From its surplus-store WWII pageantry to its hot, fuzzy cinematography somehow suggestive of both Bolex and Instagram at once, Impolex is an uncommonly honest paean to millennial fecklessness. Borrowing a plot smidgen or two from Thomas Pynchon, writer-director Alex Ross Perry’s Cracker Jack prize of a premise jettisons Tyrone S. (Riley O’Bryan), a mush-mouthed pretty boy with a GI haircut and an amnesiac personality, off into an unidentifiable and interminable postwar wood on a search for twin V2 rockets (00 and 01). What purpose the WMDs themselves serve is unclear; there’s a conversation at one point about whether Tyrone is seeking rockets that have been “exploded” or not, and he answers obliquely. The task primarily provides the character with a purpose he can adopt as leisurely as possible; he commits himself to halfheartedly going through the motions of what is likely a wild goose chase while occasionally forgetting where he is and what he’s doing. When confusion capsizes his search, he tends to sing softly to himself wartime tunes to which he clearly can’t recall the lyrics.
We want quite desperately to gloss this anti-dramatic behavior within the comfortable context of stereotypical twentysomething airheadedness, to convince ourselves this is all jejune historical pranking. And, to be sure, despite the diagetic absence of marijuana or acid, a handful of countercultural motifs threaten to simplify the stately sedateness as medicinally induced. Among the likely imaginary sages that appear before Tyrone on his trek, for example, is a ruddy-bearded, eye-patch-wearing demi-hippie, hilariously called “Adrian the Pirate” (Bruno Meyrick Jones) in the press notes. (Tyrone’s chats with him form lyrically illogical smoke circles: “I’m not worried about finding the rockets,” Tyrone tells him prosaically. “I’m worried about finding lots of rockets, and my rockets getting mixed up with all these other lesser rockets.”) Tyrone also occasionally encounters a girlfriend (Kate Lyn Sheil) that he thought he left behind in the States—she’s the spontaneously teleporting Penelope to his rudderless Odysseus—who displays a suspicious interest in/knowledge of the loose leafs stamped “Classified” that he lugs around with him. Okay, so the rocket science is perhaps the Gmail account of the 1940s, full of hopeless dead-ends and effusive indulgences, and the shamanic lover represents the fear of being hacked and exposed while paradoxically desiring the intimate unmasking such an invasion would constitute?
The problem with this interpretation, and with any interpretation we could hobble together from the film’s dizzing cues, is that the narrative doesn’t validate our diagnostic agency any more than it does the motivation of its protagonist; it lulls us into its reckless passivity to the point that even the comedic duds possess a languid hint of funny. (Tyrone’s piggy-nose shtick is second-rate Steve Martin, but befits the atmosphere of “fuck it” that the movie steadily maintains; the lysergic, fire-licked opening feels equally vapid, but retrospectively becomes a kind of purposeful faux-poetry.) Adopting a peripatetic rhythm like that of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s paraplegic-obsessed debut Fando y Lis, Impolex‘s blasé approach to its weird happenings melts from a dumb joke into an opaque comment on talentlessness.
Tyrone can’t find rockets (he locates one, then loses it), he can’t communicate properly with the various people he meets in his travels, and he can’t emote to save his life. He delivers lines alternately to the floor and the firmament, and his attempts to assert himself are both flat and gawky. At one point in an argument with a vague, muscular competitor in the rocket search, his nemesis cryptically remarks, “I’ve already found what I’m looking for.” The intended passive-aggressiveness of Tyrone’s retort dribbles out of his mouth, freeze-dried and sterile: “Oh. And. What. Might. That. Be.”
In another admittedly gut-busting sequence, he becomes so exasperated with the one rocket he’s been able to retrieve (a large, obviously plastic retro totem) that he pummels it against the side of a hill until growing fatigued and heaving himself downward to spoon with the warhead. Tyrone’s ineptness is such that he unwittingly mistakes the phallic object of the 20th century for a noisome, maybe even lightly feminine, irritant, like the pawned-off purse of a significant other that can shift all-too-easily from publicly embarrassing to sexily yonic. Slim Pickens put the bomb where it belonged; it became his manhood. To call Tyrone castrated by comparison is both grossly reductive and too violent: Impolex isn’t about a man who can’t find his dick so much as it is an internalization of the problematic dick semiotics of today’s young adults. If everything’s a blithe dick joke then where does that leave the male psyche?
What’s left in its place is inert, to be sure, but Impolex ekes out stirring whispers of tender masculine grief. When Tyrone befriends an Anglophonic octopus (voiced by comic Eugene Mirman) with a charming, inflating/deflating head-bulb, he confesses envy for the social credibility of the man who made seersucker fashionable. (He then recounts a mangled, mythic shaggy-dog tale about the gentleman’s colorful appearance at a party, much to the delight of the cephalopod.) And in the lengthy, relationship-oriented conversation of a finale, where the girlfriend laughably attempts to gain some rhetorical control over the madness we’ve just witnessed, Tyrone’s inane bumbling is understood as a kind of emotional nakedness. He sips a stemless glass of red wine and waxes romantic over a memory of watching his lover swim at a beach. Tyrone, like most Millenials, can be mushily nostalgic. But any sentimentality is swaddled in deadly serious—rather than ironic—numbness. While provoking him to reminisce, the girlfriend asks: “Do you remember that time you took me to the beach?” Despite the piddles of reverence and regret to follow after the floodgates of remembrance are pried open, he scratches his head and blinks, saying, “You’re going to have to be more specific.”