When this was out, one of my co-workers at the time came in and was quite adamant about warning everyone away from it, virtually apoplectic with hatred for this movie. Okay, so I'm interested! You have to remember at the time it came out the trailer just showed Julianne freaking out that husband was Photoshopping their son out of pictures, lots of running, and finally some sort of explosion of some kind. So you really had very little idea what the movie was going to turn out to be about… A calculated risk that did NOT turn out for the best, as once audiences got in and found out what it was about, they couldn't help but think it was monumentally stupid.
This is directed by Joseph Ruben, known for mediocre B fare that people like better than they think they will, most notably The Stepfather and Sleeping With the Enemy, and it conveys mediocrity from the first shot, a generic fly-over of a very blue-shifted Manhattan. We soon see Julianne Moore as Telly—yes, like Telly Savalas and like the British/Australian slang term for television, as immortalized on the Crowded House number "My Telly's Gone Bung"—sitting thoughtfully in a swing, then later at home, looking at photographs on a dresser, while we hear her talking to her shrink. She's saying that she's making progress because she's gotten her obsessing about her dead son down to about an hour a day. Her husband Jim says she's got a "death grip on the past," and this has led to several fights and strain on the marriage. He shrink is played by Gary Sinese, and when Telly asks him where her coffee went, he says she had coffee last week, not this week, and has manufactured a memory, which she's just doing all the time.
She goes home and tries to have a nice dinner with hubby—well then how about we drop the passive-aggressive "Jokes?"—but soon discovers that he has apparently Photoshopped their son out of their family photos, which causes her to go berserk. She takes a walk in the park, where she meets a neighbor who lost a daughter in the same plane crash her son died on [and what were all these 8 year olds doing on a trip by themselves?], but he claims not to know her.
Now we have to stop for a second to talk about the interior design. Telly is an "editor" and we see her husband down in the financial district, but that's all we know. However, they live in a brownstone in Brooklyn that would cost at least a million dollars, and the interior design inside is OFF THE CHART OTT, every nook and cranny accessorized with expensive doo-dads [and not the tiniest hint of clutter], and interesting wrought-iron balconies and huge antique dining tables and bowls full of perfect green apples to the point where we can only conclude that non only have they an interior decorator on call day and night, but perhaps have he or she living on the premises in order to supply architectural accents in real time. This is the work of production designer Bill Groom, who either does not care that the environment he created for these characters SERIOUSLY warps our perceptions of who they are as people, or is just fully down with the idea that mainstream films are essentially long-form advertisements for luxury lifestyles—or was instructed one way or the other. I'm not just harping on an insignificant detail, because either we're supposed to believe that Telly's husband is bringing in several million dollars a year and that they either have several off-screen servants or Telly spends the bulk of her day in decorating, arrangement and perusing of boutiques, OR the movie is telling us that it doesn't care about such details, which is essentially telling us not to take this movie very seriously. Hey folks, if YOU don't care about your characters, why should I?
So the next day Telly discovers the pictures of her son that used to be on the dresser are gone, and the photo books in the drawers are empty. She determines this by turning each page in the books, while you at home are going "Ya know, Julianne, you could just fan those pages. Might be a lot quicker." But not as DRAMATIC! By this time we've noticed that poor, desperate Julianne is gamely trying to take this whole thing seriously, but sadly this requires her to spend the entire movie pitched to 14 on a 10-level dial. And for the first 30 minutes of the movie, what are we supposed to think about her? The only sensible conclusion to come to is that she's a batshit crazy dangerous abusive wingnut who is really best avoided! It's just… I just can't account for what anyone was thinking when this movie went through their mind. So Telly leaves a bitter, nasty voice mail on Hubby's machine, and he comes running home, shrink in tow. At 16 minutes in [we're ONLY 16 minutes in!] they tell her that she never had a son, she had a traumatic miscarriage and invented the whole thing. She escapes and takes off in the car, wandering around until she finally goes over to the apartment of the neighbor from earlier. His name is Ash [why not Zane? Or Zanthar?] and he used to be a pro hockey player, which at least somewhat explains HIS fabulous [though supposedly bachelor-ized] massive loft apartment. Ash is the kind of former pro-hockey player who lives alone but has a strict all-stainless steel rule in his kitchen and has apparently purchased a rack that will array his many butcher knives in an attractive fan shape. Not all bachelors put such thought into such minute decorative details. No wonder women feel that there are no good straight guys out there when they're being told by movies that millionaire design-obsessed hockey players are just average citizens in New York. Anyway, even though he supposedly doesn't know Telly, he lets her in and after a short time decides to head to bed while leaving this strange, apparently psychotic woman in his home. So Telly goes into his office and starts ripping off his wallpaper! This woman is a MAJOR PEST! Underneath she finds children's drawing and stuff, and wakes up Ash by throwing cold water on his face [PEST!]. She tells him that this was his daughter's room, but he still doesn't remember, thinks she's fuckin' nuts, calls the police and has her carted away. The feds take Telly away from the police, and—ain't memory a funny thing?—upon returning to the room, suddenly Ash remembers! Not only does he remember, but he's passionate enough about the whole thing to take on the feds in a window-smashing physical fight, all so Telly can escape. Wow, when the dude changes his mind, he changes it HARD. Anyway, while Telly is on the run, she sees a bizarre cloud movement… at 33 minutes in, our first hint that what's happening here may not be entirely of this world.
So if you’ve seen the previews or read reviews of this, you know that eventually people start getting sucked up into the sky, and I have to say at this point I was getting pretty antsy for that to happen. Which took the form of fast-forwarding, which didn’t seem to be a problem, as so much here seemed to be extended as long as possible to pad out a feature running time. Anyway, around 37 minutes in, Telly finally reveals that she thinks we’re talking about alien abductions here. And the majority of the audience, who came in expecting some sort of psychological or supernatural mystery, says to themselves “Okay, this shit is NOT going to be about alien abductions.”
SPOILERS > > > So Telly and Ash are cruising along when suddenly they get hit by a van! It would seem that when government agents want you to pull over, well, they can be a little forceful. Then follows a long chase that I fast-forwarded through, and Telly once more escapes. She finds her husband downtown, and he doesn’t recognize her anymore! She’s been erased! Meanwhile Alfre Woodard is on hand as a police detective who thinks that there are certain elements to the story that don’t add up—and therefore it MUST be alien abductions. It’s the only thing that makes SENSE!
So Telly and Ash connect somehow and go out to some beautiful lakeside cabin such as always seem to be readily available, and capture a guy lurking outside. Then our heroes TORTURE him and threaten him with death if he doesn’t start spouting information. I was a little unclear as to whether we were supposed to like Telly after she tortures someone, but I think we’re supposed to feel that the bond between mother and child justifies anything. Telly demands “Where are the children?” and says she wants the truth, but the guy says “The goddamned truth won’t fit in your head!” This is because “You can’t handle the truth!” was already taken. Anyway, a second later, the guy, and the whole top of the cabin, are sucked up into the sky. Telly and Ash react in a rather blasé manner to the fact that A PERSON HAS JUST BEEN SUCKED UP INTO THE SKY—oh, you know, why get freaked out over such things?—and silently go about their business. At this point, having seen a person be sucked off, [I mean… well, you know what I mean] I turned this shit off and went to bed.
So later, Telly starts remembering the name of the airline they sent their kids off on, Questair, and they go its offices, which are open and virtually deserted. There is one woman there and Telly cleverly [i.e. we are supposed to marvel at her cleverness] wrings the address of some guy [I wasn’t even following by this point], and they high-tail it to the next in our series of impossibly perfect seaside houses. Telly barely has time to spout that she thinks the kids are alive, when they realize the cops are onto them. This would imply that the woman at the airline office had a moment after they left where she suddenly went: “Wait a minute! I don’t even know who that woman is, and I just gave her this dude’s address!” which makes me laugh to think about. You wonder why more cops didn’t show up and just arrest the two, but Ash, for like the 30th time, distracts the police so Telly can get away. After Alfre tries to kill Linus Roche and finds that he is impervious to bullets [and why is he revealing himself like that anyway?], she finds Telly around the hedge, car stuck in the mud. Alfre has a long speech that I found utterly ludicrous in its loony sincerity, about how she believes her, she has seen it, and it’s evil, and they’re going to get the children back when, whoops! Another person sucked up into the air. Well, I guess she won’t be much help, then. Telly once again reacts like “Oh. Yeah. That was weird. Anyhoo…”
So Telly goes to Ash’s house and you’re like “Okay, so the police, who are everywhere hunting this dangerous couple, are NOT at Ash’s house…” And WHERE are the feds, by the way? They just decided to leave it all to the local police? It’s not usually what you see in movies. The fact is, my mind was filled with all sorts of these kind of logic questions throughout, which kind of tells you that the movie’s magic was NOT sweeping me away.
So Linus Roche, the guy who’s been hanging around for some time, the one who can’t be shot, finally shows up and takes Telly to the big Questair hangar. I have no idea why. And he finally spills the big beans: Aliens are conducting experiments on human parents to see if the bonds between them and their children can be erased. Okay, first of all, don’t aliens have better things to worry about? Aren’t there, like, other matters they should settle first? I guess not, although their areas of study do seem to be a little esoteric. And so this whole thing has been an experiment to see if they can get Telly to forget her son, and she is the ONE holdout that won’t, and is ruining their whole experiment! Because HER love is so special and deep and golden and true. So Linus is really fuckin’ annoyed at her, and all of a sudden she sees Sam, and runs after him through this long [i.e. LONG] maze while he keeps running away. I was sitting there saying “Hey mom, looks like he isn’t that interested in seeing you,” but Telly keeps after him anyway. Finally she comes back upon Linus, who makes a really nasty face that causes all the windows in the place to break [a la Highlander], and momentarily Telly forgets! He tried to wipe her memories of her son away with breaking glass! But then no—she still remembers! This makes the rest of the aliens get real annoyed at Linus for wasting their time with his dumb experiments, so they suck him up in a rather cool [and great-looking] explosion that removed the whole side of the hangar. You’d think the authorities would get more concerned about these multitudinous explosions, but who knows—maybe the ones that ask too many questions are sucked away, too.
But WAIT! That is the THEATRICAL ENDING! What about the original ending? It all goes pretty much the same way, but in the hangar, Linus shows Telly Sam playing in his room at home. He can’t see or hear her. She tries to get at him, but every time she does, she receives these huge electric shocks. My theory as to why this version got scrapped is that maybe people weren’t into watching their heroine get tortured—although as you recall, it’s perfectly fine for her to torture others. During this time we are also SEEING her memories get sucked from her, which takes the form of the flashback where the image is suddenly sucked off to the right. Isn’t that a little embarrassing? Anyway, finally Telly throws herself into the room, and wakes up on the hangar floor. The aliens tell her that they’re going to close the experiment, and that she’ll be the only one who remembers.
In both versions, Telly then runs to the playground, where she finds Sam, who remembers nothing. Hmm, what’s she going to say when he asks where Dad is? < < < SPOILERS END
Aside from being possibly THE stupidest thing I have EVER witnessed, it’s also a little offensive, if you start to think about it, which is not advisable. It’s one of those movies where the bond between mother and son is so beautiful and unbreakable that you start to wonder “What, do fathers just NOT MATTER?” And this movie suggests that they don’t, as Telly’s husband not only completely forgot Sam, but the movie doesn’t consider for a moment that SAM might have a connection to his father. When he’s found on the playground the assumption is that Telly is ALL he needs, and we never bother think about the father again. And in accordance with Freud, the bond Telly yearns for is with her son, and Ash with his daughter.
The other thing is that Telly is SO hyper-obsessed with getting her son back that eventually you start to wonder: WHAT could possibly be so great about this kid? WHAT are they going to do once they’re reunited? Have birthday parties and go to the zoo and cut out snowflakes and make hot chocolate? Wow. And once again, Telly shows zero interest in her husband and next to no motivation to deepen her relationship with him, making her ultimately come off as one of those women who marries the guy, has the kids, then focuses completely on the kids and starts to hate the husband. Men, EVIL men, who can never form a real connection with their children! Not like a MOTHER’S connection! They’re just malformed, stunted individuals!
But the main problem, aside from just how horrible and trashy everything is all the way through, is the genre switcheroo. I wonder how this movie would have done if we knew it was about alien abductions from the beginning. At least then you could get into the Twilight Zone kind of thing about people who are just being messed with. As it is now, it really seems like Telly is insane—only you know she isn’t because she’s played by Julianne Moore. Then, as I said, you start to have this gnawing feeling of “Oh God, PLEASE don’t let this turn out to be about aliens,” and then when it is, you just spend the last half hour HATING the movie.
The movie begins and ends with Telly in a playground. There could have been some interest restored if they had tried to skew it that this whole movie was just her daydream because she’s totally bored with her husband and is really only interested in her son. But alas, no. Aliens. And besides, if she has no husband anymore, she probably has no home, and we already know she has no job... what are they going to do? How long is Sam going to love her when they're sleeping under bridges? She should have just left him with the aliens.
Only with a large group of friends assembled for the sole purpose of laughing, or if you’re an extremely sentimental housewife who despises your husband.