Watching Lukas Hassel’s “Into the Dark” reminded me of the parable of the monk, the tiger and the cherry bush. That parable is about living every ounce of life, right down to life’s last second, and that’s what I got out of Hassel’s debut film as a director. Hassel so frequently in his acting roles portrays the dark side of life, and there’s plenty of that here, including right in the title. How noble and daring of him to show the light of the human condition against that darkness.
Hassel’s character 58527 is screwed right from the start. Strapped onto a slab, he’s imprisoned in a space ship headed back into earth’s atmosphere. In 10 minutes, the capsule will burn upon reentry, and he’s going to die. Damned as he is, he didn’t even get his final request for a solo flight. On the other side, unseen to 58527, 33963 has gotten chatty on the way to their mutual death. Our protagonist doesn’t want to be annoyed, just wants to get to his death, but something funny happens to this pair of criminals along the way: they bond. Even as the end is well nigh, the two make a human connection. And maybe—just maybe—that connection redeems them.
Hassel does a beautiful job of showing just how nihilistic and meaningless life can be construed. 58527 is surly and unrepentant, aloof and not looking to make friends. The futuristic society has stripped him of his name, and will soon strip him of his existence. There’s this great scene where he finally starts to warm up to his companion and while he’s explaining key parts of what he is and why he did what he did, the camera pulls back and it’s all white noise. Everything he says falls on the audience’s deaf ears. Society has reduced him to nothing, and whether he’s flesh or ash is irrelevant.
Kudos to Hassel for taking it to such a grim place and finding the humanity there. If a man lives a full life, he’s touched a lot of people and affected their lives. Here, the physical act of touching fingers and holding hands, even with steel between them, is a different sort of salvation. “We’re born alone and we die alone,” the saying goes, but that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. It’s the human connection that makes life worth living. A pity for those who never get to experience it, for they have never really experienced life to its fullest.
For a first time director, Hassel does a nice job with the special effects. It’s great that he used them and the camera to accentuate how claustrophobic the setting is. The fact that it looked to me like a tomb is a constant reminder of what is to come.
I have one quibble with “Into the Dark,” and that’s its ending. There’s a suggestion that death has become entertainment again, and this whole short film is the new version of throwing Christians to the lions. In our society drowning in reality TV, this is a bit too much on the nose, and threatens to detract from the human drama so exquisitely put to film in the majority of the short. But it didn’t ruin this great short for me, and it shouldn’t for you either.
The more I watch of Lukas Hassel’s work, both as actor and writer/director, the more I appreciate just how talented he is. Here he took a science fiction piece and turned it into a statement on just how beautiful the human condition can be, even between the darkest of men in their darkest hour. Watching “Into the Dark” brought me a little closer to the light, and reminded me that there can be nobility even in mankind’s darkest times.
The parable of the monk, the tiger and the cherry bush (as told to me by Capt. Bill Schiavo)
A Tibetan monk was on a spirit quest high in the mountains, when a blinding snow storm hit. Knowing he would freeze to death if he didn’t find shelter, he trudged on until he came across a cave in the mountain. He entered, and warmed himself as best he could, happy to be free from the storm. As he surveyed the inside of the cave, he saw in the far corner a tiger. The tiger raised to its feet and started to approach him. It was lean and malnourished, and the monk knew the tiger wanted to eat him. This high up, the monk had two choices: stay and let the tiger eat him, or fling himself off the steep mountain. Either way, the monk knew was certain death. As the tiger leaped for him, the monk dove off the mountain. On his way down, the monk saw a cherry bush jutting out of the side of the stone wall, with a single cherry attached to it. As he passed it, he grabbed the cherry and put it in his mouth. He savored the sweet taste all the way down to his death.