‘Inside’ assessment: Willem Dafoe’s unusual magentism

“Art is for keeps.” This flip of phrase, uttered by Willem Dafoe’s character Nemo in Vasilis Katsoupis’ narrative directorial debut, “Inside,” is a bedeviling little saying of multilayered that means. It rattles round in your mind like a pinball, a lot in the way in which Nemo rattles across the luxurious condo the place he’s trapped after an artwork heist gone improper.

“Art is for keeps” — it speaks to the way in which we place worth on artwork, and it’s additionally a cheeky taunt as Nemo helps himself to million-dollar works of recent artwork within the penthouse condo of a rich collector. Later, it’s a press release that may hang-out and even threaten Nemo, alone, in an more and more dire survivalist scenario, with solely artwork to nourish him.

“Inside,” written by Ben Hopkins (from an idea by Katsoupis), pits essentially the most primal parts of humanity in opposition to essentially the most superior with a view to tease out the contradictory and alienating nature of our present world. A coolly discerning digicam takes within the condo of this rich collector, away in Kazakhstan, as Nemo breaks in, overriding the safety panel with codes fed to him by his associate on a walkie-talkie. Unable to find a selected portray, he’s working out of time and makes an attempt to flee, however the safety system malfunctions and he’s trapped contained in the condo, a heavy, ornately carved picket door sealing the vault.

There’s a sure suspension of disbelief required to imagine that there’s actually no approach out. But this extremely automated good residence, which performs the “Macarena” when the fridge is open too lengthy and incorporates a full sprinkler system in case of fireplace, is so technologically superior that there’s not even a cellphone, laptop or entry to the skin. It’s an opulent jail, a gilded cage full of priceless artistic endeavors whose worth turns into null on this harrowing survivalist scenario — in any case, you’ll be able to’t eat artwork.

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But Katsoupis and Hopkins don’t undercut the worth of inventive expression fully. Nemo devolves on this nightmarish quarantine — first adapting, then struggling, actually battling the weather because the glitching residence automation system blasts him with warmth, then freezing chilly. The water has been turned off, and he resorts to amassing it from the automated indoor sprinklers and licking moisture from the freezer. He dines on caviar earlier than he starves, turning a hungry eye towards the unique fish that swim unbothered of their tank excessive within the sky.

It’s “Survivor: Penthouse Apartment,” and it maps our 2020 expertise of staying residence throughout the pandemic (watch as Nemo pretends to host a cooking present) and explores a few of the trauma that comes from this type of isolation and alienation engendered by expertise that’s supposed to make our lives extra comfy however, as a rule, retains us aside.

Nemo has solely artistic endeavors to maintain him firm, however his need for connection and expression doesn’t die. He develops parasocial relationships with the constructing employees on the safety displays, unable to cry out to or join with them. He finally devolves right into a form of Early Man sort, scrawling on the partitions, creating unusual altars and buildings, creating an virtually non secular fervor in his isolation.

Katsoupis calls into query the overly inflated worth of artwork whereas reminding us that expression is inherently human and elemental. It sits nearer to the highest on our hierarchy of wants than we would assume.

Katsoupis poses these probing and provocative questions on humanity however doesn’t supply any clear solutions or messages. Rather, he lets his muse, Dafoe, merely inhabit this harrowing journey along with his unusual magnetism and sense of timelessness, in a efficiency that’s concurrently primitive and transcendent. Nemo turns into a determine straight out of Greek mythology, reckoning with the forces of creation and destruction, however it’s unclear whether or not he’s Sisyphus, Prometheus or even perhaps Icarus.

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Walsh is a Tribune News Service movie critic.


Rating: R, for language, some sexual content material and nude photographs

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: Starts March 17 on the whole launch