The Rambler is like a Jim Thompson science fiction novel adapted into a film. Its panoply of bizarre characters could be interpreted as either being influenced by David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky or just pretentious. Yet, most of the seemingly random bits make a strange kind of sense in the world of an already nonsensical film. Everything is so specifically odd that it must mean something and not be an accident. There are only a few times when things appear to be weird for the sake of it. These scenes persist for so long they transform from disgusting to hilarious. Perhaps that’s the point.
The Rambler, as beautifully inhabited by Dermot Mulroney, is a cipher. He’s the most consistent and likeable character in a film swollen with peculiar, unlikable, and grotesque characters, some of which may not even be real. He seems to think the fucked up events he witnesses are as fucked up as we do, which keeps the movie from being a self-indulgent mess.
Despite knowing almost nothing about him, we see many of the Rambler’s thoughts. Or are they visions or flashbacks? The narrative seems to travel forward, as much as it can in a defiantly anti-narrative film, but since the Rambler is such an unreliable narrator, we don’t actually know at what point we’ve become privy to his journey.
The opening scenes in the prison give a glimpse of his jarringly jumbled thoughts, which seem even more so when contrasted with his laconic, sunglasses-clad exterior. Yet our own inner monologue doesn’t always travel forward in a straight line and it’s not always consistent or accurate. It certainly isn’t as polished as cinematic techniques would have us believe. Ironically, writer/director Calvin Lee Reeder has created one of the more truthful interpretations of the inner self on film.
There’s a lot going on in The Rambler and it demands a second, third, or fourth viewing in order to address all the unresolved questions: is the Girl real? What are the beeping lights in the sky? What is that thing? Is the Rambler having a mental breakdown? Does he even live in this dimension?
The contrast between the beautifully framed wide angle shots of the gorgeous vistas of New Mexico and the glitchy VHS fades between scenes gives a good indication of the bipolar nature of The Rambler (the film and the character). The sound design is impeccable; sound is used realistically and non-realistically (perhaps even non-diegetically) throughout, which lends an air of unreality to everything. Even the music veers from suspenseful and mysterious to mildly comical. It’s all finely crafted to keep us wondering and guessing.
In a letter to his brother the Rambler writes, “in my travels I have found my only true home is the highway.” Perhaps he’s also a conduit for the viewer’s experiences and expectations. If you need straightforward narrative arcs and three acts in your films, you’re going to be frustrated by The Rambler. However, if you’re searching for something visually remarkable and just confusing enough to propel you into trying to figure it out, The Rambler will scratch that itch.
The Rambler was released on DVD and Blu-Ray through Anchor Bay Films on June 25.