Psychology majors rejoice! You have another movie to call your
own--other than, of course, American Beauty and the Hannibal
One Hour Photo begins at the end, with one man sitting at a
table in a stark, white interrogation room. A detective comes
in, and asks one question, “Why?” The answer is the movie, a
profile of Seymour (Sy, pronounced “Sigh”) Perrish, a man fast
approaching the end of a downward spiral. Working in the photo
lab of a national megamart, Sy is alone, both physically and
mentally. His joy comes from the special relationships he believes
he has with many of his regular customers, having viewed their
photographs over the years. One family, in particular, he holds
in high regards: the Yorkins, who he comes to idolize. When
Sy’s “ideal family” turns out to be not so ideal, the once-passive
Sy becomes active.
Movies are by their very nature an exercise in voyeurism, but
One Hour Photo asks the audience to play the role of voyeur
with Sy. We feel uncomfortable when we see photographs of other
people presented on the screen (accompanied by Sy’s narration).
We know that we are seeing something we have not been given
permission to see. Yet we still look.
We are also uncomfortable when we learn that Sy has papered
one entire wall of his ascetic apartment with the photographs
of his “ideal family.” Our discomfort comes from the same source,
guilt that we are seeing something we know we should not. We
learn something about the private lives of the people in the
photos, and something about the inner workings of Sy. Sometimes
we cannot believe what we see and hear. Robin Williams plays
a convincing role. He gets the character of Sy down pat: the
juvenile facial expressions, his insecurities, the quivering,
uncertain voice. At no point do we not believe what we see.
The production design and cinematography complement the Williams
character. Nearly every scene in some way contributes to Sy’s
psyche. His car is small, white, with a crack in the windshield.
At one point, in a dream sequence, blood pours from both his
eyes. In another scene he walks in on a group of doctors attending
a lecture on “retinal degeneration”. The starkness of his condition
is portrayed through his clothes and his apartment interior.
People may be tempted to compare One Hour Photo with American
Beauty. It is difficult to draw comparisons because the story
of Sy is one of a sick, isolated man who desperately needs help
through evaluation and medication. American Beauty, on the other
hand, while about extreme ideas (mid-life crisis gone awry),
was nonetheless about a person with social connections--to his
family, self, etc.,--and options: his realization of those connections.
At one point Sy talks about how detestable he has found some
people to be, but we realize that he is only talking about himself,
his own condition. Why did Sy commit such an infraction? Why
has Sy become what he is? It’s these kinds of double entendres
that makes the movie engaging and appealing. One Hour Photo