Starring: John Randolph, Rock Hudson, Frances Reid
Director: John Frankenheimer
Running Time: 106 mins
Seconds is an American film about a depressed middle-aged banker who agrees to a procedure that will fake his death and give him an entirely new identity.
An audacious and strikingly unsettling film through and through, Seconds takes what seems like a simple Faustian ‘be careful what you wish for’ tale and turns it into a mind-bending, soul-crushing critique on modern life. It isn’t a full-on masterpiece all the way through, but at its best, the film is a powerfully uncomfortable watch.
Though the story ultimately develops into a thematically rich and emotionally hard-hitting one, Seconds starts off in the strangest possible fashion. A series of clearly connected yet bizarre events unfolds with little explanation, made even stranger by the fact that all but our main character seem completely unfazed by the oddness of what’s happening.
That’s where the film really grabs you with its unsettling atmosphere. The score and cinematography do most of the leg work on the surface, but it’s that almost nightmarish feeling where only you (in this case, the main character) seem to realise that something’s not quite right, even though you can’t quite put your finger on it.
The opening stages of Seconds are very reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard’s legendary Alphaville, with an ingenious blend of jarring, genre-breaking storytelling and yet seemingly simple ideas, and it makes for an immediately captivating watch.
The film then turns from sheer strangeness into something a little more penetrable, but no more pleasant to watch. As we see our main man transformed into his new identity, in no less disturbing fashion than the Japanese horror classic The Face Of Another, the movie begins to open up its powerful themes of regret and unfulfilled ambition.
The man is unhappy in his original life, but upon being transformed and given the opportunity to start all over again – with all the help he needs, his continued dissatisfaction with life is particularly thought-provoking.
On the one hand, there’s a part to this story which shows you the potential of starting your life all over again, and that there is a chance to break beyond the norm that you’ve been told to pursue your whole life.
On the other hand, however, the film tells a desperately upsetting story about the most terrifying possibility – achieving everything you want in life and still being dissatisfied.
Using similar ideas to the Faust story about the dangers of wish fulfilment, Seconds is a staggeringly dark portrayal of modern society and its soul-crushing potential, turning a man’s life from simple, mundane dissatisfaction into a living nightmare.
There are moments where the film does admittedly slow down – particularly later on in the second act – and as such it doesn’t quite have the same mind-bending, horrifying power of its best moments, but it’s still fair to say that it’s by no means an easy-going watch at any point.
Finally, special recognition has to go to John Randolph and Rock Hudson for their incredible central performances, both bringing across the film’s striking sense of despair and dread through measured and seemingly mundane acting.
Particularly in the case of Hudson, it’s incredible to see an actor so well-known for his ultra-charismatic roles in some of Hollywood’s most gleefully entertaining movies take on such a bold and unconventional role as this, putting in what you might call his best performance of all, or at least certainly his bravest.
Overall, there’s a lot about Seconds that really impressed and disturbed me. A powerfully unnerving watch from start to finish, the movie evolves brilliantly from an abstract affair into a dark and sobering critique of modern society, all tinged with mind-bending psychological drama and a potent air of sadness and regret. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.