Sunday, December 20, 2015

Time Out of Mind: A review

The movie “Time Out of Mind,” is about a sixtysomething man, named George Hammond -- played by Richard Gere – who suffers the degradations of homelessness in New York City during a chilly early spring.

The movie was first shown in 2014 at film festivals. Over a year later, in September 2015, it appeared on the big screen briefly in New York City, and, too, in some other large cities, where it received good reviews from critics. It scored a 73% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Recently, the little-seen movie came out on DVD.

My interest in the film relates to how "real" it seems. Certainly, New York City isn't Sacramento, but the circumstance of being homeless in the United States surely has a lot of elements that are universal. We ought to be able to tell if the film is a caricature of homelessness or if it depicts many things that seem legit.

There is not a lot that moves the plot forward in this bare and simple film. We learn about Hammond and his habits, mental problems and the anti-social aspects of his personality as he rides the subway and wanders about the streets of New York, drinking quite a lot, and deals with the bureaucracies at shelters, soup kitchens and at a welfare-benefits office.

At the beginning of the film, it’s morning and we find George asleep in a bathtub. A building contractor makes his way into the apartment where George is, rousts him to wakefulness and tries to get him out of the apartment and out onto the street. George is reluctant to leave; he tells the contractor that he believes the woman he’s been with, Sheila, must be nearby or will be there soon.

Some of this opening scene is obscure. Do George and building contractor know each other? Is what George says about Sheila true, or just a dodge, such that he can avoid being put out into the cold? Events in the movie are played such that a viewer doesn’t have a sure-footed sense of what is going on or what George wants, ultimately, or how long he’s been homeless.

This “uncertainty” aspect is, I suspect, meant as a devise for viewers to share in George’s awkward, and oft-times drunken, mental state.

The film surely tells us a lot that is true about how homeless men are treated in New York City and about the rather shabby condition of shelters and homeless-aid facilities that have to try to help some sixty thousand homeless people where the weather can be brutal.

A big problem I have with “Time Out of Mind” is that everything bad about being homeless is depicted repeatedly in the space of the movie’s two-hour duration. There is lots of coughing and ugliness in the men’s shelters; and it’s all so bleak. [In Sacramento, for the men, at least, snoring is the worst thing in the dorms. And that, you get acclimated to.]

The bottom tiers of workers who run the homeless services are mostly assholes, with a just a few compassionate good people. [In real-life Sacramento, the bottom tiers of workers and volunteers are the good people, with homeless-services charity executives being the jerks.] The movie makes homelessness seem like a war zone rather than what it’s truly like in Sacramento (and, likely, New York, as well), a matter of drudgery and boredom.

The best all-inclusive description of Homeless World I’ve heard I got from a pal: It’s life in a fishbowl. You know how goldfish go round and round in their circular bowl? THAT’s what homelessness is like. You fall into comfortable daily habits and you find yourself wearing a path – which for me was from Loaves & Fishes in the morning to the coffee shop to Loaves for lunch to the library and then to the mission for chapel, dinner and sleep. And then you do much the same comfortable things, over and over, again and again – day after day.

Hammond's life is somewhat like that. He drinks as much as he can and he wanders the streets. There is, too, some drama in his life and a lot in the way of being unwanted and disrespected. Many/most Sacramento alcohol-consuming homeless people are much like the character George Hammond, Life is made into something dramatic. Alcohol does that: Stirs up emotions; makes life a Shakespearian tragedy. Makes smoking Raid insecticide something you might want to try.

There were some scenes in the movie that seemed particularly unreal to me. At one point, Hammond seems overcome by existential angst. He yells, "I'm homeless; I don't exist!" And then a little later he walks down the street, waving his arms, saying "I'm a cartoon, I'm a cartoon."

People vary enormously, so anything is possible, but I can't easily imagine any Sacramento homeless men I've encountered having bouts of angst quite that ridiculous.

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