Two new DVD/VOD releases confront audiences with intriguing questions
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Photo: [l to r] Gbenga Akinnagbe as Jack and Judah Bellamy as John in “Home”
Do you believe in UFOs? As a kid who grew up in the 1980s, that question ranks up there with whether or not you believe in spontaneous human combustion – which I certainly wanted to after a few too many episodes of “That’s Incredible” – or Bigfoot. I found myself wondering, though, while watching the documentary “Mirage Men,” if this kind of conspiracy fomenting and thinking has somehow been rendered obsolete by the Internet. Can anyone pull the wool over our eyes when we have such seemingly unlimited access to information? (Or does this make us even more susceptible than ever before?)
Directed by John Lundberg, Mark Pilkington, Roland Denning and Kypros Kyprianou, “Mirage Men” posits the 60+ years of hype and hysteria surrounding unidentified flying objects (UFOs) was one giant shell game played by the government to purposefully spread disinformation, in part to cover up secret military experiments and exercises back in the 1980s – early drone testing and fracking using nuclear bombs to crack the hardened sediment (which would result in natural gases contaminated with radiation, but that’s just a pesky side effect to be figured out later on, right?). In the world of disinformation, the accepted notion is approximately 80 percent of what was leaked and being followed up was false; meaning a surprising 20 percent of the crazy talk was actually true. The problem was determining which was which.
The movie goes down the rabbit hole a bit, though, with the 20 percent truth; meaning, for instance, there was the possibility of alien contact. Were we using/testing alien technology for possible human (military) applications? Were UFOs touching down on a routine basis? Were the conspiracy theorists really onto something and not just a collection of wackos (a certifiably technical term, when used in this context)? Who were the shadow men seeding the lies and what happened to them when they encountered something truly unexplainable? The collected filmmakers want us to decide for ourselves.
“Home” presents another type of mirage, an internal hallway with mirrored rooms. They are reflective surfaces – some are cracked, others shattered, while very few capture whole recognizable images. This is the slippery-sloped world of mental health. Just as with “Mirage Men” we ask questions about things we can’t quite explain. “Home” personalizes all the queries by forcing us to consider whether or not you can trust your own perceptions.
Jack (Gbenga Akinnagbe) longs for freedom, a place of his own, without staff hovering over him, pouncing and choking him when he wakes from his nightmares. He’s struggling, moving through the world with an awkward urgency that feels like he’s constantly seeking to maintain a focused grip on an object as elusive as liquid.
The idea of mental health is a mirage projected before the participants in Jack’s group home, one each of them understands it as an illusion, yet they see and appreciate the hope it offers. They long for a glimpse at this truth, which is little more than an article of faith, because they cannot see the idea of mental health in practice around them.
There is a real philosophical debate at play in writer-director Jono Oliver’s film (a merger of sorts between “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Short Term 12”). It is Jack’s story, following his countdown to the home he seeks – and yet it aims to normalize the situation a bit for viewers. The journey features potholes and traps at every turn, large and small, and each one has the potential to derail Jack, as they likely would any of us. Jack is an Everyman, when all is said and done, fighting to achieve his goals. He needs money and proves momentarily weak and willing to do anything to gain it. The mirage here, though, is not his, but ours, as an audience – because as we watch him, we must come to realize he is us and we, in turn, are just like him.
While “Mirage Men” envelopes us in a haze of questions, “Home” offers poignant clarity in a small, yet highly potent, dose.
“Mirage Men” will be making its home entertainment debut on Thursday, March 27, when it will become available to stream exclusively on YEKRA.com. Having made the rounds on the festival circuit, “Home” arrives on DVD on Tuesday, March 25.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com.