Anesthesia (2015)

anesthesia_2015_poster
Anesthesia (2015)
  • Time: 93 min
  • Genre: Drama | Thriller
  • Director: Tim Blake Nelson
  • Cast: Kristen Stewart, Sam Waterston, Glenn Close

Storyline:

Philosophy professor Walter Zarrow is wounded during a mugging. In an effort to escape he rings buzzers indiscriminately, waking Sam, a middle aged father of two having an affair in the city. Sam reluctantly answers Zarrow’s pleas, and Zarrow loses consciousness in his arms. Through an exploration of why these men, along with the mugger, and an addict named Joe, come together, we explore New York City. The experience of Zarrow, Sam, Joe and Zarrow’s assailant ripple quickly out to include the connected lives of a housewife struggling with alcoholism, a stoner teen desperate to lose his virginity, a brilliant but failed writer fighting addiction, two parents confronting the prospect of terminal illness, and a brilliant grad student who wounds herself to feel alive.

One review

  • Not a thought goes unarticulated in the generally numbing everyone-is-connected drama, Anesthesia, actor-writer-director Tim Blake Nelson’s fifth feature. Nelson is no stranger to highbrow literature – his previous works include O, a teen adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, and Leaves of Grass, which featured Plato’s Socratic dialogues and a title taken from Walt Whitman’s poem – and that ease somewhat hampers his latest work, which veers between overwrought and disengaging.

    The New York counterpart to Paul Haggis’ L.A.-based Crash, Anesthesia establishes Professor Walter Zarrow (the very fine Sam Waterston) as its center. In the opening scenes, Zarrow is shown following his usual routine of buying his wife (an underused Glenn Close) a bouquet of flowers from his local Upper West Side corner market before being violently stabbed in a building entryway. Nelson then flashes back one week earlier to Zarrow holding court to an enraptured class. He meets with his son Adam (Nelson), who reveals that his wife Jill (Jessica Hecht) may have cancer.

    Meanwhile, there are other characters to encounter. Corporate lawyer Jeffrey (Michael K. Williams) forces his childhood friend Joe (K. Todd Freeman) to enter rehab for his heroin addiction. Housewife Sarah (Gretchen Mol) leans on alcohol to deal with the conniving mothers at her daughters’ school and, more importantly, her husband’s infidelities. Her husband Sam (Corey Stoll) insists he is on a business trip in China when he is, in fact, in New York dallying with his mistress Nicole (Mickey Sumner). Elsewhere, Adam and Jill’s kids (Ben Konigsberg and Hannah Marks) are experimenting with sex and drugs whilst Sophie (Kristen Stewart), one of Zarrow’s most talented students, tempers her existential angst by self-harming. Everybody hurts, and no one can seem to stop the suffering.

    There is no doubting the film’s purpose for, if you don’t understand it from listening to one of Zarrow’s lectures, then you are certain to be ingrained with it after Sophie’s despairing rant. The world has become inhuman, people are more disconnected than ever, she craves interaction but feels wholly ill-equipped to exist in a world where everyone is more concerned about being plugged in. The monologue has the potential to be provocative and affecting – and it nearly succeeds by virtue of Stewart’s conviction – but Nelson falls in love with the idea he is expressing and the words with which to convey that idea and the speech ultimately rings hollow.

    Nelson’s ensemble ensures interest though one never stops questioning if any of these stories are genuinely worth following. Nelson makes a pointed commentary on white privilege – a black man lies dead a few feet from Zarrow, but it is Zarrow who is attended to by the concerned neighbours – but the engineered contrivances of the narrative sap the insight of its potency.

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