Director Joe Badon opens The Wheel of Heaven with The Blood of the Dinosaurs, a short film he made in 2021 (according to IMDb), which I reviewed last year. Dinosaurs serve as a prologue to The Wheel of Heaven. It's about Uncle Bobbo (Vincent Stalba), a creepy psychopath who hosts a children's show that informs the viewers about the origins of the oil. After submitting my review of The Blood of the Dinosaurs, I searched for other reviews of this title and found one talking about the "oil-drenched reality in the early 21st century." If Badon was, in fact, commenting on oil exploitation, his comments sure went over my head. I thought he created a funny sex montage using visuals of oil drilling machines. And I liked how he used, among other things, a nuclear explosion to suggest orgasm.
Indie films like The Wheel of Heaven are too opaque (or, as some people like to call it, "too complex") for their own good. It's definitely the kind of film that asks you to come up with profound interpretations, and if you simply point out or appreciate the obvious, you will be labeled as a simpleton. The opening moments of The Wheel of Heaven consist of Badon's interview with the website No Film School. The director explains that this film was inspired by the feeling of watching TV while someone changed the channels. Badon basically provides a key to his puzzle box, and this is something he continues to do here and there. He mentions that many audience members didn't understand The Wheel of Heaven, so maybe this is why he inserts explanations to hold the hand of the viewers. Or perhaps this is how the film was conceived from the beginning itself. Well, whatever the case, the movie is still pretty much uncrackable.
What does it all mean? Only Badon has the correct answer. Yet, the movie might "invite" some viewers to come up with their own interpretations. I think you will make a fool of yourself if you try to decode the meaning behind it all. We are told that the lead actress, Kali Russell, also has no idea what Badon is attempting to convey through his directorial vision. Is she genuinely confused, or is she doing the work of an Audience Character? Badon encourages her to solve a childbirth scene, and she says it has something to do with transition. I thought it was a fairly well-executed creepy sequence. Badon, however, does not merely want to entice us with only "surface-level pleasures." Like one of those Oil Derricks, he wants us to dig deep inside his images.
The problem is that I don't think you will find anything great or significant under the surface of this film. One can have a stimulating, intellectual masturbation session by saying things like, "That Jason Johnson Experience clip criticizes the patriarchal system (a man educates women regarding what they should do during the child delivery process)." But such remarks are far from enlightening or interesting, for that matter. Towards the end, Russell uses the last scene - two roads going in different directions - to state that the movie is about making choices. Isn't this something you immediately grasp when you see a woman reading a choose-your-destiny-type novel? Decipher the hell out of this film, and you will only come up with the most uninteresting statements.
What all this means is that The Wheel of Heaven would have been a far more enjoyable film if Badon had put more trust in his powerful, wacky visuals. There is so much fun to be had with scenes like the one where doctors wear 3D glasses, and the year in the recording goes from 2099 to 2055. There is a Captain Corn (Russell) who wears melody glasses before belting out a number for her grandmother. Some of the lines, too, are worth a chuckle ("That's not right. That's not left, either"). Badon is a wonderful craftsman who can generate playful rhythms from his images. I read an interview where he mentioned how he liked films like Eraserhead. Well, David Lynch never ostentatiously called attention to his genius in that 1977 surrealist body horror. Badon, on the other hand, uses behind-the-scenes footage to underline his film's complicated narrative-within-a-narrative-within-a-narrative structure. It's a big turn-off.
The major highlight of The Wheel of Heaven is the excellent actors. Everyone is just perfect in their parts. Is there anything Vincent Stalba cannot do? He had a gentle, fragile presence in Sam Fox's Fck'n Nuts. His aura is so convincingly chilling here that you almost close your eyes when he looks at the camera. Russell is more than willing to go in any direction for the sake of this film. She puts on various hats - Purity/Marge The Mechanic/Margaret Corn/Captain Corn - effortlessly and infuses the material with animation (look at her lying on the floor while threatening the director on the phone when he doesn't cut the rape scene from the script). More such comic visuals and no pretentiousness would have made The Wheel of Heaven a more amusing experience.
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