Reality (Quentin Dupieux, 2014) is like a graphic by M.C. Escher: a film that’ll challenge your viewing experience and its conventions. It might leave the viewer puzzling though, as every attempt to make sense of the story is countered with ever more complex layers of metafiction and internal references. Rhyming the plot developments doesn’t appear to be the film’s objective. The narrative constantly refers back to itself, making it almost impossible to build on shown sequences. Several layers of reality are presented without a clear coherency in space and time, leading the unsuspecting viewer into elusive paradox. The film’s form ties ends together in an impossible way and thereby hints to the artificial and dream-like nature of cinema.
We follow Reality, a young girl living in a visually saturated Los Angeles, as she goes hunting with her father. The pig her father catches and guts back at their house appears to have a blue videotape inside, which falls out along with its intestines. Reality makes it her mission to discover what’s on the tape. Meanwhile we witness how cameraman Jason (Alain Chabat) pitches his movie idea, which seems to be a highly simplified version of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), to producer Bob (Jonathan Lambert). Jason currently works at a cooking show where the host (Jon Heder) is a man in a rat costume. He has been breeding on his script for years and is thrilled to hear Bob is willing to take on his project, but only if he can come up with a groan worthy of an award.
These storylines mix up in ways beyond explanation. Dreams become reality and reality becomes a dream, and most of the time you’re not even sure what’s going on. The film’s climax comes when the viewer finds out what’s on the blue tape, which occurs in the setting of a movie theatre. We see the characters watching a movie of the girl watching the tape, of which its content directly interacts with the characters watching the movie. Get it? No? That’s exactly the point, supposedly.
Is confusing the viewer enough to make a good film? Others have experimented with intertwining the apperent diegesis with an extradiegetic level, pointing the viewer to the fictional nature of the film, like Stranger than Fiction (Mark Forster, 2006) or the Dutch movie Ober (Alex van Warmerdam, 2006) for example. In both these films the main character encounters the writer of his narrative, adding a layer of reality. Where these films do maintain some logic and story, Reality doesn’t really, which obviously is a point in itself, but also prevents it from really moving beyond being good for much more than some laughs.