When is a film not a film? Well, arguably, when nothing happens, and when the (unnamed) lead character has approximately ten lines of dialogue in a little under two hours. The Limits of Control is either a one star or a ten star film depending on who’s watching it. There’s simply no middle ground. To be honest, I fall into the latter category. I think.
The film focuses on the unnamed man, a suited-and-booted hitman who sits around in cafe bars meeting people who give him a series of cryptic instructions about where to go next. I’d say I’m going to spoil the plot for you, but the truth is, there is no plot. Or if there is, you’ll never understand it. But that’s the point. Even the denouement, where the hitman breaks into a heavily fortified compound, is a brilliant tease, a sleight of hand that leaves you reeling. One moment he’s outside. The film cuts away. He’s inside. ‘How the hell did you get in here?’ his target asks. ‘I used my imagination,’ the hitman replies.
And that’s the thing. This is a thinking man’s film. It requires you to think. It forces you to think. ‘Sometimes I like it in films when people just sit there, not saying anything,’ says one of the hitman’s contacts. The characters then proceed to sit in silence, unmoving, for two minutes. Or perhaps it just feels like two minutes. Either way, it’s a long time. It’s longer than is comfortable. This is a film that will take you right out of your comfort zone. It isn’t a narrative, it’s a dissection — of motivation, of alienation, of existential nausea . It’s also beautiful. Every scene is like a slowly moving picture postcard. Avatar, it ain’t. But I’d rather watch this film any day.
The Limits of Control isn’t a film — in the conventional sense. In fact, it’s a film that deliberately breaks every possible convention, forcing you, as audience, to question every last formulaic trope in genre filmmaking. The naked girl on the bed. The cryptic cyphers. The ice-cold killer. The nature of reality. This film will make you question everything while revealing nothing. We’re so used to looking at moving pictures now, we never even consider the way they’re framed. This is a film that demands you take a step back into the meta-narrative of filmmaking itself — it’s self-consciously aware of its own existence as a work of fiction. You aren’t asked to suspend your disbelief. Quite the opposite. Here, nothing is real. You’re stepping into a dream.
Some people see nothing more than two hours of their life they’ll never get back. Others recommend you watch it with a couple of sheets of blotter acid. Me, I felt as if I was staring into the mirror for a couple of hours. Not because I saw any of myself reflected in the film, but because the film itself holds up a mirror to the way we view our lives and forces us to ask: in a world where we’ve come to expect predictable story arcs and neat, tidy endings, how do the films we usually watch really depict reality?
The truth is, in all its weird glory, The Limits of Control is closer to real life than any other film that’s been documented recently. Don’t expect answers. When the credits roll, all you’ll have is more questions.
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