Out of Blue (2019) - Carol Morley
Updated: Aug 13, 2019
It would be undermining the complexity and originality of Out of Blue to describe it as police procedural, even though the film does focus on a murder, and its investigation by a grizzled, experienced homicide detective. But Carol Morley's brilliant, meditative masterpiece is so much more than a whodunit.
Set in New Orleans, it stars Patricia Clarkson as Detective Mike Hoolihan. We are told early that she is distant, difficult and never affected by the often gruesome crimes she investigates. Things are about to change. After the death of astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell, Mike is sucked into a rabbit hole investigation that leads to some startling and unexpected discoveries.
Out of Blue is two films. On the one hand, its an investigative thriller. And for the first half of the film its feels like just that. The film moves through the tropes and traits of the genre. A crime scene investigation, suspects and relatives interviewed, evidence pieced together. Its a gripping story, and one which constantly shifts and alters our perceptions of the murder and who may have committed this crime. The crime scene is suspiciously too designed. It hints at a the re-emergence of a serial killer (the .38 caliber killer) who left certain objects at crime their crime scenes as calling cards. Is it a copycat? If it is, they know a little too much about crime scene information. The scene seems to be telling the investigators something that is incongruous with the leading suspects.
But gradually, as the first half of the film unfolds, something creeps in at the edges. An disturbance which unsettles both the previously unflappable Hoolihan and the audience. Imagery, colour (notably red and blue) recur. The victim, Jennifer Rockwell, was an astrophysicist who specialised in the Black Holes. And somehow, this not especially unique element of her character begins to alter and shift our perceptions of life and death as Hoolihan becomes increasingly fascinated and fixated on the victims area of specialism. The growing sense of unease introduces to the film a strange sort of weirdness that grips throughout. Something doesn't feel right, and the film revels in exploiting the unease. There is a sense of the past and future colliding into each other. Of reaching both into oneself and out among the stars in search of meaning. Clues and developments raise questions that either have no apparent answer or lead the investigation into a dead-end.
As Hoolihan continues to investigate the death her interest in Jennifer's family is piqued. There is a suspicious father, played brilliantly by James Caan, an unhinged mother, Jackie Weaver, who really does unhinged better than anyone, and two twin brothers. There is something unsettling about the family, an intangible something that you can't put your finger on. For Hoolihan, this only serves to deepen the rabbit hole and get further under her skin. A clear estrangement exists between family and daughter. But why?
As the film begins to reveal its mysteries, one revelation in particular sending the film in a completely different direction, it becomes more abstract, harder to pin down, and therefore more beguiling and breathtaking. Where noir thrillers typically come to a conclusion with the killer apprehended, here the film diverts into a deeper rumination of the life, the universe and everything. On the meaning of existence and the connection between us all in a universe made up of stardust. It's not a film for everyone, but one which, if you let it will burrow deep within your subconscious and stay with you for a very long time afterwards. Comparisons to Lynch are fair in as much as, like Mulholland Drive, the film leaves you ruminating and contemplating its meaning and varying interpretations.
When the final revelations are uncovered, the film demands you go back, revisit and re-look at the events that have just unfolded. Early in the film Jennifer says "You can tell a lot by looking", and this phrase is almost an invitation. Pay attention, absorb everything and perhaps, if you are lucky the truth, the mysteries that drive us, that explain the meaning of our life, and the universe may just reveal themselves. Carol Morley has delivered something truly spectacular.