Jul 10, 2003
Eternity (1989) (part 4 of 4)
Back at the studio, James is rallying the troops. He says there will be rough times ahead. Rough times that he himself caused, but somehow he fails to mention that. He says they have to look to the future and suggests some possible ideas for new shows. And going by these suggestions, his business would be in serious trouble with or without Shawn Wallace breathing down his neck. The first idea is to gather a group of scientists who will find solutions to the problems of pollution and other ills of modern science. Another idea is a program to teach the use of mind control to cure diseases. Though, why trusting science to find solutions but not medicine to find cures remains a mystery. Then another Evian bottle makes a conspicuous appearance.
Later, James takes a call from Valerie. She wants to patch things up, and she invites him to go to Shawn’s ranch with her. In the next scene, we’re instantly at Shawn’s ranch. At a horse paddock, the trainer tries to coral some horses. He was Dahlia’s father/grandfather in a past life, but it never factors into the plot.
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We see Shawn chewing out the Governor, then launching into more incoherent babble, promising that if the Governor sticks with him, the next stop will be the White House. Next, James pulls up in his van, and sees Shawn leading Valerie around on a black stallion. Shawn then spots James, and there’s a pointless flashback to Dahlia’s father/grandfather stealing a piece of cheese and getting whipped by Romi. In the present, Shawn urges the horse into a canter and Valerie starts to panic. James hurries to her rescue, but the horse breaks free and tears off.
Mounting a familiar white horse, James takes off in pursuit. Meanwhile, Shawn smirks at the tableau. The screenplay is somewhat unclear (okay, really unclear) on whether or not Shawn remembers his past life. Were this a better movie, I’d call it an ingenious touch of ambiguity, but here I have to diagnose it as another symptom of a screenplay that seems to have been birthed from one too many readings of Deepak Chopra and The Celestine Prophecy.
There are flashbacks to that fateful night when Dahlia hit her head, and things don’t look too good for Valerie as her horse bucks and she falls to the ground. James dismounts and runs to her. Her luck is better this time around, and outside of having her face artfully smudged with makeup, she’s fine.
James, for no real reason, decides this is as good as time as any to commit career suicide. He rides with Valerie back to Shawn’s mansion where a host of cameras are waiting, presumably there for the Governor’s visit. Against Valerie’s protests, James cries out that Shawn was his brother in a past life, and he succeeded in destroying him once, but he won’t wont succeed again. He calls him a warmonger and says he’s responsible for the Indians disappearing.
Okay, pop quiz. You are Shawn Wallace. Your enemy has just hung himself in the court of public opinion. Do you A) sue for defamation of character, knowing his company wont survive, then settle out of court and take the company as spoils? Or B) do you plan a gaudy televised hearing with a manic-depressive as your attorney? If you picked B, then well, maybe you too can someday write and star in a film just like Eternity.
Shawn Wallace sues James, and James quickly signs the release forms for a televised trial. Eric tries to dissuade him from doing this, with concerns about his employees’ futures, but such things pale compared to the importance of The Truth.
Next, we see James preparing for the trial. He naturally begins his effort by reciting the type of verse printed on wind chimes. Pacing around his darkened apartment, he struggles to find his “true” and “perfect” self. A shot of Wise Elder® shaking a rattle is cut in, strongly reminiscent of, well, Will Sampson in Firewalker, actually. Part of the journey is easing the body into the fetal position, and I wish I could look away when James does that.
It seems it’s all for naught as James cries out in agony, “Where are you?” A clothed arm reaches out for him. In the next frame, we see Prince Edward has materialized there, and he says he’s come to help. James asks how can he be sure Edward is real, and Edward says he has information that will help him at the trial. He reveals that Shawn isn’t concerned about the pipeline going over Indian lands, but rather he only wants the uranium underneath. We never find out what happened to the Indians who disappeared, whether they were killed or dumped elsewhere. Regardless, James cries with joy. Now all he has to do is ease himself into a fetal position on the witness stand and let his perfect self testify, and he’ll be all set.
Back in early April when I started this recap, I was struggling to figure out how to describe the final stretch of this film. Now, thanks to the teachings of Mr. T, I have the perfect term: Abso-ludicrous. Or to put it another way, imagine if a group of nineteenth century opium addicts were told to design and mount a production of Inherit the Wind, and you might get an idea of what we’re about to see.
The TV courtroom, for instance, turns out to be something else. There’s high marbleized walls and columns, a live string quartet, a jury box, and a Truman Capote-ish judge. A stage manager (who, as it turns out, is played by director Steven Paul himself) gives the rundown to the jurors and mentions that he’s seen a couple of them on other trials. So Shawn Wallace is so evil he can completely rewrite the justice system?
Anyway, the trial begins. Shawn’s attorney removes his jacket and struts on over to the jury. Playing it like a Baptist preacher in a Stanley Kramer film, he rants and raves at the injustices James has put upon poor Shawn. As per his instructions, the camera has several close ups of Shawn affecting wounded nobility. James, for one, isn’t backing down when the attorney calls him to the stand, even though the attorney produces a statement from his neighbor Berneice saying that she is not his mother. James simply says it was another lifetime and she doesn’t remember. The stage manager gets the crowd to laugh.
The attorney tries to trap James with a hypothetical “if” but James is too fast (or too crazy) and says, “Aha! You said if I lived before!” trying to make it seem the attorney is coming around to his point of view. Not one to be bamboozled, the attorney pleads to the jury not to let this man ruin Shawn’s reputation with wild accusations. Pulling out all the stops he calls James “a son of an ape”, or to use his emphasis, “a son of an AAAAAPE” and effects a kung-fu pose. There is no way to accurately convey the surrealism we’ve stumbled onto. Behaving like a blend of a David Lynch film and kabuki, this movie has secured a hypnotic hold on the viewer. We stand transfixed, not having the slightest clue what’s going on.
James rightly objects to being called names and Judge Truman Kapote purrs that they’re not there to outdo each other’s swift tongues, and to keep it in check, please. Shawn takes the stand, and after his attorney throws him a few softball questions, James rises to cross-examine him. And by “cross-examine”, I mean he yells total non sequiters at Shawn like, “Romi, come down from your throne!” This is all very much to the amusement of the audience.
At the break, Valerie goes to talk to James. She says it’s not worth it, and that people will laugh at him. I try out my best Piper Laurie impression and cry out, “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” to no effect. James says he must try and goes back to the courtroom.
He gives his summation. He doesn’t ask the jury to believe in reincarnation. He just wants a chance, a possibility. He’s just a girl standing in front of a guy asking him to love her. Well, not really, but that’s the general idea.
Anyway, the stage manager gets the crowd to booing. Seeing that Peace and Love aren’t doing the trick, James pulls out the trusty Groundless Accusations. He tells them what Shawn is doing to the Indian reservation, so Shawn panics as the crowd goes into an uproar. Truman Kapote bangs his gavel and demands order. The jury then goes to deliberate. Their verdict is not long in coming, and they find James guilty to the tune of two million dollars. Shawn looks relieved, and Valerie walks down to the courtroom floor. Shawn is already being hustled away by a platoon of reporters as she screams at his back, “I quit!” It’s not quite as powerful as Norma Rae holding up that “UNION” sign, but at least she can now enjoy to right to no more slutty sax music and slide show seductions.
Valerie tries to talk to James, but he leaves disheartened. James drives his car down a foggy road and argues with his reflection in the rear view mirror. He tells himself that he abandoned himself, and he’s just about to punch himself in the face when he suddenly swerves to avoid hitting a truck and plows into a telephone pole.
So, it’s back to the free verse as James recites future Enigma lyrics while lying remarkably cut-free in an ambulance. The music swells to a golden light show effect that wouldn’t have made the cut on the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
James lies comatose in a hospital bed, with Valerie by his side. She prays for his return to her, promising God that “if you grant me this one wish, I will do everything in my power to help this crazy mixed-up world.” Dear, I think the Lord would be more likely to help if you double-dog swear to stay out of it and just go about your business. The “true love cures comas” gambit works again as James awakens. His past-life nanny Selma goes to get the others. Valerie thoughtlessly showers James with kisses and he winces, asking her what happened. Then in what I’m sure was the most sincere homage cough to It’s a Wonderful Life, his friends and co-workers burst through the door revealing they’ve all chipped in to cover his debt. Not only that, but Spinelli has found two major advertisers for James’ show. And not only that, but everyone’s in costume [!] and apparently they’ve all remembered their past lives. And they all seem remarkably calm for having experienced a revelation that would reshape one’s whole theological outlook.
James mentions the rest of the world won’t agree, but then someone turns the TV set on. It seems the courtroom must have held the two percent of the population that thought James was loco, because the rest of the nation has “taken to the streets to fight for his ideas”. In the ensuing brouhaha, the Governor has ceased plans for the pipeline and closed all excavation on the reservation. Wise Elder® tells James he has “awakened the people”. I’ll give them this: I’ll take Jon Voight as a messiah figure over Keanu Reeves any day.
A group of protestors march outside of Shawn’s offices. A reporter asks Shawn what he thinks of James, and Shawn begrudgingly admits he kinda likes him. The reporter’s follow-up is a dead serious “Were you brothers in a past life?” Proving he’s on his meds today, Shawn answers jovially about keeping his options open.
Meanwhile, James closes his eyes in happiness. The crowd begins to sway and hum an old fashioned tune. Eric hands James the crown and a medallion, and whaddaya know? It looks exactly like his medallion from the beginning of the picture. I’m going to say it’s a coincidence, as I can feel the edges of my brain starting to crack as I try to reason how the jewel traveled from a medieval forest floor to a hospital room looking nary the worse for wear.
“True love is forevermore,” Valerie whispers to James. “Yes, true love is forevermore.” And we freeze on them cuddling as the Delta Airlines theme takes us out. The credits play under a forgettable rock ballad sung by Frankie Valli imaginatively called “This Time”. You can stay and listen to Frankie promise to make it work this tiiiiiiiime but I’m off to atone for whatever crime in a past life forced me to watch this movie.