Short Cuts is an epic three hour long and polyphonic masterpiece. Nine short stories
by Raymond Carver are twisted together into a monumental entanglement of a
movie. Directed by Robert Altman in 1994, Short Cuts is Friday Film’s top contender
for the accolade of best polyphonic film! (So far.)
The film begins with planes flying over L.A spraying insecticide in order to wipe out
an infestation that has a hold on the city. This event is used as device to introduce
a multitude of characters and situations. The film features an all-star cast including
Andie MacDowell, Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Chris Penn, Tom Waits, Julianne Moore
and Robert Downey Jr.
The film develops the multiple storylines weaving them into one another. Characters’
lives co-exist, if only momentarily. Sometimes these meetings are dramatic. A
waitress hits a boy with her car. He refuses to be taken to the hospital as he has
been told not to ride with strangers. Their lives separate as quickly as the accident
happened. Other times the characters and their individual narratives are simply in
the same place at the same time. A number of characters drink in a bar where a jazz
singer sings. The audience is also given privileged insight into the jazz singer’s life; it
forms another story with its own internal conflicts.
The narratives never stop evolving. New relationships are introduced unexpectedly.
Some relationships become key to the structure and movement of the film. Others
are merely brief moments, which pale in significance compared to the impending
conflict in their own story. The film develops in circles of drama, which overlap one
another. It rejects the linear progression expected of Hollywood cinema. This is its
means of polyphony, many distinct parts making up a unified whole.
The film ends as it begun, with a collective event. This time earthquake tremors
hit L.A. This gives the audience the chance to see how the cast’s situations have
changed. The end renders the past irreconcilable. Some arguments have been
resolved and bonds have grown stronger. Others end tragically. There is no definitive
message. Situations are both good and bad. One is only left with the sense that life
goes on. And on…