Everyone has moments in their lives when they ‘make mountains out of molehills’. But what happens when you can’t let go of the proverbial mountain?
Written and directed by Adrian Murray, Retrograde begins as Molly (Molly Reisman) is pulled over by a police officer. With her new roommate sitting next to her, the officer instructs her of the issue and rewards her with a ticket for a minor traffic violation. However, this is simply unacceptable to Molly. Frustrated with her situation, Molly refuses to accept the penalty and decides to fight it with everything that she’s got.
Considering the everyday nature of its subject matter, Retrograde is a surprisingly harrowing journey. This is not meant to be a thrill ride with wild twists and turns. Instead, Murray forces the viewer to sit in the midst of awkward conversations where people blur the lines of truth in order to justify their actions. Using few cuts within his scenes, the camera simply becomes a ‘fly on the wall’, allowing the conversations to play out with a semi-improvisational style. By taking this approach, the interaction between characters seems more honest than other films.
But that’s also what makes Retrograde so stressful.
Although the incident in question seems minor, Molly’s response to her traffic ticket simply feels real. As Molly, Reisman never shows too much emotion in her performance but she simply cannot let this go. To her, it’s become an act of injustice and it plagues her like a splinter in her mind. Admittedly, Molly’s obsession with her minor violation may seem overblown to the viewer yet it also seems entirely natural. After all, everyone has had small interactions with people that didn’t sit quite right with them. Regardless of how ‘significant’, these moments really are, they can become enormous in our minds. In Molly’s situation, any admission of guilt would indicate some sort of flaw within her and she is unable to let this go.
But what makes Molly’s situation so fascinating is that, while the opening sequence reveals her entire encounter with the police, we never see the actual infraction itself. In doing so, it becomes impossible for the viewer to make an informed decision. Was she waved in by the police? Was it clear to her about whether or not she should have pulled over? These questions eat away at the nature of truth, shaping one’s opinion entirely based upon their perspective. In Molly’s mind, she is innocent and she refuses to question herself. Nevertheless, her story is tainted by her feelings and stress. Whether it’s her traffic infraction or her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Molly’s perspective shapes the experiences of her life. (For example, Molly remains convinced that the officer was aggressive with her but was he actually? Or is her opinion shaped solely by the anxiety that she was feeling in the moment.)
As he takes us down the rabbit hole of truth, Murray even takes the conversation one step further. As much as truth is tainted by perspective, Retrograde also wants to discuss issues of fate and whether or not we have control over ourselves in the universe. Whereas Molly insists that she remains the captain of her fate, her friends seem unconvinced. To them, the idea of being designed as a result of some universal force is intriguing (and even appealing). Still stressed out about the ticket, Molly’s argumentation is entirely rooted in her situation, crying out that things can change as a result of our actions. While Murray never fully lands on any particular stance himself, the film brings the two conversations together so seamlessly that one can’t help but remain intrigued.
Although Retrograde has very little flash or splash in its presentation, solid performances and honest conversations make this an absorbing experience. This tightly executed film proves that even a very small slice of everyday life can speak to issues that are much grander in scale.
Even if we really should let these moments go.
Retrograde is available in theatres on Friday, May 19th, 2023.