Buster’s Mal Heart is three films that struggle to connect towards each other in their nonlinear progression. The first is that of a man trying to escape the daily grind and live off the grid with his family. The second is that of the same man living off the grid, but still mooching off the vacations homes of the woods he roams. The third is the same man once again so off the grid on the ocean his mind has left the human world. The central character is as much searching for meaning in his dark adventures as I was, hoping that all this madness and darkness would build to something more than just an esoteric afterthought.
Rami Malek plays this man of many dimensions, Buster, as skillfully as he can. The moments between Buster, his wife and daughter feel real as the frustrated father does his best to put up a front that is one piece of bad news away from crumbling down. You can feel the tiredness in his baggy eyes as he somberly attempts to be a playful and insightful daughter as well as an understanding husband. He doesn’t see his family often as he works the night shift at a hotel, drifting off at the front desk and wandering empty hallways. On his breaks, he takes in a television program hosted by Franklin Ruehl on the coming inversion of the year 2000. It’s interesting that Buster would choose to zone out on such a program considering that Franklin Ruehl is a real pseudoscience figure that has hosted conspiracy theory programs in the 1990s. He seems to believe what he’s selling and his various TV appearances seems to suggest he has embraced the crackpot label. If he beliefs his nonsense of UFOs and dimensional inversion, why not Buster?
Buster’s mind wanders further when a computer programmer played by DJ Qualls fills his mind with more paranoia about “the machine” and the inversion is coming. He’s insane, but when working long nights with nobody to talk to, insane doesn’t seem so insane. While his world spins wildly out of control, the movie soon shifts to him being on the run from police in the woods. This is where his mind feels most lost as he breaks into vacation homes, screams about the inversion when calling into local radio stations, drawing pictures of the inversion and defecating in crockpots. His actions during this wandering are almost entirely random, as when he calls up a phone sex line to, once more, announce the inversion. This section is also intended to be humorous as local authorities compare his drawings to that of anuses. At least, I hope it was intentional.
Sarah Adina Smith both wrote and directed the picture, which, similar to her work on Goodbye World, has a lot to say without much meaning. Her stories seem to focus on an escape from society, a need to not rely on the suckling of government and corporate teats, but to what end? There’s an obligatory moment where Buster explodes into a rant about how much he hates working nights, living with his in-laws and letting himself be brought down by the system. It’s a rant that is both meaningful and meaningless which displays how he has plenty of passion for escape, but no smarts about how to get there. As such, the movie retreats in its final act into a puzzler of a surrealist film where themes and ideas take a backseat to the weirdness of the abstract. Whatever questioning there is of Buster’s true perspective becomes lost over the bizarre sights of him splitting into and vanishing in puffs of smoke.
I’ll bet if I dig deeper into this film a few years down the line, there will be some intelligent and insightful core to all of this madness, but I haven’t had enough coffees or stooped myself in enough philosophy books to warrant such a level of examination. Perhaps if I become as tired as Buster, woke as a computer programmer or as astute as Franklin Ruehl, I could probably see this picture as being much more than the peculiar waxing of someone who despises the rat race. Maybe then I can embrace the special effect of the millennium inversion as more of a personality-defining trait of consciousness in the universe and not just a cheap special effect.