Seeking connection is a powerful motivator in everyday life. Indeed, the survival of our species kind of depends upon it. Grief, which is essentially the severing of connection, is often part of that motivation, in that we need that grief and pain to heal as quickly as possible. But what happens when that drive to escape loneliness runs headlong into murky moral territory? How far are we permitted morally to go when it comes to overcoming our pain and loneliness? Graham Skipper dives deep into that concept with his latest film The Lonely Man With The Ghost Machine.

            In TLMWTGM, we meet Wozzeck (portrayed by Skipper, who also wrote the film), an almost laughably pathetic individual mourning his dead wife. Wozzeck is, for all intents and purposes, the last man on earth. The rest of the planet has been decimated by a vague cataclysm that apparently involved ravenous alien creatures, one of whom devoured his wife in front of him while he watched helplessly. Wozzeck’s daily routine is simple: he wakes up, mopes around about his late wife, masturbates, and works on a machine he believes will bring her back. And at some point, a voice outside his front door claiming to be the monster who killed her begins taunting him and pleading to engage in conversation. Soon, Wozzeck is lost in a maze of existential horror, grim philosophical discourse, and a whole boatload of unpleasant realizations about who he is as a human being.

            This film does a lot with a little. Much of it is simply Skipper shouting at a door (and later a terrifyingly effective puppet) about his emotional bullshit. The entire film takes place in a single room, with the exceptions of the very beginning and the end. And yet, it never gets old. It never lets up with the dissection of the ideas it’s tackling, be they the question of ‘do I have the right to bring my dead loved one back to life?’ and ‘what is the difference between being lonely and being comically horny?’. Regarding the former question, this film delivers a fucking hammer of an answer at the end, viciously and totally driving home the old adage that a man far wiser than I once said: sometimes, dead is better.

            Skipper as Wozzeck excels at creating a protagonist who is also almost wholly unlikeable. Sure, Wozzeck’s loneliness is certainly something the audience can empathize with; after all we’ve all been in his shoes (the loneliness part, not the Robert Neville via alien apocalypse part). But as the film goes on that sadness mutates into an insufferable sense of self-pity, a ‘woe is me’ flavor of bullshit that makes him more despicable than pathetic. Wozzeck’s motivations are entirely selfish; he wishes for Nellie to come back simply to alleviate his own issues. He is emotionally inept and incomplete, without an ounce of introspection, a coward who wants nothing more than to satisfy that selfishness without actually doing any real work to address it. He seeks the path of least resistance at the cost of the well-being of the person he claims to love. Skipper Is perfect in this role. I had said earlier he is almost wholly unlikeable, and it is that small sliver of likeability that really makes the rest of him somehow even worse, like adding salt to chocolate to really make it pop.

            Now, regarding the film doing a lot with a little, I feel that maybe it was trying to do too much with that minimalism. Not that it was too much or couldn’t pull off what it was trying to do, but part of me wishes that it had stuck with either the concept of the “ghost machine” and Wozzeck being a selfish dumpster monster or Wozzeck goes on a voyage of introspection with the monster hanging out on his porch. I know the latter sounds silly, but I truly believe that Skipper is a talented enough actor to pull off such a feat. Plus, that’s a fascinating concept that I really wish the film would’ve leaned in on harder.

            The Lonely Man With The Ghost Machine is a feat of minimalist filmmaking, as well as commentary on the danger of unresolved emotional issues. Graham Skipper successfully takes a classic sci fi premise and injects a healthy dose of commentary on the importance of self-realization and properly dealing with grief and loss. It’s gorgeous to look at, perfectly creepy at times, and just the right amount of weird.

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