Love in the Dark Underbelly of a Future Berlin - A Review of Mute
A couple years ago I saw Moon by Duncan Jones, the auteur son of David Bowie. Moon was a wonderful, small scifi film with near-solo Sam Rockwell in multiple roles which explored identity, loneliness, and the excesses of capitalism. Recently, Netflix released Mute, the second in a planned trilogy of near-future stories, this time in 2040’s Berlin.
Alexander Skarsgard plays Leo, an Amish german who was made non-verbal by an accident as a child. Tall and somewhat lanky, Skarsgard is a stoic Lurch towering over the plethora of other characters in this amped-up noir thriller. Sincere, earnest and deeply in love with his somewhat mysterious paramour Naadira, one is forced to wonder how Leo ever ended up working and interacting w/ the gangsters, pedofiles, prostitutes and dealers that make up the rest of the characters. But, apparently work in the Amish countryside is a bit slow.
When Naadira mysteriously disappears, Leo begins a silent, but relentless, search for her. There is an interesting context in that Leo’s obvious limitation is his inability to talk, but his silence is such a contrast to the constant jabbering of the other characters who are nearly always using words to obscure and hide the truth. A no-less obvious limitation is Leo’s Amish heritage, presented in his simple, muted clothes and lack of personal technology. In a world of net-enabled eyeballs, robotic limbs and sex-bots, Leo is always a stranger whittling (whittling?) in a neon-soaked, night-time Berlin.
The obvious villain in Paul Rudd as Cactus, who is nearly all respects is the Anti-Leo. Wearing loud hawaiian shirts, a handlebar mustache and a biting, nearly-constant belittling wit, Cactus is a doctor AWOL from the US Army, and desperate for the fake passports that will allow him and his young daughter to leave Berlin, that he works as a blackmarket surgeon. Though Cactus is as prickly as his name, Rudd balances a softer side of the character which has a loving consideration and violent protectiveness of his child’s well-being (as long as you don’t mind that her babysitters are usually prostitues).
We watch Cactus and Leo circling each other for a large portion of the story, not really understanding how they are connected but knowing that Cactus’ never-quite hidden Bowie knife will most likely play a part in it. Ultimately, the story doesn’t quite work, though not for want of trying. However, director Jones and lead actor Skarsgard deserve accolades for creating a world that is not quite dystopian filled with flawed characters where where a good person can still be noteworthy for staying true to their own inner voice.