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One Hour Photo: the Aues have it

by Tony Rene Donnes, staff writer


Psychology majors rejoice! You have another movie to call your own--other than, of course, American Beauty and the Hannibal Lector trilogy.

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 certainly develops.



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