15 Years Later: 'Southland Tales' was a Weirdo Masterpiece  | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS
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15 Years Later: ‘Southland Tales’ was a Weirdo Masterpiece 

When Southland Tales arrived in November of 2007, 15 years ago last month, it was an immediate flop, a strange movie that audiences couldn’t make heads or tails of. When I saw it at a screener, quite a few people walked out. 

Those people were wrong because Southland Tales is an unmitigated masterpiece. It works on the level of both an apocalyptic meditation and a comedy. It knows how absurd it is, and leans into that emphatically. 

The film was the second feature film from director Richard Kelly, who had a cult hit a few years earlier with Donnie Darko. He directed The Box in 2009 and hasn’t made a feature film since, aside from various directors’ cuts of his other movies. (Kelly is listed as the director of The Night of The Prodigies, an English-language dub of a separate film called The Prodigies), which is set for release in 2024).

It’s also one of the best-cast movies of the millennium, anticipating the movie stardom of both Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Justin Timberlake, and filling the supporting cast with SNL veterans (Jon Lovitz, Nora Dunn, Amy Poehler, Cheri Oteri) in counterintuitive roles, as well as other comedy figures like John Larroquette, Will Sasso, Janeane Garofalo, and Seann William Scott. Wallace Shawn – Wallace Shawn! – plays the main villain. 

The Plot

The plot is complex, but it’s worth following. In 2006, there’s a nuclear attack in Texas, which triggers World War III. Republican politicians are seeking to exploit the moment, but meanwhile, Boxer Santoros (Johnson, standing in for Arnold Schwarzenegger), a Hollywood action star with ties to the Republican Party, has emerged from a disappearance with his memory gone. 

His character in the proposed movie-within-a-movie, “Jericho Cane,” was also the name of Schwarzenegger’s character in the movie End of Days, while in his wrestling days, The Rock wrestled men named both Jericho and Kane. And of course, in the ’90s and early 2000s, it was common for messianic movie characters to have the initials “JC.” 

There’s also a group of lefty “neo-Marxists,” a pair of “twins” played by Seann William Scott, and a coterie of porn stars who simultaneously plot a revolution and host a hilarious talk show. And German inventor Baron von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn) has invented a new source of energy called “Fluid Karma,” which may have the side effect of disrupting the space-time continuum. 

Justin Timberlake is there to deliver a narration that frequently quotes the Book of Revelation, before the famous scene where he lip-synchs to the Killers:

Predicting Things to Come

The film is both firmly set in the Bush era and about the politics of the time, while anticipating many things that came later. The USIdent is very similar to what Edward Snowden exposed. Mandy Moore‘s ruthless presidential daughter has more than a hint of Ivanka Trump to her. And with his promise of alternative energy mixed with strange menace, who was  Baron von Westphalen but a German Elon Musk? And the “neo-Marxists” looked a lot like the Fox News caricature of Antifa, didn’t they? 

Although probably the most unrealistic thing in the movie is that the presidential election is about to come down to California. 

And it all ends with the ice cream truck at the end of the world: 

You’re either on Southland Tales‘ wavelength or you’re not. I have been, now, for 15 years. 

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

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