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Ray Wise (left) and Mike Stasko in a scene from Iodine

2 out of 4 stars



  • Written and directed by Mike Stasko
  • Starring Mike Stasko and Ray Wise
  • Classification: NA

Does this sound vaguely familiar? The lead character of a story heads up north in search of a missing father, but once in the woods, experiences a mental breakdown. That's the plot of Margaret Atwood's second novel, Surfacing, and perhaps coincidentally, also of Windsor, Ont., native Mike Stasko's debut film, Iodine.

In any case, the hero's attempt to get back to a natural world, and his dissolution of sanity in the process, has a mythic resonance. Stasko's film is rough, but interesting and unapologetically arty, mixing crime, madness and even some science-fiction elements. All of this is carried off with a good deal of abstract dialogue, a moody score and point-of-view camera work.

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The opening scenes show the protagonist, John (Stasko again), in the city. He's in a group-therapy session in which one of the patients, Laura (Vicki Rivard), is complaining bitterly about the emptiness of her life. Later, by chance, she rear-ends John in her car. It's not initially clear whether John is the therapist or a patient.

In any case, he has another job, working in a studio creating advertising jingles. One day he gets an urgent call from his sister, saying their father hasn't been heard from in several days. Could John go up and look for him?

Cut to John up at the father's camp, where he's disconcertingly casual about his search. He goes for a run in the woods. He sleeps late, brushing off the increasingly urgent calls from his sister.

Near his father's camp he meets a handsome, garrulous older man named Avery (Ray Wise, of 24 and Twin Peaks fame). Avery says he is a colleague of John's father, and a fellow physics professor. They have been working together on a top secret project that involved both preparation for a post-apocalyptic event and the chemical element of the title, which in the combination potassium iodine can provide some protection against radioactive poisoning.

There's something of the late LSD guru Timothy Leary in Avery, a semi-persuasive blowhard who says things like "Everything is everything" and compares life and death to the digital system of ones and zeros. He dictates lectures to a tape recorder, though whether he's a genuine professor or not isn't entirely clear. His verbal patter sounds like that of an intelligent kook, which, of course, would not rule him out as a academic.

There's no real doubt that John, at least, is having mental problems. He begins experiencing disorienting headaches - along with murmuring voices and a dissonant musical score - especially when he dives off a railway bridge. He begins to argue with his now frantic sister on the telephone. At one point, he's falling asleep in front of the television to reports of what is referred to as a "nuclear incident." Then he invites his old group-therapy mate, Laura, up for a visit. They sleep together, they squabble and Laura asks him if he's stopped taking his medication.

Iodine stays consistently within John's subjective experience, as he runs, swims, or stares at the landscape between increasingly angry phone calls from his sister. There's one glaring aberration, though, when the film cuts abruptly to the office of a doofus deputy sheriff (played by Broken Social Scene's Jason Collett). The idea may have been comic relief, or a sudden intrusion of "objective" experience, but the scene feels untrue to the film's imposed restriction that, for better or worse, we're locked in John's addled consciousness and obliged to ride out the movie on his terms.

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Iodine screens at 7 p.m. on Friday and Wednesday at the new Toronto Underground Cinema (186 Spadina Ave., 647-348-3420).

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