Date of first viewing: Monday, June 23, 2003
This could have been a typical psycho thriller. The story has been done over and over. Lonely person idolizes someone who represents an ideal and slowly admiration becomes obsession. Friendliness devolves into stalking. Repressed anger erupts into full-blown psychosis. The end is usually fraught with screaming and running. Sometimes there's blood. The psycho ends up either dead or remains at large looking for his/her next victim. But One Hour Photo is not a typical thriller. It's quiet and deliberate, and in its understatement is scary as hell.
Nevertheless, it's not the plot that interests me so much as what the film has to say about documentation -- the things we record and preserve -- and how the artifacts of our lives can be mistaken for the actual substance. Sy says, "If pictures have anything to say, it's this: I was here, I existed. I was young and happy and someone cared enough about me to take my picture." That's probably true. On the other hand, "Most people don't take snapshots of the little things. The used Band-Aid, the guy at the gas station, the wasp on the Jell-O. But these are the things that make up the true picture of our lives. People don't take pictures of these things." "Nobody takes a picture of something they want to forget."
And even though Sy knows how pictures only tell part of the story, he still allows himself to be seduced by the pictures of the "perfect" family. The family he didn't have. The family he wants to be a part of. Uncle Sy. He buys an old high school photograph from an antique dealer so that he will have a picture of a "mom" to keep in his wallet. His story is all about what is shown and what is hidden. The surprise ending is heartbreaking. He says, finally, to the police chief, "All I did was take pictures..." And in a way, that's all any of us do, no?
I'm a fraud, I thought to myself last Sunday at the meditation retreat. And then I smiled. Even chuckled. I'm a fraud. See the things I am showing you? See how I present myself in public? See what I choose to publish on this web site? Pictures. Only pictures. Even the wasp in the jello would be only a fraction of the story. And ultimately, none of it matters. Because, finally, the story itself is an artifact. Even if you could include the whole world in a moment, a second later the edifice crumbles. Reality cannot be preserved.
Our pictures, our snaphots, reflect our lives. But our lives themselves, our bodies and personalities, our beliefs and histories, are only shadows of what is eternal, aren't they? And what is eternal is change. There is freedom in knowing that your own life is the ultimate lying snapshot. That you are no more real than a photo. That the only way to be truthful is to acknowledge the fraud. To not believe in the fraud. Yet at the same time, to live it as fully as you can. Because even if all we are is pictures, we can be beautiful ones, can't we?