister, at least) goes on like the guy’s a harmless eccentric. Combine the psychological and emotional unbelievability with the story issues and the terrible, stilted acting and you end up with this film, a film so overwhelmingly inauthentic that it almost feels that way by design.

Maybe it is false on purpose. Maybe I’m not giving Stern enough credit. Maybe his steadfast adherence to incredibility and his static, plastic compositions are meant to serve as an artistic complement to the hermetic immaculacy of Leon and Ursula’s lives. They’re brought up in one of those emotionally repressed households with the plastic on the furniture and the tables they’re not supposed to eat on. Their mother is a neat freak with whom everything must be just so, and their father is a stern and controlling man who can only express himself to his children through a dummy.

It’s not a bad theme, though a bit cliché, but applying it to the mise-en-scene makes the film feel sterile. Sandor’s film exists in a vacuum; nothing exists outside of it, and what exists within creeps along like tar. What, then, do we make of the haywire ending, which seeks to poke holes in said vacuum but only sucks whatever meager qualities the film had into a void of crap? How to justify Leon’s unmotivated shift into mercurialism? Why do the police let [SPOILER ELIDED] go free? How does [SPOILER ELIDED] not die? And what the hell is with that ending shot? Is that supposed to be taken metaphorically or literally? (It’s equally stupid either way.)

It comes down to this: Just as Pin is a simulacrum of a real person, Pin… is a simulacrum of a real film.

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About Steve Carlson

  • Ashraf

    PIN ROCKED! When I found it in the Walmart bargin bin and read the synopsis which contained not 1! Not 2! But 3 serious typos, along with the stupidest sounding plot worded in the most unflattering way (not to mention laughing hard enough for my stomach to cramp and tears to flow) I had to buy it! We watched it in the graveyard. It wasn’t that bad! I have to watch it again!

  • First off, no disrespect taken. Difference of opinion. It’s cool.

    But then…

    It’s subtle when it could be over the top

    At points it’s so subtle it slips into catatonia. At other points it’s as subtle as a stick in the eye. I mean, what’s subtle about the the scene where Leon takes home the hussy with whom Ursula and her boytoy set him up?

    it does present a very realistic portrayal of mental illness

    Maybe the illness is realistic, but the reactions by the supporting characters sure ain’t.

    The scene involving the nurse and the dummy is Leon’s first glimpse into the weird and often ugly word of adult sexual practices.

    So it works on a symbolic level. What about the literal level? It’s a woman humping a dummy. Who is she? Why is she humping a dummy? Why do we not see her again?

    the two siblings examing the adult magazine (probably taken from their repressed father’s secret stash)

    Actually, Ursula states that she got it from a girl friend of hers. My question is, why is it the girls and not the boys who are so interested in boob mags?

    The family atmosphere is meant to be false and forced

    So that explains the stilted acting. (Sorry, that was snide.)

    This features excellent and measured performances David Hewlett, Cyndy Preston, and Terry O’Quinn.

    Matter of taste, I guess. I’ll admit O’Quinn was good, but he’s always good.

    No cheese, crudely exploitive sex, or overheated movie madness is involved.

    On the first two points, I again refer to the scene with the blind date – specifically the part where she gratuitously takes off her top and then gets chased around by a dummy in a wheelchair. On the last part… I dunno. Parts of Hewlett’s performance seemed quite overbaked to me, especially in the final third. Again, matter of taste.

    This is a look into the lives of damaged people and the strange fixations they engage in to ward off loneliness and despair.

    No, that’s Atom Egoyan’s brilliant, shattering Exotica. Pin…, for all its aspirations, is a po-faced junkheap. But that, again, is Only My Opinion. Different strokes, etc. etc.

  • Gry

    I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I the above review misses practically all of this film’s many strengths. This is not a killer mannequin movie or a standard issue sex maniac romp. It’s subtle when it could be over the top, it’s invested in the plights of its young characters, and it does present a very realistic portrayal of mental illness. The scene involving the nurse and the dummy is Leon’s first glimpse into the weird and often ugly word of adult sexual practices. The sequence with the two siblings examing the adult magazine (probably taken from their repressed father’s secret stash) is a secret act that many kids engage in, though with far less disastrous results. The family atmosphere is meant to be false and forced; this is a family unit without sentiment or warmth. It’s a horrible, WASPY, moneyed hell. In turn, Leon and Ursula turn to a childhood figure who is at once imaginary and eerily real (as Pinocchio is). The divide between them comes later when she realizes the nature of the lie and he surrenders to it. This features excellent and measured performances David Hewlett, Cyndy Preston, and Terry O’Quinn. No cheese, crudely exploitive sex, or overheated movie madness is involved. This is a look into the lives of damaged people and the strange fixations they engage in to ward off loneliness and despair.

  • Ha! Great analogy.

    And just to clarify, I don’t actually have a beef with le cinema du Canuck — I like my Cronenberg, Egoyan and Maddin as much as the next guy. Still haven’t seen either of the cited Arcand films (neither “Jesus of Montreal”, which sounds fascinating), but they’re on my list. I’ll keep an eye open for that “Evil Words” film, as well (someone’s gotta release it Stateside eventually).

  • You want to see great cinema from the crazy canucks? Rent “The Decline of the American Empire” and its sequel “The Barbarian Invasions”

    And for sublime horror I STRONGLY sugest Evil Words (Sur Le Seuil), this is how horror movies should be made. Evil Words is right up there with The Exorcist in terms of freakyness and also Angel Heart in terms of superior plotlines. Horror at it’s best and for a modest Québecois budget.

    Taking PIN as an example of Canadian Cinema is futile. Its just another b-grade movie like anyother country makes. Sorta like using Jack Frost as an example of American horror cinema magic…