There are very few films that the average viewer will see in their life that causes as much confusion, derision, and disgust, as Aram Avakian’s subversive political thesis ‘End of the Road.’ Filmed during the late 60s, Avakian’s tour-de-force takes the pent up rage and pseudo-dissociative identity crises of an American people – on the mend following a disastrous Vietnam conflict – and opts to tell us that, yes, we are right to be angry, that nothing short of a complete mental breakdown will help in our escaping a society hellbent on concluding the chapter of its own demise. We are, to put it simply, on a road with only two exits – birth and death, a journey towards nothingness, and we get nearer every day.
‘End of the Road’ starts with student Jacob Horner (Stacy Keach, ‘The Bourne Legacy’) receiving his graduate diploma and heading off to a nearby train station to begin his journey into the world, as far as the change in his pocket will take him. While waiting on the train platform, Horner is bombarded with images – assassinations, bloodshed, war, poverty, death, more bloodshed – and is immediately cast into the void of “catatonia.” When Doctor D (James Earl Jones, voice of Darth Vader), watching Horner from afar and then up come, comes across this prospective new victim/patient, things begin to get even weirder when Jacob becomes privy to the doctor’s prescribed notion that giving in to fantasy is the best medicine for recovery from our cruel world.
From beginning to end, the film is a political deconstruction of aversion. The celluloid reeks of dissension, every frame pounding the notion of a world which is so hopelessly folding in on itself that all we can do to escape is willingly lose our minds. But even that comes at the cost of a humanity that we can’t afford to lose because we come to find, rather unwillingly, that it isn’t ours to lose. When Jacob begins the early stages of recovery following his catatonia, it isn’t he who decides what to do with his life, but Doctor D. A mental health practitioner with a pension for psychosis-induced gestalt therapy, D gives his patient the play-by-play of how he will apply to become a professor at the local university, continuing the circuitous rinse-wash-repeat obsession we Americans have with passing down wasted knowledge. Jacob does as he is told.
It’s hard to find anything you might be able to criticize ‘End of the Road’ for. Characters serve as caricatures, placeholders for the aspiring wannabe assassin or physician, and their goals with vigor. The score, an ear-shattering cacophony of explosions and men dying one moment, an equally eclectic jazz number the next, bespeaks itself of the instinctively absent mandate with which we carry out our lives. Avakian’s predilection for the flashing imagery that often accompanies such scenes make for one of the more frustrating experiences you may come across while watching this. The sum of the film, however muddled, is nonetheless apparent: we have failed our loved ones, our nation, and ourselves by failing to see the fault within our abysmally paradigmatic assumption that the systems we have put in place to take care of us – political, clinical, and canonical – unchecked, may very well have reached the point where it puts us in our place.
See this film if you were able to understand, or actually enjoy reading, any of the aforementioned.
‘End of the Road’ had only one special feature, a 33-minute documentary (“An Amazing Time: A Conversation About End of the Road”) where we get to learn more about Avakian through basically his entire surviving cast and crew (except co-writer Terry Southern). It’s an okay featurette, but not entirely as enjoyable as it could’ve been.
‘End of the Road’ has been rated R (originally ‘X’) for Strong Disturbing content including an Abortion, Aberrant Sexuality, Violent Images and Brief Language. There is no site linking to a detailed description of the questionable content within this film, but suffice it to say that the abortion isn’t so much graphic as it is disturbingly long and focused on (if you don’t know the difference, then you probably shouldn’t see this film), and the Aberrant Sexuality is definitely weird, but mostly pertains to off-screen/obscured moments.
This film is available at the following retail stores and online markets:
Amazon -- DVD ; Blu-Ray
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