Palindrome is an odd, dark, dramedy told in a series of acts.
Written and directed by Marcus Flemmings, the story revolves around two people, Anna (Sarah Swain) and Friend/Fred (Jumaane Brown), and an unexplainable connection that initiates after a mysterious phone call. Despite having no other real connection other than the pursuit of healing from personal demons, the duo’s fates are inexplicably tied together. Quirky and offbeat, the film is shot in both color and black and white to add to the mystique and unusual nature of the story.
Taking place in the current time, the story begins with Fred, often called Friend, staring aimlessly around the room. Once it’s clear he’s in some sort of his psychiatric hospital, he’s whisked off to electric shock therapy. Instead of asking for mercy, he endures the procedure over and over again until he is seemingly cast out of his body. Upon the ending of his latest treatment, Fred becomes immersed in not only his most inner thoughts but the seemingly unending pursuit of a woman named Anna — not to mention his relationship with an unnamed woman who provides him with books from the library.
As Fred ponders what’s happening around him, the story shifts to Anna.
Examining a piece of art alongside her girlfriend Talia (Tabata Cerezo), she’s revealed as the artist. Self-described as a “slave to her art,” Anna’s overall demeanor is of one who keeps her emotions in check at all times, even when it comes to sharing her feelings with Talia about their newish relationship. Seemingly insecure and wanting to firmly establish her place in Anna’s life, Talia constantly reminds Anna that Anna’s previous girlfriend was the wrong fit.
What ensues is a time jump revealing events of the day, leading to the party. Struggling with not only addiction but the ability to express herself to loved ones, Anna ultimately finds herself in a scenario where she’ll be forced to display a full array of emotions. Ultimately her world collides with Frank’s to reveal why they were connected via telephone.
Palindrome is two stories of two unrelated people. On one hand, Fred is attempting to find freedom by way of shock therapy. Anna appears to be planning her own demise, and the audience is privy to what happens on that day.
What the film does well in its nearly two-hour duration is to keep the audience guessing. It piques the curiosity from the title (a word that is spelled the same way backward and forward) to how it fits in the story, particularly with the dual protagonists. After becoming invested in both Anna and Fred, the time jumps and subsequent explanations of their actions are intriguing. Strange, but interesting, nonetheless.
Where Palindrome becomes confusing is the overall explanation of who the characters are and why it’s important they connect. The first encounters of both Anna and Fred give a clear indication that something is coming, but it’s difficult to determine why it’s worth caring about. Is Fred escaping from a past indiscretion that requires redemption, hence the shock therapy? Is Anna on the verge of becoming a world-renowned artist? The more these people are revealed, the less is known about them.
Fred and Anna’s respective stories are so distinctly different that even the cinematography is different. While Fred’s story relies on large sections of monochromatic images and unreal occurrences, Anna’s tale is presented more traditionally. Fred’s history involves not only his own experiences but those of the doctor and nurse who service him and a host of other characters. Unfortunately, there’s no common thread to explain why these people, in particular, are responsible for who Fred is now. With Fred’s “real” experiences occurring in color while his inner thoughts appearing in black and white, it’s the only tangible to way to keep track of on which plane of thought he’s residing.
Anna, on the other hand, provides an origin, a midpoint, and a future. Despite that, there are huge gaps in Anna’s story that fail to explain why they happened. Fortunately, all of Anna’s incidents occur in color to give an understanding that what is happening is real.
Palindrome may require several viewings before deciding if these are people to become fully invested in. There are additional characters (Dr. Gladstone played by Daniel Jordan and Nurse Jeanette played by Stella Taylor) who spend a great deal of time with Anna and Fred whose stories are never explored despite the impression they are important to the overall story. Some incidents require some sort of backstory to explain how Anna and Fred arrive at their location.
Lastly, despite a finality to their story, there are only more questions. Ultimately the ambiguity of the story is confusing but entertaining enough to raise questions with this most important being, “What did I just watch?”