Locke Steven Knight
(UK 2013) Tom Hardy
Viewed Empire Cinema 29 April 14; Ticket: £4
Will the real John Locke please stand up…Steven Knight takes us into Ivan Locke’s cockpit as he drives the highways through the night in his communication system battle truck. A bardic warrior of the 4G network taking on angels and demons in his quest to confront and balance the forces of personal kama. Locke existing as a virtual entity, a stream of consciousness and desire connecting him out to other actual worlds that he trying to shape and control. The Locke Machine. The eponymous film title taken from the name of its main character, may point to the film’s philosophical provenance, in that this name is shared with the seventeenth century English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke. John Locke proposed what for the time was a radical theory of the self, which he defined as a continuity of consciousness. And certainly in Ivan Locke, as in his namesake, we see a man of the Enlightenment. A being defining himself through consciousness, and through rationality connecting to the domains of utility emotion and ethics.
Steven Knight sets up the situation of being in a car. The car as a carapace for a continuous stream of conscious communication, a default state of modern disembodied virtual existence. The disembodied virtual element also characterises the in-car monologue Ivan directs to his dead and resented father. As well as being a device for a emotional back story, Ivan’s ‘father monologues’ also read as an extension of in-car communication into the land of the dead: as if death itself was no impediment to the unending stream of communications that characterise our existence.
The mobile call as an existential experience in which we are defined by our intentions; where we are nodal points of vast nervous systems that relay information. Ivan’s attitude to the information that streams out of and into his vehicle validates faith in contemporary communication systems. Like a five star general he runs his campaigns on the assumption that his information is full and true, compounding the idea that we can ubiquitously control manipulate and promote ourselves instrumentally through the microwave channels.
The film’s plot ends with the apparent triumph of Ivan the technocrat. The Ivan machine which he put into play has produced satisfactory outcomes on all fronts: the practical and the moral; and time has been bought and a position established in the difficult dialogue with his wife.
As the film progresses we watch Locke cope with the stresses invented for him by Knight. But I felt increasingly that I was watching a sort of displaced superhero movie. The Locke machine was driven by an overcoming script engine which displaced meaning. Locke had nothing to untangle except the knots in an external world. As the script mechanics became evident, interest in the movie was sustained by ratcheting up of the emotional feed-back loops that had been put into play. But for the audience the superhero scenario left the world of Locke’s interiority as unmapped space. As Locke developed the film increasingly resembled a typical Saturday night radio play, completely reliant on melodramatics for effect.
The lack of interiority in the Ivan character affects the film’s relationship with its audience. For Ivan states of questioning, doubt, heretical thoughts, ambivalence whatever, are not present either in script or in performance. Given the structure of the film, with its strict focus on the Ivan machine, the audience is in a situation where they have to come to some moral judgement about him. Psychically and operationally he is more than protagonist, he is presence; his actions his justifications, the film. Although the plot develops, Ivan doesn’t. The Ivan machine does not break down. It stays in operational mode throughout the film, so that half way through the movie there is nothing more to see. At this point that Ivan becomes a tired machine out of whom Tom Hardy has to try a squeeze the last few emotional miles. The character is mono-dimensional. The Ivan machine has not one line or one moment that challenges his dimension. In a critical humanist sense Ivan doesn’t develop, he responds. As a result we leave the film without being left with any perceived truth or insight; we have seen a situation that simply demonstrates what we already know.
Perhaps Knight might assert that his depiction of interiority was effected through the exteriorities.
Locke is vigourously interspersed with exterior night shots of the highways, long shots close shots of different durations. There is particular emphatic use of focus pulls on lighting and on the refractive and reflective metal surfaces of the motorway traffic. Now these cut away images seem sometimes to connote symbols of chaos and confusion that we the audience might link to some actual or deeper state of mind in Ivan. This may be the case, but the serial repetition of these affective shots depreciates their value. They come to seem part of the current vogue for ‘scape’ inserts into drama as a pretension of meaning. And with so many of these shots inserted as cut aways unlinked to any interiority in Ivan, they start to look increasingly like distraction.
The positive element In Locke which pulled me in was its initial premise: the idea of compression and the crushing of space. As time intensifies space is squeezed and Locke opens with the interplay of the two networks that contract space to non-existence: the wireless network and the road network. Time radically replaces distance opening up both practical and psychic possibility in the human domain. Ivan Locke travels on two parallels of intensity and plays them perfectly like some sort of Zen master balancing the forces of Ying and Yang. Breathtaking for a while but somewhere in the intermeshing of all these elements there has to be fear, for without fear there is no meaning. Adrin Neatrour email@example.com