Something in the Dirt: The Downward Spiral

This too shall end.

To be trapped without meaning in the endless urban sprawl. No horizon. No space. Sky filled with black smoke and the repugnant scent of a distant burning world. The surrounding buildings are claustrophobic and constricting. It is isolating and corroding, clawing your way at the surface of survival in the sprawling city of opportunity. It stretches endlessly in every direction, an inescapable prison of stagnant malaise. There must be salvation somewhere beyond the bottomless pit of despair, but it’s all been a meandering failure. The iridescent shimmer calls with seductive force, a simple trick of the light or perhaps a cosmic invitation. The only way to know for sure is to dig deeper. To tumble fully into the infinite ether with confident desire, to reach towards the stars and pull them into you. The only way out is through.

If we know this to be the circumstances of one’s fragile teetering on the brink of destruction, that this acceptance of delirious psychosis can only end in obliteration of body and soul, then the angle shifts accordingly. As they peer into the void, begging to be consumed entirely by its vice grip just to define some hazy notion of importance, so you will too, tumbling down with them as you are pulled into trying to parse its cryptic ambiguity. You will look for the line as they did, seeking a beautiful cosmic puzzle or finding a shattered abstraction. You will imbue it with meaning but the outcome is deterministic, unchangeable, impossible.

It all feels so hopelessly inevitable, the wanton downward spiral into oblivion. All else has failed. The world is collapsing as we stand on the verge of an imminent apocalypse, just waiting for the moment when a violent flash reduces our meaningless existences to dust. If death is imminent then the need for hesitation is eliminated, worry evaporates, the minutia no longer matters. Lean into the chaos, fall further into the inky black void, maybe at the end of this infinitesimal instant we call existence we will have experienced something meaningful. As a desire to delineate abstraction into resolution increases so does a willful ignorance of the truth, of reality. It all becomes obfuscated under the microscope of derisive bias as the concrete cracks to sand and slips through the fingers.

Something in the Dirt. Dir. Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson.

Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s twisted phantasmagoria flips and melds the garage science of Primer (2004) with the stoned conspiratorial listlessness of Under the Silver Lake (2018) as they continue to wear their influences with pride, but the Lovecraftian undercurrent of ethereal unknown alongside a Michael Mann-like affinity for the intoxicating magic of Los Angeles pushes their latest effort into a tier above the rest. Rarely formally interested in defining the rules of their universe or in defining a singular understanding of narrative thrust, Something in the Dirt both continues this legacy of dreamy purgatory while inverting back on itself with sharp self-awareness. There is an understanding here of their own pretension, doubled in effect by playing their own protagonists as they create their own rabbit hole of otherworldy discovery tied to an endless trail of manic theorization.

It teeters precariously on the razor thin edge between skepticism and belief without faltering – there is a purity to their complete tacit submission to the ether and there is an enthralling hypnotism that invites you to the same despite its repeated digressions that poke holes through the gritty guerilla documentary façade. It begs you not to believe and yet there’s just enough there that’s tangibly celestial and beyond understanding to make you want to piece it all together yourself. The unknowability of it all is constant, refusing to accept its own place on the dividing line between the impossibility or the inevitability of coincidence.

The chillingly precise construction defines its intent with perfect clarity and with continued sincerity, building it up as the radically biased piece that its characters believe it to be while adding a forceful punch of beckoning sonic ambience by experimental project The Album Leaf. As chaos creeps through every winding asphalt detour to converge on one site of collapsing cosmic vortex, the nebulous and impossible magic of L.A. comes alive, and somewhere in the green haze and the knowing acceptance of madness it will feel viscerally real. There has to be something there. Something in the light. Something in the dirt. Do you believe?

9/10

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