Notes From Underground

on November 29, 1996 by S.L.
   Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
   "I was a spiteful man." So begins Dostoevsky's novella and so begins Gary Walkdow's excellent adaptation of a disturbing and comical look at the far side of loneliness.
   Henry Czerny ("Clear and Present Danger") gives an incredible, tour-de-force performance as the droll, malignant and allegorically named Underground Man. Wretched and honorable, Czerny humanizes the dark impulses of the human heart as he attempts, in a harsh video diary, to discover the brutal truth of his own personality by dissecting the worst moments of his life.
   He confesses to his camera about a horrifying event that occured twelve years earlier when he worked above ground as a disgruntled cog in a giant governmental wheel. He invites himself to a party of successful college aquaintances, specifically because they don't want him along. The dinner party is a humiliating, horribly comic disaster, but, spiteful man that he is, the Underground Man follows the other revellers to a brothel where he hatefully toys with the emotions of a young prostitute (Sheryl Lee, "Backbeat"). Particularly pleased when he makes the girl cry, the Underground Man convinces her she should leave the business, then returns to his cramped, basement apartment, where he lives terrified and hopeful that the girl will show up.
   In a sense, "Notes from Underground" is the most violent movie of the year and a true example of the adage, "Nothing is as violent as the violence of the mind." No one dies, no guns are drawn, barely a drop of blood is spilled. But seeing the souls that lie wounded on the floor in this film is more disturbing than any display of gunplay or eye-gouging could ever be. The Underground Man's existence is painfully funny, haunted by every miniscule emotion and every abscessed moment of his life. He is a study in ironies: Wry and tragic, existential and emotional. And he is spiteful, so spiteful. Which is why we identify all too easily. Starring Henry Czerny and Sheryl Lee. Written and directed by Gary Walkow. Produced by Frank J. Gruber, Alicia Dollard and Chris Beckman. A NFU Film Partners Production. Drama. Running time: 90 min
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