In The Way I See Things, the feature film debut by Memphian Brian Pera, memory, identity, interpersonal connectivity, and grief are commingled to form a work that is literate and artistic. Filmed digitally in Memphis, West Memphis, and Hardy, Arkansas, The Way I See Things invokes William Faulkner, Eastern philosophy, and the psychology of loss.
As the story begins, a group of guys stage a kind of intervention for a bedraggled man, Otto (Pera), stuck in bed for two months surrounded by prescription sleeping pills. What precipitated his spinout remains, for the time, unclear, though it can be assumed, by his friends' concern, that he hasn't always been this way. Otto is taken on the road by a friend (Jonathan Ashford) who thinks he needs a geographic cure. Otto ditches and winds up in an ashram where, he's told, "There are no rules, just agreements."
Otto's story is told both forward and backward as the film progresses, punctuated by sequences of trippy images and words that build on, and eventually reveal the truth of, the mystery at the center of Otto's life. These freak-out sequences are expertly — and beautifully — done.
The film is made in both black and white and color. Pera has an attentive eye to faces and shapes, and, in color, the film is gorgeous; the color and quality look as good as anything you'll see at the multiplex.
The score by Memphis musician Harlan T. Bobo provides expansive music that often has a calming influence on the proceedings. Sometimes juxtaposed with the score, however, are images and actions that are unsettling or, at the least, not calming.
Pera had no formal filmmaking education prior to shooting The Way I See Things and had never acted before, for that matter. "It was a very unrealistic thing for me to think that I could make a movie," he says. "I think if I had had training, I wouldn't have done it. Training would have told me that I needed a litany of things that I didn't have, and that would have kept me from doing it."
The Way I See Things has been re-edited and improved upon from the version that screened in Memphis in April 2007 under the title Other Way Around. The film's beginning and ending have been updated, but the surreal aspects of the film have lost none of their power. "It does have some challenging aspects to it," Pera says. "If you do that, you have to be really precise and economical about editing."
Pera begins shooting his follow-up film this week. He says it's a much quieter story, with only himself and two other actors in the cast.
The Way I See Things screens at 12:45 p.m., Sunday, October 12th, and at 7 p.m., Monday, October 13th.