Sci-Fi should be more than just a backdrop: ‘Mute’

By Casey Campbell

Duncan Jones’ latest film Mute is frustrating fare, dabbling in mystery and science fiction, though never cementing itself as a singular vision. It’s also painfully unnecessary for the story to be set in a futuristic science fiction landscape, when the story could have been set at any point.

Mute follows a mute Amish man (Alexander Skarsgård) in Germany as he tries to find his missing girlfriend (Seyneb Saleh). He tracks her through the underworld of gangsters and crime, and comes face to face with a duo of talkative surgeons, played by a mustachioed Paul Rudd and a pedophilic Justin Theroux.

Paul Rudd in ‘Mute.’ Courtesy of Netflix

So far, from a short two sentence plot summary, the film seems like a mishmash of ideas. Well, to make matters worse, it’s also the distanced sequel to Jones’ brilliant 2009 film Moon.

Mute has the unique problem of having too many small ideas, under which it ultimately collapses. Rather than creating a compelling world or characters, Jones sets the film around an uninteresting situation with no one to propel the idea in a world that doesn’t feel necessary. Unlike MuteMoon was a masterful sci-fi movie which utilized it’s setting. It grappled with interesting ideas of morality, while providing the audience a character that was endlessly watchable.

Jones’ last film, Warcraft, was widely hated (critics thought it was too big and jumbled, and average movie watchers thought it was difficult to follow), but I think it succeeded where Mute failed.

I loved it. I loved it because it set up an interesting world with fun characters and a compelling villain. It’s very far from a perfect movie (and I even admit, it’s a far cry from a good movie) but it takes a large world and utilizes it for the story. It manages to humanize the “evil” tribe of orcs (unlike the miserable Bright from last year) and it left me wanting more.

Mute opens with promise. A young boy is shown floating in a lake with his neck and chest ripped open by his family’s boat’s propellers off screen. The boy is left silenced and broken, an innocent placeholder in a violent world. But then we learn of the future that the film is set in, and that his malady is very fixable. The catch is: he’s Amish, and chose to remain mute.

Seyneb Saleh and Alexander Skarsgård in ‘Mute.’ Courtesy of Netflix

The idea is certainly there, and it’s decently fresh. But, in this instance, fresh isn’t good. A sci-fi future does not make a good movie, and here, the sci-fi future landscape is entirely wasted on a plot that could have been set at any point. Hell, this film could have been set out on the American West post-Civil War. The setting and plot have no correlation, and just make the overall product feel even more jumbled and messy.

Mute is so frustrating to me because of the talent behind it. Duncan Jones is a fantastic writer and director, and my expectations were moderately high for his “sequel” to one of my favorite movies. It’s also entirely frustrating because of the wasted potential of the setting and story.

You know you’re in a bad place when Warcraft is arguably better than this.


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