Over the summer my buddy Dan lent me his DVD of an Unbelievable Truth (1988) by Hal Hartley and turned me into a major fan of the filmmaker. This evening I watched his 2001 offering No Such Thing. Unlike Hartley’s other films, which deal with relationships and quirky characters, this film was much more overtly philosophical and genre oriented. The film follows Beatrice (Sarah Polley) as she travels to Iceland in search of the Monster (Robert John Burke) who has killed her boyfriend. After locating and I suppose befriending the Monster, she brings him back to a media hurricane in New York courtesy of her media mogul boss played by Helen Mirren.
Most Hartley films feature dramatic monologues and pontifications by his main characters about mundane and trivial issues at hand within the narrative. However, in No Such Thing, Hartley reaches further with his character’s pontifications, allowing them to speak with informed philosophical wisdom on such varied subjects as evolution, folklore, the daily news, terrorism, and the United States government. It seems safe to assume that 9/11 serves as a partial motivation here. But the important thing is that the film never seems contrived or campy when the characters muse on these subjects. These moments fit comfortably within the narrative, and where the Monster is concerned, only reinforce his character and likability. Such a task is difficult for any of the best screenwriters, but Hartley seems to achieve this feat with a natural ease.
The film is also constantly aware of its genre, which is hinted at and even at times contradicted by the dialogue, which would fall far short in these instances if not for the strong performances of the cast. The reflexivity at work in Hartley’s “Beauty and the Beast” tale only further convinces me of his ever maturing film aesthetic. I would say that this film belongs on your list of movies to see, preferably sooner than later.