Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘One Hour Photo’: The worlds we create for ourselves

A look at Robin Williams’ lesser-known project
Photo from One Hour Photos IMDB page.
Photo from One Hour Photo’s IMDB page.

In a world that can often be dreary, there are many things we can do to escape and find some sort of peace. Some simply choose to relax with television or writing, while others may take the more precarious route of drugs and alcohol. Another way is to live vicariously through the lives of others that we perceive as “perfect.” In “One Hour Photo,” this desire to escape reality is taken to the extreme, showcasing how deluded one person can become in the pursuit of inner peace. Mark Romanek’s 2002 psychological thriller ties in delusions of grandeur and a man’s attempts to make them a reality.

“One Hour Photo”revolves around Sy Parrish, played by Robin Williams, an employee at a pseudo-Walmart establishment working in their photo development wing, priding himself on his often-ignored work. Though he appreciates the lives of all his customers, none catch his eye quite like the seemingly ideal Yorkin family. Will, Nina and young Jake become the subjects of Sy’s every waking thought, in which he portrays himself as the beloved “Uncle Sy.”Following their lives through pictures (even saving his favorites for his private collection), Sy’s interest derails into obsession as he desperately tries to connect with a family he was never a part of.

Constantly blurring the lines between thought and reality, “One Hour Photo”draws comparisons to Satoshi Kon’s “Perfect Blue(1997). “One Hour Photo” is actually at a disadvantage here, only being able to utilize practical and digital effects, without the use of sketching and illustrating the colorful and expansive words that Kon’s manga background affords him. Many times we find ourselves transitioned into Sy’s dream life, where the Yorkins love him unconditionally, only to be snapped back to his tragic reality. The only minor change between these scenes is an increased use of tracking shots. When Sy interacts with the Yorkins in real life, it is often in a shot-reverse style. Rarely are Sy and any member of the Yorkins shown together, a reminder of the immense distance between his dream and reality. This use of technical differentiation does little to clear up the dream world and the real world, as it should, helping to build tension and keep the plot unpredictable.

The prevailing theme throughout this fever dream of Sy’s thoughts is acceptance. In addition to his precious Yorkins, Sy looks to any and all parts of his life for some sort of place where he fits in. Despite this, he fails to see that there are people in his life who care for him, such as his assistant in the photo department, the young and curious Yoshi Araki. Even at Sy’s darkest and most detached moments, Yoshi still appreciates Sy’s talents and the lessons he’s learned from him. Many people can misconstrue loneliness as a lack of attention from a desired person or group, and in Sy’s case, the Yorkins’ indifference is as good as rejection. Finding that acceptance can often seem impossible, and that makes it feel hopeless, but it’s out there for all of us.

Sy’s mental illness is the root of many of the film’s dilemmas. Though many films often fail to give accurate or respectful depictions of mental illness, “One Hour Photo”does a fair job with Sy’s various ailments. Though Sy operates as an antagonist to the Yorkins, he’s the protagonist of our and his story, and much of what he does truly does not register to him as wrongdoing. This stands out as a prevailing theme for the majority of the film. Perception is a tricky thing. It’s so hard to make everyone happy as well as ourselves, and this is only exacerbated in the presence of Sy’s illness. Even for people operating at a relatively unaffected level, we can fail to read subtle cues that can seem obvious from someone else’s perspective. This can help us understand the scope and severity of Sy’s affliction, and just why it is so hard for him to cope with what he sees as rejection from the Yorkins.

This largely unknown film gave us a side of a truly unique actor in Robin Williams, who often played comedic roles. No matter how unstoppable the hopelessness seems there is always someone out there who cares for you: A Yoshi for every Sy.

Jackson Walker can be reached at [email protected].

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  • J

    Jackson WalkerFeb 23, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Thank you Bruno

  • B

    Bruno SanmartinoFeb 20, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    A good read! Insightful and fun to read.