‘I wish I didn’t like sweets as much as I do.’
- James Corden
You are bored by the seaside. There’s nothing to do but wait around. The realisation that escape is impossible dawns like a winter sun.
This ought to be firmly within the imaginative powers of a St Andrews student. And if it somehow isn’t, don’t fret: it’s coming soon, to a screen near you! Because such is the predicament of the characters in Theo Quantick’s new film Waiting for O, which premiered at the New Picture House on April 20th and opened for general release on May 1st, brought to us by The Cult of Nic Picture House.
Waiting for O is Mike Tyson in movie format. Short (the run time is twenty minutes), bob-and-weave elusive, and very hard-hitting. The slickness of the final offering is the product of almost two years of hard creative labour on a film that is student written, acted, produced, and funded. I give it five stars, zero razzies, and one hundred rotten tomatoes.
There are a couple of star hands on deck, though. Justin Dolby, the sound engineer, worked on the Oscar-nominated Tár, and the appropriately named William Glass, BAFTA nominated colourist, both helped scrub the floors. The film is part acid trip – flashing colours, an exploding firework of psychosis – and part dram of whisky, reminiscing over better days that themselves may be nothing but the mind’s soothing fictions. Shot partly on film camera, it has the texture of a childhood memory.
So what’s Waiting for O about? Quantick points directly at his inspirations as the opening credits roll to a close: Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. This marriage of two of literature’s Goliaths gives birth to a David resembling one parent in its existential despair, and the other in its haunting nostalgia.
Four characters sit passing the time in a seaside burger-joint. They are waiting for someone called Theo, with whom they plan to go to the fair. Lucky doesn’t talk much and busies herself making a cup of tea. Tarry winds up like a yo-yo, swears a lot. Maddison reads Proust. She’s sardonic. Hates Proust but loves herself. Yob eats. And eats. He’s got a rich dad, so the normal rules of action and consequence don’t apply to him. He has probably never done his own laundry and probably never will.
Over the course of the film the three tear one another’s throats out. But you sense they need one another; if they cut one another with verbal daggers, it is only because what they really want is self-harm.
Tarry, Maddison, and Yob find themselves in the capitalist matrix of desire and narcissism. Tarry, who wants only to light a cigarette, is surrounded by televisions screening ambient visuals of flickering fire. Maddison can’t understand Proust. And Yob never got his fucking chicken wings! Earth is empty and all the humans in Hell. Only Lucky escapes.
Shadowy figures cross the front of the shot, ghosts of a world that they cannot reach – Theo’s world. Stuck in a world that is falling apart (everything at ChikKing is being sold off in clearance) stands Desiring Man: Tarry, Maddison, and Yob are all of us.
It’s an Everything Must Go world, but the characters themselves aren’t going anywhere. ‘Let’s fucking go,’ says Tarry, the film’s last line, as they remain static, falling deeper inside themselves to where nobody can save them. The cigarette that Tarry had craved makes him cough. Self-realisation is a pipe dream unless you are Lucky in name and nature.
Opening and closing with extended shots of the fairground, the film has the circularity of a Ferris Wheel, its characters circling centrifugally around an invisible centre point: Theo. Its meticulous layering, an attention to detail that gives the film a richness and depth, makes it an inexhaustible thought-object. And its final shot - a close-up of Lucky breaking into a smile, her face flashing in strobe as James Clear’s fantastic score crescendos - is alone worth the price of entry.
Yeah, this is a really impressive film. For the budding Jean-Paul Sartres, for whom the café chair is a pulpit, who preach existentialism on Greyfriars, this is a film for you. Or for those who just want to pass the time, which would have passed anyway, this is a film for you.
There’s art that fills the hours on the beach. Then there’s urgent art that responds to the soul sensations of grief, suffering, God. This is the latter. Watch it if you can.