Tales of mystery and suspense are often a search for truth. But what if you aren’t sure that truth is even knowable? Is memory a way into the truth or is it so flawed that it clouds the truth? In Spinning Man, a college professor and homicide detective square off in a battle around what may have happened to a missing girl. All the while their views of what may have really happened shifts, and fantasies and memories and theories begin swirling together.
Evan Birch (Guy Pearce) is a teacher of philosophy, specifically linguistics and how words shape our ideas of reality. He has something of a tainted past, and when a young woman goes missing and his car was seen in the area, Detective Malloy (Pierce Brosnan) makes him a key part of the investigation. All of this brings up specters from his past in his wife Ellen’s (Minnie Driver) mind. Birch is adamant about his innocence, but as evidence begins to accumulate, not only do Malloy and Ellen begin to doubt him, Birch himself begins to doubt his own memories. Perhaps he has convinced himself he didn’t do the crime—or perhaps he is convincing himself he did.
The film really isn’t about solving the mystery as it is about how we put our memories together from true memories, things we wish were so (or not), and things that others tell us. The idea that our memories are so malleable and that words can shape and reshape those memories is really the center of this film. And all of that keeps us returning to a question raised early in the film: is there truth?
I think the film really wanted to be a bit more cerebral than it is. It uses some quick edits of Birch’s memories and fantasies to give a sense of suspense. That at times blurs what may or may not have happened. That fits the idea that memory is flawed, but it never serves to advance us to what truth there might be found. It also never quite gives us all the information about Birch and his past. We’re never quite sure if we should trust what he’s telling us. The same may be true of Malloy. Perhaps his theories about Birch are driving him in the wrong direction and causing him to see Birch as a suspect when he is really innocent. The discovery of what actually happened becomes almost anticlimactic. It just seems to abrupt too fit with a story that has tried to obfuscate reality and truth all along the way.
Photos courtesy of Lionsgate Premiere