By Don Simpson | September 22, 2011
Writer: Tom Tykwer
Starring: Sophie Rois, Sebastian Schipper, Devid Striesow, Annedore Kleist, Angela Winkler, Alexander Hörbe, Winnie Böwe, Hans-Uwe Bauer, Alexander Scheer, Karl Alexander Seidel
During the opening split-screen montage, boxes multiply on the screen providing us with a menagerie of overlapping images and dialogue. Being that writer-director Tom Tykwer’s 3 is in German (with English subtitles), it is difficult to make out everything that is being said. Even for native German-speakers, the barrage of sound and vision is probably a lot to consume at once; but the method of Tykwer’s madness makes sense once we hear Hanna (Sophie Rois) — in one of the split screen images — complain to Simon (Sebastian Schipper) about her inability to follow the narrative of the film they are watching. Hanna’s comment truly is a self-reflexive slap in the face.
3 has a lot to say about the over-saturation of content in our modern society and the resulting inability to pay attention to everything at once. In an early scene, Hanna finds her attention drifting away from a speaker — Adam (Devid Striesow) — and into a surreal daydream about Jeff Koons’s art; all the while, in a voice-over, Hanna pontificates about the difficulty of focusing on more than one thing at a time. The stress of modernity also seems to cause Hanna to forget her cellphone at home. Even on the occasions Hanna does remember her phone, she does not hear it ring and she never thinks to check for messages. Essentially, people are too overwhelmed by thoughts and stimuli, their minds are constantly wandering.
In Tykwer’s cinematic world, hearts wander as well. Hanna and Simon are a 40-something couple who had their first kiss in 1990; presently, they are struggling with a loss of sexual desire for each other. Aging, disease and fear of death seem to play roles in their fading interest in sex; but mostly it is attributed to the boredom from being together for so damn long. This is where Adam comes (mind the pun) in… A geneticist who specializes in stem-cell research, Adam rejuvenates Hanna and Simon’s sexual interests just as he creates new cells out of old cells.
Tykwer’s film quickly evolves into a gender-blind examination of human sexuality. The message of 3 is summed up simply by Adam: “Just say farewell…to your deterministic understanding of biology.” That deterministic understanding of biology is obviously repressing our natural human sexuality, so just let it go…
Tykwer (The International, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Run Lola Run) is best known for his heavily stylistic visual eye candy and the early scenes in 3 are certainly no letdown. Tykwer settles down quickly, but still allows the narrative to slip into brief, non-linear daydreams on occasion. The structure of 3‘s narrative is what is most intriguing about this film; well, that and the film’s intent to completely blur gender identities.
Unfortunately, while Hanna and Simon are fascinating multidimensional characters, Adam is flat and uninteresting. In other words, Adam’s lack of character development matches the sparsity of decor in his apartment. 3‘s biggest fault, however, is the all-too-rushed conclusion. The most interesting part of this story is how Hanna, Simon and Adam will reconcile; but Tykwer seems totally uninterested in any discussion about reconciliation, as if he is unsure how that conversation would actually go. Instead he glosses over it and jumps right to the inevitable.