Franklyn is a story of loss. Several losses, actually, and their effect on the human psyche. Gerald McMorrow’s 2008 film is meticulously put together: a several-strain narrative with distinctive and separate points of view. It takes place in two alternate versions of reality: contemporary London and the elsewhere of Meanwhile City.
Jonathan Preest gives voices to a hardboiled anti-hero reminiscent of Sin City or Watchmen, to name the obvious connections. He moves through an atmospheric dystopian future cityscape as one of the last atheists in a world literally governed by religion. The “clerics” who chase him are sent by the totalitarian rulers and religion is everywhere, in an absurd sectarian way. He is looking to avenge a girl he couldn’t save from the most dangerous of all the sects around, a chapter run by The Individual.
Parallel to this version of reality we have London, where Milo (Sam Riley) has just been jilted at the altar. He does not cope well with the disappointment and seeks comfort first from his best friend Dan (Richard Coyle) and then from his childhood sweetheart Sally (Eva Green), who he just happens to run in to when he least expects it.
Emilia (Eva Green) is a struggling artist who seems to have developed an unhealthy obsession with her art project: a video performance that aims for either catharsis or death, whichever comes first. As the story develops the viewer realizes that she too is coping with loss. In her case it is the loss of innocence haunting her.
Peter Esser (Bernard Hill) is trying to deal with the break-down of his family. His daughter has been killed in a car accident, his wife has left him and now his son, David (Ryan Phillippe), has broken out of the institution he has been living in since he came back from the war. David clearly suffers from post traumatic stress and Peter simply will not give up on him, stubbornly believing that David is getting better despite all evidence to the contrary.
The various realities don’t seem interconnected at first other than through this theme of loss and how that influences the characters, but slowly the interconnecting points start to become obvious. Peter Esser is a deeply religious man whose son has lost his faith and his grip on reality. Emilia has a very conflicted relationship with her mother (Susannah York), shown in a scene at their therapist and she tries to express herself in her performance art, staging suicide attempts with an underlying pulse of desperation as she tries to deal with childhood abuse.
Milo’s childhood sweetheart turns out to be imaginary, something he does not even know until his mother shows him a photo album in which there are pictures where there is just empty space where the girl should be. Most troubled of all is David who lives entirely inside his own delusion, Meanwhile City, where he stalks the streets searching for The Individual because someone has to be held accountable for the death of the young girl.
The various story lines come together with the meticulous precision of clockworks in the final scenes. There is some bleed between the various realities in the very last scenes as well and there is a kind of redemption for at least some of the characters, mainly Milo and Emilia. David seems to find his way back from Meanwhile City, but that doesn’t mean he can come back to the here and now.
This is a complex an convoluted story that demands that the viewer pays close attention. The visual aspects of Meanwhile City are very well executed, it has the feel of a comic book movie, the monolithic architectural look of Blade Runner and a very different colour scheme, contrasting nicely with the reality of the real London. The all pervasive questioning of which reality is more real, and which version of reality is dominant, both in the contemporary narrative and in memory, is just as interesting. It appeals to the intellect as well as to the eye, but like with all movies that slip between category it is bound to make things complicated for the viewer that comes to this narrative with preconceived notions. You have to be willing to go along for the ride and keep one eye on the structure of the narrative throughout to really appreciate it.