The Infinite Man came to Dungog Festival off the back of successful screenings at MIFF and SXSW, where it picked up accolades and praise for its inventive plot and engaging characters.1 It came as quite a shock for me, then, to have had such a violently negative reaction to Hugh Sullivan’s feature, which is both narratively and intellectually dull. It is a film that traffics in false ambition, using a now-tiresome premise and holding it up as some evidence of narrative complexity, when in fact the thematic arc is anything but. We find ourselves tethered to implausible and poorly written characters as they loop through time, resulting in a repetition of events akin to purgatory for the viewer. One could be forgiven for thinking, as the film rounds its fourth or fifth loop, that Dante had conceived a new circle of hell, to punish audiences who dreamed innovative Australian romantic comedies could exist.
We follow a “quirky” man, Dean (Josh McConville), who decides to take his (presumably) long-term girlfriend Lana (Hannah Marshall) away to a motel in the desert for their anniversary. The thing is, it’s exactly where he took her last year, and as becomes apparent instantly, he has planned out everything to be exactly the same, from activities to the very clothes that they are wearing. Were that not already a completely obvious metaphor for romantic stasis, the plot then, through clumsy exposition in dialogue, introduces its science-fiction element, a device which can capture a moment in time, to be retrieved and repeated infinitely.2 After the surprise arrival of Lana’s ex-boyfriend Terry (a fairly entertaining Alex Dimitriades), Dean and Lana break up, causing the distraught titular man to then craft a full time machine to take him back to the time when they were moderately happy.
By plot device alone, The Infinite Man calls to mind a vast array of other modern features – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Timecrimes, About Time, Primer et al – yet pales in comparison to all of them, by virtue of its reckless indifference to actual logic and emotional truth. The characters in this film are merely vessels for said plot, rather than anything resembling real people. Dean is a boring central figure, a vague ‘scientist’ with OCD his only real characterisation, making his quest to reclaim love more pathetic than noble or even engaging.3 The way in which Lana is constructed in the film is incredibly problematic; the only female character is developed almost entirely through Dean’s dialogue, who describes his girlfriend to her face for the benefit of the audience. She exists predominantly as an object for desire and affection and lacks any real insight or depth of her own.4 The introduction of Terry as this male antagonist also reduces Lana to merely a blip amongst male anxiety.
As the film progresses this male panic becomes even clearer in narrative importance (read: impotence), as more and more versions of Dean appear to interact with each other, they are meant to reflect differing personality traits and aims, yet they lack any real developmental throughline other than the fact that change has presumably occurred through time and time travel.5 This element of reflexivity on the part of the filmmaker, turning the lens on masculinity, called to mind Spike Jonze’s recent Her, which also had minimal characters, a distinct visual style and lots of impassioned concepts and dialogue. Here, though, nothing profound or insightful eventuates. The film’s conclusion is incredibly stupid in its blunt message about relationships, essentially having had the film build up to a simple joke about exaggeration and complexity. The film would do this again and again – construct scenes solely to suffice one punchline (that usually flopped for our audience) – giving the film a meandering pace. The entire character arc of Terry exists to fulfil one punchline about miscommunication in relationships, and although Dimitriades does well with what he’s given, especially the weirder tangential scenes, one can’t help but feel like his character is emblematic of the film’s issues at screenplay level, a punchy and amusing element that would be at home in a short film stretched unnecessarily to feature length.
Each loop around the plot seems to highlight a fundamental problem with the film, that being that it considers itself funny and clever, when it is neither. Whilst there are a few moments that caught me off-guard, in particular with regards to certain characters taking the positions of others, the successful reveals in those moments are repeated to death, to the extent that later reveals lack any substantive punch because it has become a trope within the film by that point.
More broadly, we seem to replay scenes not for their value in plot positioning but just to re-listen to jokes made in earlier scenes, giving the entire experience the feeling of masturbatory filmmaking. A scene that occurs multiple times involves one of the Deans feeding dialogue to Lana through an earpiece that is in fact his own words as he talks to a version of himself. There’s a surface level point here about self-love and the ego, yet it also transfers over to the filmmaking itself, indulgent in its repetition of hardly funny lines.
From a filmmaking perspective, the cinematography is washed out and uninteresting; the choice to set the film almost entirely in the abandoned motel is a potentially amusing and absurd aside, but the film lacks any conviction with regards to milking its surrounding for visual absurdity in plain sight.6 The editing of the film is also a glaring issue, it opens with some amateurish fades and cuts to illustrate Dean’s recollection and perspective, then continues this trend; the film lacks any real pace to it and it feels like a very long 85 minutes.
Ultimately, The Infinite Man is a wholly underwhelming feature that coasts on the presumption its characters are compelling (they are not), its jokes clever (they are not) and its plot innovative and intelligent (it is not). Stunted as a result of its lazy screenplay, the film never manages to say or do anything of real import, caught up firmly in contrivance.