HOME TRUTHS | The Unbelievable Truth

Hartley’s film exemplifies the power of simple witness to transform the familiar into something quivering with unruly meanings. By Louis Rogers

 

The world of Hal Hartley’s The Unbelievable Truth is a familiar one – a small-town America of restless, pouting teenagers and paunchy dads, growling cars and sticky-countered diners. From some angles, it seems straightforwardly to resemble the many dramas and comedies than enshrined American adolescence in the 1980s and 1990s as an indomitable cultural force.

But there’s something else going beneath this familiar surface. With the introduction of judicious objects – a book titled “The End of the World”; a painting of a one-dollar bill on a bedroom wall – as well as mysterious lines of dialogue, we begin to sense some mercurial intention behind the film’s melodrama. Is this all surface, or is there something going on beneath? Is the world going end, or should Audry stop worrying and apply herself to her college applications? Hal Hartley daringly offers his transcendental musings via petulant teenagers, whose wisdom is always hard to swallow.

In the diner where Pearl and Jane work the film’s imagery starts to recall that of another great chronicler of 1980s small-town America: the photographer Stephen Shore. Among his photographs of high streets, boardwalks, carparks, and stopping places in his Uncommon Places series, a substrate of images depict breakfasts and lunches from roadside diners. Picturing these workaday meals with his elaborate 8x10 view camera, Shore produces images with a startling richness of detail that charges the simple scenes with significance even while it attests to their frank, untranscendent reality. Perhaps Hartley’s film similarly exemplifies the power of simple witness to transform the familiar into something quivering with unruly meanings. 

 

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