Greetings again from the darkness. “Turn that down!” Those are words we all hear when growing up and then repeat as our own kids come of age. Noise pollution rarely receives the same attention as that of air or water, and most of us are startled when we find ourselves out in the country – an environment lacking the everyday electronic, power cell, and human-generated noises we have come to accept and ignore. Director Michael Tyburkski and his co-writer Ben Nabors have expanded their 2013 short film PALIMPSEST to feature length, so that we might hear their point.
Peter Sarsgaard stars as Peter Lucian, a so-called “house-tuner”. Peter has turned his life’s work into an occupation where he visits his clients’ homes and identifies the imbalances and problem areas caused by sound. For example, his clients may have relationship issues or experience exhaustion from poor sleep. Peter uses his exceptional hearing and experience to identify an ‘out-of-tune’ radiator or buzzing toaster, with the expectation of improving the clients’ daily life. The premise is actually quite fascinating, especially for the city dwellers of New York City … a place Peter has meticulously plotted and charted sounds on a map over the years.
And yes, you are correct. Peter is a bit lonely and isolated from society. His interactions are exceedingly low-key and mundane, though it’s quite obvious in the early scenes that he take immense pride and pleasure from his work. Well that is, until he can’t seem to solve new client Ellen’s (Rashida Jones) issue. These first few scenes are the best the film has to offer. The additional scenes with Peter and Ellen seem forced, almost formulaic, as it slips into possible relationship mode for two people who don’t seem comfortable at all in the world. The other piece of this puzzle has to do with Peter’s quest for acceptance by the scientific community, specifically his mentor Robert Feinway (the always fun Austin Pendleton). Tony Revolori (THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL) plays Peter’s assistant Samuel Diaz, and screen veteran Bruce Altman plays an investor who wants to monetize Peter’s work.
“Silence is not empty, but immeasurably full.” It’s this type of philosophy that the filmmakers use to add weight to Peter’s work. They keep us guessing as to whether he is a bit of a Savant … or more of a crackpot. It’s a high concept and ambitious idea accompanied by sound design that provides a constant tone/ringing that is sometimes faint, and sometimes prevalent. More of Peter’s early sound detective work would have proved more interesting, but you’ll likely find yourself a bit more attuned to the sounds around you after watching.