Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Dust Factory (3½ Stars)

Ryan Kelley was a normal young boy who lived in a small farming community. The location isn't named, but I assume that it's intended to be Oregon, where the film was made. The whole surroundings are like in the Wizard of Oz, which I assume is deliberate. When Ryan was nine years old he witnessed his father die in an accident on a railway crossing. As a result of the trauma he became unable to speak. His mother remarries and cares for him, but speaking is impossible. His grandfather suffers from Alzheimer's and sits in his chair staring at the floor all day.

Six years later Ryan falls from a bridge and nearly drowns. After struggling out of the water he finds himself in a place that looks the same, but everything has changed. His home looks like his home, but his parents are gone, and the house has been redecorated. The only familiar person is his grandfather, who is now cured of his ailment. To his surprise Ryan finds that he can talk normally again.

The grandfather tells Ryan that they are now in a magical world between life and death. There is no night, day never ends, and normal physical laws don't apply. Ryan meets other people in this world who are in the same state that he is, in particular a teenage girl called Melanie. The centre of this world is a big top called the "Dust Factory", a circus-like establishment ruled over by a sinister person called the Ringmaster. All the residents of the world are encouraged to perform on the high trapeze. If a person jumps successfully he passes on to paradise; if he falls he returns to his old life at the point where he left it.

As a fairy tale this film is good fun. Though made for children, I could enjoy it as an adult. My personal problem with the film is that there seems to be no incentive. It's a win-win-win situation. If you jump successfully you go to paradise, which is obviously the best result. If you jump and fall you return to your home and loved ones, as if nothing has happened, which is exactly what most people in the world would want. But if you choose not to jump you remain in this wonderful world, which to me personally looks even better than the real world. If all three of these possibilities are positive, why does the Ringmaster seem so sinister?

Armin Mueller-Stahl makes the viewer feel at home as the man everyone would like as a grandfather. I feel that the writer and director wanted to make some sort of philosophical point, but even after reading other reviews I don't get it. Nevertheless, it's a happy film, enjoyable to watch. Think of it as good, wholesome family viewing, unlike a lot of the films that I write about.

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