Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Those are the opening words to The Institute, a documentary about the Jejune Institute, which almost immediately inducted 10,000 people after it resurfaced in San Francisco. Not one of these people understood what they agreed to join. They not only joined, but also became active participants.
Was it a game? Was it a cult? Was it one person's attempt to solve the mysterious disappearance of a girl?
Or maybe the question to ask is whether or not the film is even a documentary. It could be a game. Or it could be an introduction to something else entirely.
You shouldn't just watch the film. You should experience it.
Somewhere in the opening of scenes of the film, there comes a recognition that the documentary may not be a documentary at all. It may be part of a game. Or it might even aim to make you an inductee.
This conclusion slowly begins to seep into your subconscious as the credibility of some interviewees and re-enactments begin to erode. The irony is that they only erode sometimes. And it is in this sometimes that the entire work teeters back and forth between unsettling and nonsensical.
As much as the people behind The Institute are talking about the people they are covering in the documentary, they also seem to be talking to the people who are watching the film. Is it a game? An induction? A waste of time?
But how could it be those things if the messages inside aren't a game?
This is one of the reasons so many reviewers and film festival attendees have called the documentary mind boggling. Sure, some people will finish watching this Spencer McCall creation and consider it all a waste of time. On the other hand, is it a waste of time if it opens up transformative ideas?
Just as an inductee recounts, the entire idea behind it is to blur the lines between fiction and reality until you aren't always sure what might be real and what might be a put on. For example, there really was Sun Yat-Ken, which the film references within the first 10 minutes. But whether he was a real-life antagonist of nonchalance could be hotly debated. As a revolutionary, maybe he was.
Likewise, just as interviewees recount how their paths began by being taken in when filling out an induction card, so can anyone who sees or plans to the see the documentary. There is a hidden place just for them. And there, they can obtain an induction card and begin to unlock more secrets to nonchalance when they watch the film.
The most unsettling part about the film is feeling it do what is says it can do.
Assuming you don't dismiss it outright without medication or entrenched skepticism, The Institute does an amazing job at blurring the lines between what is real and not real, just like many documentary makers do to lead people to virtuous and villainous ideas, beliefs, and conclusions.
The only difference between this documentary and almost every documentary you have ever seen, is that they empower you to see the put on and as much as pop psychology. And yet, because there are so many hidden messages, meanings, and secrets in plain sight, there is some value within the vision.
In some ways, it's almost like a recreation of Room 237, but without the ominous nature of The Shining and mind of Stanley Kubrick. Instead, McCall has fun with it for better or worse.
A couple more graphs about director Spencer McCall.
Personally, I lean toward the notion that he did it for the better. And what I love about him is that he is a multimedia producer at a tech company by day and a motion graphic adjunct professor at San Francisco State University (SFSU) at night. He graduated from SFSU in 2008 through the animation program.
The project came to him via Gordon Mclachlan (featured in the film) as an extension of the game. Right, there really is a game. Or perhaps, you never know, the movie might have existed before the website. Or maybe not. Its video trailer was uploaded three years ago.
The Institute by Spencer McCall Bends Perception At 6.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
There is a certain campiness that tries too hard at times, but this is otherwise a splendid independent that opens up your head. Most people will have a great time with it if they don't take it too seriously. Those who take is too seriously will simply feel like they wasted their time. Ironically, the film talks about that head on too.
You can find The Institute on Amazon Instant Video or you can rent or purchase it from iTunes. Having an induction card is optional, but there is a good chance you'll want one by the end.