How I came to see this odd little film will take a bit of explaining, so if you’ll bear with me…
My lovely Anne’s all-time favorite books are Diana Gabaldon‘s Outlander series, a sequence of eight (and counting!) doorstop-sized tomes and various shorter ancillary works that combine time travel, historical adventure, and bodice-ripping (or perhaps I should say “kilt lifting”) romance against the backdrop of Scotland’s Jacobite Revolution and its aftermath. The first book in the series has now been adapted into a television series for the Starz cable network; it debuted about a month ago and stars a young chap named Sam Heughan as hunky highlander Jamie Fraser.
Anne and I have only seen the first episode of this Outlander series, because we don’t have cable and Starz has elected to keep the series off the legitimate streaming services, for some reason. (I’m sure we could find it somewhere out there in the InterTubes, but as you all know, I’m an analog kind of guy, which means I’m not very skilled at tracking down such things.) But this hasn’t prevented Anne from getting involved with a local Outlander fan group on Facebook. Recently, a member of that group proposed trying to arrange a screening of a film Heughan made a couple years ago, a British indie project called Emulsion, for Salt Lake-area fans. It turns out there’s an online service that will set up one-time screenings of such obscurities if you can pre-sell enough tickets to make it worthwhile. Who knew, right? Anyhow, getting Emulsion here required several people to buy more seats than they in fact had bodies to fill, but in the end, the effort succeeded. Tuesday night, I was one of only four or five men in an auditorium otherwise populated by women, watching a movie I otherwise probably never would’ve heard of, let alone bothered to see. (Hey, Anne has supported me in my fannish interests so often over the past 20 years, the least I can do is return the favor once in a while!)
Written and directed by Suki Singh, Emulsion is basically a modern-day film noir, in which Heughan plays a young man whose wife disappeared from their car in a parking lot — or car park, as they say on the other side of the pond — while he was making a phone call. A year later, we find him still obsessively trying to figure out what happened to her… when he’s not just plain obsessing over her. The movie is visually striking, even beautiful in its way — that’s no surprise considering Singh’s background in commercials and music videos — but it’s also pretty damn baffling and deeply unsettling in a way that’s hard to articulate.
Of course, noir films almost always hinge on the idea that things are not what they appear, and this often makes them confusing to watch. For example, I defy anybody to explain The Big Sleep to me in a way that makes sense, and yet it is widely considered a film classic (by me too, for the record). And unlike The Big Sleep, Emulsion actually does provide answers at the end, and they actually do make (some) sense of what we’ve just seen. But the real question when you’re watching a film like this is not so much whether the conclusion makes sense but whether it satisfies. Was it worth taking this journey that left you scratching your head at every stop? The Big Sleep makes the journey worthwhile by being so damn stylish and entertaining along the way that the muddled story ultimately isn’t all that important. Emulsion, though… I’m just not sure the payoff is worth the 89 preceding minutes of “WTF?” As I quipped to our friends when the house lights came up, it was like watching a feature-length ad for Calvin Klein Eternity.
But I will give credit where it’s due: Sam Heughan wears an old-fashioned three-piece suit and hat well. He’s a fine-looking man.