Movie Review : Rebirth (2016)
I am growing increasingly reticent at the idea of watching any Netflix produced or distributed content solely because I refuse to watch things because they're available to me. I might be a contrarian jerk but my refusal to settle for what everybody settles for always lead me to interesting places. The great thing about Netflix exclusive Rebirth is that little to nobody actually watched it. It landed in the middle of the summer, in the height of the Stranger Things buzz and went completely unnoticed. I don't blame you, Rebirth's trailer doesn't exactly passes the eye test for originality. There is more to it than what the trailer tries to sell you, though. Rebirth is no oasis of originality, but it offers a genuinely challenging point of view on middle class workers alienation, an overdebated yet still pertinent problem.
Kyle (Fran Kranz) made it. He's got a wife, a daughter, a beautiful and comfortable home and a swanky social media job in a bank. He lives a pleasant but uneventful happily ever after until his buddy from college Zach (Adam Goldberg) barges into his office to offer him a place in Rebirth, a mysterious weekend retreat of self-actualization where participant are supposed to align their lives with their innermost desires. All Kyle has to do is surrender his keys, cell phone, wallet and follow the herd into a new and exciting stage of his life. Funny things start happening once Kyle surrenders every handheld foundations of his identity to complete strangers, though. He starts longing for the life he willingly put on hiatus when confronted to the terrifying labyrinth of unknown that is Rebirth.
Movies about middle class workers alienation have become a dime a dozen and the great majority of them are boring and repetitive: work is not salvation, happiness comes from within, you will lose yourself before you find yourself in a cubicle, yadda, yadda. What do they have to say that Fight Club hasn't said already? Rebirth's protagonist Kyle is very much a corporate drone, but what makes him different is that he clings to this identity like a life jacket. His existence is meaningless and comfortable. He tucks his pink shirt into his pants, does what he's told by Zach and his boss, goes where he's told to go. Kyle loves following the rules. His life is an uninterrupted dreamless night. Kyle loves it because he's never considered life outside of these boundaries. His college self sure wanted more out of existence, but it never knew what. Waking up a corporate sleepwalker can be a painful process, like, you know, giving birth.
Once again, the movie's discourse isn't very original, but the angle is. Rebirth's intent isn't all that confusing or hostile: they're trying to confront Kyle to who he is, to the image he presents of himself and they're trying to get him to define his desires and built a new self in accordance to these. To achieve that, Kyle will have to navigate the labynrinthian womb of Rebirth like sperm and find the proper principles to fertilize in order to create a new self. It's a very Freudian, yet clear concept from the get-go. It also happens to terrify Kyle to a point where he completely loses his shit and the reason is simple: Kyle doesn't know what Rebirth wants and he's too busy obsessing over this question and too far down the corporate rabbit hole to consider what HE actually wants for himself. Still, the question is valid within the economy of the movie: what does Rebirth want?
I am not going to ruin the deliciously ambiguous ending of Rebirth for you, but let's just say that much of the interest of the movie lies in it. If you're familiar with psychological thrillers and cult movies tropes, I'm sure you can guess what it is anyway. The question lingers at the end of the movie. Writer and director Karl Mueller refuses to spoon feed you the answers like he refuses to spoon feed them to Kyle: is Rebirth a cult? Are they actually brain washing Kyle or are they simply aligning his life with his innermost desires as they advertise? You answer is as good as mine. I don't think Karl Mueller grants us access to "the real Kyle" at any time in the movie unless he's freaking out and threatening people and that it ultimately is its message: who you are and who you present yourself to be are two different things and other people only care about the latter.
What makes Rebirth interesting is that it doesn't offer clear solutions to middle class workers alienation. It's not an anarchist movie and it's not anti establishment by any means. It's a clever and subtle film * that explores the psychological backlash of capitalism and the culture it created. Sure, it might feel a little archaic in the social media era where everyone babbles about their goals in the pseudo-privacy on their newsfeed (something that people never discuss face to face, mind you), but Rebirth targets employment as much as entrepreneurship and its influence on the self. While the subject of middle class workers alienation has been debated to death, Rebirth manages to offer a challenging point of view: what are you if you are not your job? Who are your to yourself? Are you being sold a self or have you found yours? There are all interesting questions raised by Rebirth. Definitely worth a watch
Perhaps more than one.
* Written and directed by the same dude. Always a major hint that it's going to be good.