Film Review Archive


The Man From Elysian Fields
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Now playing at the Del Mar in Santa Cruz, The Man From Elysian Fields is directed by George Hickenlooper. It's a kind of mythical parable, a story of a deal with the devil that-as in all such tales-goes awry. How appropriate then that the voice-over narration and the devil's proxy should be performed by Mick Jagger, he who made Sympathy for the Devil the anthem of a generation.

Set in Pasadena, the pleasure of this movie consists primarily in the gorgeous and anachronizing camera work and the skill of its actors: Andy Garcia is the protagonist, Byron Tiller, an advertising man turned novelist whose mystery novel, Hitler's Child, has met with modest but insufficient success. His wife is ex-ER's Juliana Margulies, a tediously good woman and devoted wife. Through a series of coincidences, and with the assistance of Luther Fox (Mick Jagger), Byron meets and befriends Andrea Alcott (Olivia Williams) and her very famous novelist husband, Tobias Alcott (and Byron's idol), played by James Coburn. Alcott is dying and together the two men re-write his last novel, while Byron "services" the wife.

The plot focuses on Byron's moral dilemma, his deception and his self-loathing, with Luther Fox and fellow escort-played by Michael Des Barres-providing wry commentary throughout. A story of double- and triple-crossing, The Man From Elysian Fields grinds inexorably to its inevitable conclusion. Poetic interludes-that are also, unfortunately, moral lessons-are provided by the romance between Mick Jagger and Anjelica Huston.

The setting for the movie is interesting and also confusing: there are evocations of the recent past (the sixties or the seventies) in the way Pasadena is depicted, in the simultaneously snazzy and cheesy outfits the guys wear, and in the technology of choice for novel writing, that throwback called the typewriter. But the cars are new and there are computers too. Retro and the present come together, suggesting the mythical, timeless quality of the story as well as the decadence-meaning grandeur in decay-of the place.

This is a movie that confirms literary critic Eve Sedgwick's observations in her book, Between Men: that when you have two men and a woman, the real erotic action is between the men. The woman's just there as a cover. I can't say I enjoyed it, however ideologically interesting it is in this time of the return to family values. It's a film that disciplines morally wayward men, but basically dismisses women altogether.

Nevertheless, there's something haunting about The Man From Elysian Fields. Perhaps it's the echo of that silky English-accented voice of a narrator-let's call him Mick Jagger--who scandalized and incited a generation of rebellious youth in the sixties-a narrator our parents surely thought was Lucifer himself.

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.