With A Warm 'Song' In Our Hearts
Hearts of Atlantis opens with a slightly confused image: Through the lens of Bobby’s camera, we see a large, multi-faced crystal sphere. The faces of the crystal bend the light that passes through them in dazzling ways, distorting our view of reality and of the photograph lying behind the sphere. Through the lit orb, perception is filtered and altered, and Hearts in Atlantis, more than anything else is a story of filtered and altered perception.
Directed by Scott Hicks (Shine, Snow Falling on Cedars) and starring Anthony Hopkins, Hearts in Atlantis is based on the first of the five interconnected short stories that comprise Stephen King’s novella of the same name. After Bobby learns of his childhood friend’s death, he returns to his former home for the funeral, hoping to see Carol, the third member of their childhood trio. But he finds that she, too, has died, and he is hurled back into his past.
When Bobby receives an adult library card for his eleventh birthday instead of the cherry red Schwinn bicycle he has been dreaming of, he is at first disappointed. He knows his mother (Hope Davis) complains about money (his gambling addicted father died leaving nothing but bills), but he had hoped that perhaps she’d find a way to give him his present anyway. But soon, a mysterious stranger (Hopkins), who introduces himself as Ted Braughtigan, moves in upstairs and offers to pay Bobby a dollar a week to read the newspaper aloud to him and to watch for the “lowmen.” With visions of his bike in mind, he agrees, and slowly, Braughtigan begins to change Bobby’s perception of reality.
Immediately, it is obvious that there is something different about Braughtigan. He knows things intuitively—that Bobby wants a bike, for example. His fear of the mysterious “lowmen,” whom he claims are hunting him, puzzles Bobby. He also descends into strange dazes during which he becomes oblivious to the outside world, occurrences that scare Bobby more and more the closer he becomes to his new friend. And so, for Bobby, the summer, his magical Atlantis, passes with a series of startling revelations and changes in perception. In this period of growth, he begins to become aware—aware of his feelings for his friend Carol (Mika Boorem), of his mother’s greed and later, of regret, of his father’s true character, of the evils around him and of the uncanny gift possessed by his mysterious friend. Bobby must gradually come to terms with love, loss and truth as he grows out of this Atlantis.
Anyone familiar with Stephen King’s work can attest to his moments of brilliance. In King’s best work, he probes into morality and the complexities of human nature with astonishing depth. We grow to know an outsider (Andy Dufresne, John Coffey and now Ted Braughtigan) from the point of view of a person from the inside. The most disappointing thing about King’s career, though, is that very rarely is King’s work brought to the big screen with great success. For every truly exceptional King adaptation—The Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, Misery, and The Green Mile—there are dozens of poorly and cheaply made ones.
Going into Hearts in Atlantis, I hoped very much that this would be one of the exceptional adaptations. I had high expectations...which were fulfilled. This powerful and poignant tale, as multifaceted as the crystal sphere from the opening credits, is rendered beautifully in the more than capable hands of Scott Hicks. An example of Hicks’ impressive and insightful direction involves his use of glass, mirrors and photographs as motifs to indicate the distance between object, observer and the accuracy of perception. Bobby drifts into his past while gazing through a glass windowpane in his childhood bedroom. On the other hand, photographs, although the camera itself provides distance for Bobby, seem to indicate an exactitude of perception. Bobby’s clearest image of his father comes in the form of a happened-upon photograph.
The script, written by William Goldman, King veteran who also wrote the adaptation of Misery, flows beautifully and elegantly and is perfectly suited for Hopkins. The direction and script, joined with the late Piotr Sobocinski’s cinematography, reaches its height in climactic scenes that have an almost Technicolor glory to them, quite appropriate for the film’s 1950s spy drama atmosphere. Hopkins seems built for the part of Braughtigan, the enigmatic but elegant friend to Bobby. The unquenchable curiosity of Anton Yelchin’s Bobby plays perfectly against Hopkins’ mystique. It is this mystique that makes the film so magnetic and engrossing—the mystique of youth against the mystique of old age.
“You know,” says Braughtigan, “When you’re young, you have such moments of happiness that you think you’re living in some place magical, like Atlantis must have been. Then we grow old, and our hearts break in two.” What happens to that mystique of youth? Is it ever really lost?
“Why do we always expect that home will stay the same?” asks Bobby. “Nothing else does.” In revisiting his past, his home, in Hearts in Atlantis, Bobby is able to regain some of what he lost through the years and come to terms with the present.
Hearts In Atlantis
Warner Bros. Pictures