What I'm Watching: One Hour Photo

I know, I've gone mainstream---I'm not cool anymore. Before the review, a bit of background:


On July 21st I underwent a spinal fusion to fix a nasty herniated disc dating back to 2018. After a day in the hospital sipping beef broth and slurping down cherry Jello, I returned home. It was time for recovery. Time to lay down, take a cocktail of medications, and occasionally, with the support of a neck brace, sit up. It's this time spent sitting up which became tedious. I couldn't play with my kids, I couldn't cook, couldn't go on a photo excursion. I couldn't look any direction but forward.


Over the next few weeks, after getting tired of watching children's cartoons, I would search for something interesting and semi-related to photography. Quickly, One Hour Photo popped up in my results. Begrudgingly, I coughed up $3.99 to watch the flick. I wasn't disappointed.


On to my thoughts:


While photography gets plenty of play in the movie, there are two overarching themes I caught---mental health and trust.


The movie makes it clear that the main character (Sy Parrish) suffers from some type of mental illness which appears to have gone untreated---whether this is intentional or a result of never being diagnosed we know not. Regardless, it is a reminder that there are millions of people in the world silently suffering---battling with mental illness and in need of help. Both treatment and diagnosis point to some unfortunate truths:

  • Not everyone has access to the care they need or the means to pay for this care.

  • Not everyone has friends or family that care enough to get them help.

Sy, as a result of one or both of the above, has left his obsessions unchecked. His main obsessions revolve around the quality of his work and the lives of certain other individuals (Yorkin Family).


With the former, we see him obsessing over the quality of the prints produced by his photo lab---this results in a huge argument with an Agfa technician over a "plus one cyan shift" in the printer. The technician's response indicates the shift is negligible but to Sy it is unacceptable. This blowup in some ways leads to an investigation by the store manager which results in Sy's termination and subsequent downward spiral.


With the Leica Mini-Lux totin' Yorkin family, this obsession relates to the well-being of the family---which he has closely watched over the years. His engagements are limited to the few seconds of conversation which occur at film drop-off/photo pickup. In addition to these engagements, he has been making duplicate prints for every roll developed at his lab (some of which are framed in his house). Creepy, yes, but it appears to be relatively innocent at first. This innocence dies when he becomes aware of a certain family secret. That's where I'll stop to avoid any spoilers.


This film is merely another reminder that mental health should not be swept under a rug. Twelve years after the movie was released, Robin Williams hung himself. Like the main character of One Hour Photo, Robin Williams was struggling with his own demons unbeknownst to the outside world. In the words of his daughter Zelda, "[the] world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in his absence." We can only hope this loss helps shed light on the importance and realness of mental health while washing away some of the stigma attached to associated illnesses.


Washington, D.C., USA 

thefilmawakening@gmail.com

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©2019 by Taylor Mackay