Writer/Director Laurence Michael Levine has created a deeply ambitious film that blurs the line between life and art. He poses the question – when does the work of a filmmaker stop being work and start becoming their lived reality? Based on Levine’s own dreams during his writing process, Black Bear is an intense and meta story of love and betrayal.
Allison, played by the incredible Aubrey Plaza, is a guest at a cabin retreat where she seeks inspiration for her next screenplay. Hosts Gabe and Blair, played by Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon respectively, are expecting a baby. The couple bicker often, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere for their guest. The film is split into two parts, the first, titled Bear in the Road, plays around with the relationship between the three characters. It sets the scene for the rest of the film, the music and occasional jarring sounds creating an eerie atmosphere. The second part, Bear by the Boat House, subverts any guesses you had about where the film is going.
Visually, Black Bear is stunning. It is packed with picture-perfect shots that you could stick on a postcard or a billboard. The location is so detached from everything it feels like the world has slipped away. Aubrey plaza is mesmerizing in her performance as Allison, you would be hard-pressed finding anyone better for the role. Her co-stars are equally amazing, they find harmony with Plaza’s performance that gives life to the script.
With most films, it’s pretty easy to draw the spoiler line, but there’s only so much you can say about Black Bear before giving too much away. The magic of the film is that it’s best to go in without any expectations (Levine himself didn’t even want to make a trailer for fear that it would give too much away).
From start to finish Levine has curated a sort of controlled confusion through purposeful repetition a constant feeling like everyone is lying. It’s kind of like reading a book with some of the words blacked out – you can get the gist of what’s happening but you know there’s more to it. It’s what makes the film interesting, but it is also where it might lose viewers. Some moments air on the side on unnecessarily overcomplicated, like they don’t really want the viewer to understand. That’s not to say the film is bad – not by a long shot – but it makes it a more difficult watch than it needed to be.
In the end, you’re left contemplating what it all meant, knowing there’s a bigger meaning to it all but not quite having that figured out. Maybe in a few days, or even a few weeks, everything will click and you’ll finally understand all the nuances and quirks that are there. Until then, you’re left with an unsatisfied feeling. You’d think that’d be infuriating but somehow, it feels kind of nice.
Featured image credit: Glasgow film festival.