Life imitates art, but that may not always be a good thing. This Wednesday, the Bryn Mawr Film Institute will be showing the film adaptation of Larry Loebell’s play Dostoyevsky Man. The one-man show is based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Underground Man, which follows the monologue of a cynical, nameless, and unreliable narrator. The novel is considered to be one of the first existential novels ever written.
Starring in Dostoyevsky Man is actor Seth Reichgert, who plays a fired Russian literature professor. The professor recounts the story of how he took a student, janitor, and school dean hostage in an attempt to reclaim his job.
The entire film is shot on an iPhone as the professor goes from place to place retelling the story and delivering an extended monologue about his hostage experience. Loebell explained that the use of an iPhone as a feature film medium was meant to add drama to the film, but was surprised at the high quality of the images. “The introduction of this medium really democratizes the process,” Loebell explained. “Anyone with a good idea has access to the tools to make a good film.” He was so shocked with the quality that he claimed that the iPhone could arguably be used for a more formalized film aesthetic if done properly. Other filmmakers have been exploring this new method of film making, like New Paradise Laboratories’ show “Extremely Public Displays of Privacy,” which Loebell was also involved in.
The film certainly shares some of the existentialist themes of The Underground Man as it follows the professor’s stream of consciousness through his iPhone. Similar to the novel’s critique of Western philosophy, the film focuses on feelings of displacement due to unemployment. As the ex-professor recounts his activities into his iPhone, in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, the audience follows him to his new profession at a fast food restaurant. Loebell explains, “When you are displaced from the profession you believe you were meant to do, you become part of an invisible mass of workers.” Without the one profession that gives his life meaning, the man becomes obsessed with regaining his job. Through his great lecture on the The Underground Man, the fired Russian literature professor eventually becomes the bitter, disoriented image of the The Underground Man himself as he attempts to avoid becoming a part of an indiscriminate mass of workers.
The film has received high praise from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Prior to the film, Loebell and Reichgert will be interviewed by radio personality Phillip Silverstone. Those with a taste for Russian literature and existentialism shouldn’t miss this film.
Kailey Kluge is a junior International Area Studies Major at Drexel University.
All images courtesy of Bryn Mawr Film Institute