~contains spoilers~

Ok. Finally!! Here’s my review for Big Sur. Polish reviews are by far the hardest to write as I want to make sure I do the films justice.

True to form Michael Polish’s Big Sur is a cinematic masterpiece; both beautifully and powerfully done. And true to Jack Kerouac’s ‘Big Sur’ itself you get that amazing sense of these people, the uniquely interesting prose that is the voice overs and just how right Michael got it!

Watching the film it’s like San Francisco and Big Sur were transformed into the 1960’s creating a priceless time capsule. The attention to detail in creating Kerouac’s world is superb and combined with the cinematography that captures the incredible beauty of Big Sur itself the film is visually timeless. Bic Owen has also captured the essence of the era in her costume choices, adding to the authenticity of the film.

The film’s original score is a mixture of The National and Kubilay Uner’s unique sound. The score is hauntingly beautiful and superbly intertwined with the natural sounds of the crashing ocean creating an intimate soundtrack to Jack’s life.

The opening sequence combines the beauty of Big Sur, through fantastic camera angles and shot lengths, with the world of Jack Kerouac as original footage of Kerouac on the Steve Allen show transforms into Jean-Marc Barr portraying the literary icon of the beat generation.

Throughout the film the stunning beauty of Big Sur is a brilliant counterpoint to the desperation of Kerouac as he struggles with his inner demons, while the voice overs taken directly from the author’s novel set the scene. Jean-Marc Barr was the perfect choice to play Kerouac and his voice rings true in the voice overs, which were a powerful way of telling Kerouac’s story and pulled you into Jack’s world and experiences. The grainy home videos and the moments when we saw things unfocused from Jack’s point of view gave great insight into his past and present; colliding these two worlds.

My favourite moment in the novel was when Kerouac was playing an elaborate game of peek-a-boo with his hospitalised friend as he’s leaving after a visit. In spite of everything that he’s going through and all the inner demons he is fighting this moment shows that Jack still has an inner child, an innocence that can’t be lost and a hope that clearly can’t be entirely extinguished. This scene came alive in the film with the same wonder as the words in the book held; it truly captured this moment of light in the darkness and I couldn’t help but smile.

While in San Fran to see Big Sur screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival I got the opportunity to wander around and take in the ambiance and history of City Lights Bookstore. Having browsed through the books by those who were a big part of Kerouac’s life and having seen the posters that hold pride of place in the store the actors chosen to bring these literary wonders to life were brilliantly matched in physicality and each wonderfully portrayed their 1960’s counterpart. Kerouac’s muse and the man who was like a brother to him, Neal Cassady, was brought to life by Josh Lucas; the two actors playing brilliantly off each other portraying a bond stronger than blood. Each of Anthony Edwards (as Lawrence Ferlinghetti), Balthazar Getty (as Michael McLure), Patrick Fischler (as Lew Welch), Henry Thomas (as Philip Whalen) and John Robinson (as Paul Smith) also did a fantastic job of portraying these beat generation writers and their uniquely individual relationships with Jack.

The women behind the men of the beat generation were portrayed with an artistry and heart by three talented and inspiring actresses. Neal Cassady’s wife Carolyn was brilliantly portrayed by Radha Mitchell, while Neal’s mistress and Jack’s lover Billie was exquisitely brought to life by Kate Bosworth. Additionally, Lew Welch’s girlfriend Lenora was wonderfully portrayed by Stana Katic. Each of these women represented the love, passion and perhaps even ownership of what it was to be a woman ingrained in the world of those from the beat generation. It was a different world, a different time and for these women something caught somewhere between worship and oppression as they lived lives with men they both loved and perhaps even resented. Carolyn was a women caught in a four way love affair. Neal and Jack shared everything and that did not end at women. While married to Neal, Carolyn also had an emotional affinity with Jack that seemed to have been physical over the years as well. Added to the mix was Neal’s mistress Billie who later also became Jack’s lover. While these two women knew of each other’s existence it was Jack who ultimately introduced the two bringing the unusual love quartet full circle. Radha really captured the nuances of Carolyn, a woman torn between two men who were ultimately torn between the struggles of life and two women. Kate has a beautiful spirit that brought such heart and pain to the tormented Billie; mistress, lover, mother and yet ultimately lost in the world, wanting both to belong somewhere and end her suffering simultaneously. And then you have Lenore, portrayed by the spirited Stana Katic, who is this completely free and wild force, so full of life and laughter, untainted and unjaded by the life that Carolyn and Billie find themselves in.

As always the various elements at all stages of production tie together superbly to create a world and characters that draw you in and leave you watching until the final credit roles. The heart behind this film and the attention to detail brought to life a world different from the one we now know, yet not forgotten by those who keep its memory alive. Michael has surely earned himself a place as one of those guardians for the beat generation with his adaptation of Big Sur. 

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