1966. Directed by John Frankenheimer.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start a new life?
John Frankenheimer's masterpiece, Seconds, is a fusion of neo-noir and science fiction that examines this question through a terrifying existential keyhole.
Hamilton is a man who is bored with his life. His marriage has lost it's passion and his rat race job has become a daily exercise in the absurd. He meets a friend whom he thought dead and is given a chance at a new life. What follows is one of the scariest films ever made.
Panned by American critics upon release, Seconds is a spiderweb story with a simple premise that is built over an abyss of loneliness. Rock Hudson delivered a searing performance as Hamilton reborn. Many critics thought the role (originally intended for Olivier) was outside his skill set and it is this reason that it works so well. This is a man who chose to abandon the many treasures of his family life in exchange for promises of passion and fame only to find that these concepts were empty prison cells of his own design. It's this realization that makes Hudson's casting so important.
Salome Jens delivers an unique take on the female foil. She is Hamilton's new companion after his rebirth and her chemistry with Hudson is purposely awkward, furthering the idea that things may not be what they seem. Her anti-fatale performance is refreshing and only helps to up the metaphysical ante as the film moves into it's shocking final act.
James Wong Howe's cinematography was given a well deserved nomination for an Academy Award. There are Hitchcockian elements at play on the screen during the film's mind bending opening, using tight close ups to illustrate how Hamilton has come to view everything in his life as mechanical, even showing affection for his wife. The sequence of the bacchanal barbecue is beautifully shot and one of the film's most chilling scenes as Hudson's character uses alcohol as an escape from his new found torment, and possibly dooming himself in the process.
The thing that I kept coming back to while recently revisiting, is that Seconds is a reverse Sarte'. Hell is what we "think" other people have. There are scenes woven into the narrative and supported by Hudson's brilliant subtlety that drive home how his character had everything he ever wanted and was too self absorbed to realize it because he was blinded by self imposed solitary confinement. I don't think Seconds is a cautionary tale about the grass being greener, I think it's more about breaking down walls instead of building them. By focusing on your surroundings, your tribe, and letting down the walls we all tend to build, the various strengths of anyone's situation become organically apparent. It's not about coveting, it's about stopping to smell your partner's hair while hugging them or making damn sure you get to that recital.
Nominated for the Palme d'Or it's easy now, in hindsight to understand the importance of this film. Available for digital rental or on disc from the Criterion Collection, Seconds is a film whose influence can be seen in the works of Lynch and other surrealists. An intimate horror story with no violence, Seconds is a rare gem that is sorely overlooked and deserves attention.