- Straight to Video
- Director: John Huckert
- Written by: John Huckert, Mary Maruca
- Running Time: 90 minutes
- Language: English
- MPAA Rating: R - Restricted
- Cast: James Carroll Plaster, Welton Benjamin Johnson, John W. Huckert Jr, Lynn Odell, Wade Carney, Daniel Dunn, Albert B. Smith, Michael Dumonceau, Rodney Harding, J. Dennis Marsico, Mark McPherson, Flora Batien, Mark Steckbeck, Tony Wells, Bruce Bowers, Stewart Bryant, Keith Chester, Leonard W. Charles, David Cole, John Cloyd, Geoffrey Descheemaeker
Under the direction of the talented but underrated John Huckert, "The Passing" methodically weaves two very divergent narratives into one cohesive, and ultimately affecting, ending... and film. It follows two men at the end of their lives. One of the men, Ernie Neuman, played by James Carroll Plaster, is elderly in appearance but a child at heart. He's thoughtful, energetic and brimming with life; seemingly intent on maximizing every second of his time left on earth. He spends his days haunting an ramshackle farmhouse caring for his best friend 'Rose', an old buddy from the war. The other man in the story, Wade Carney, played by John W. Huckert Jr., is much younger -- probably 30, if that. He’s awaiting his last days on death row - punishment for a pair of violent revenge murders, that he has committed. Unlike Ernie, Wade is seething with rage. His last moments on earth are spent staring into the corner of his darkened cell. By chance, or fate, or both, Wade and Ernie's paths soon cross, the outcome of which will be felt for a lifetime.
Wade Carney's life plays out in various, indistinct flashes, as if one was glancing through a police report. Muddled, disjointed and punctuated by darkness, Carney’s violent (and sometimes sweet) activities appear in a mess of jumbled, erratically-edited sequences. Like the graffiti in the cave at the beginning, we’re never sure exactly what we are seeing in this montage. We know that Wade was a devoted father and husband. We also know that he hunted down and murdered two men, earlier in the film, after they raped his wife and attempted to strangle him. Even when the majority of his scenes have played out, Wade Carney’s character is, and remains, a curiosity.
Ernie Neuman’s character on the other hand, is crucial to the narrative and his storyline is much more deliberately paced and thoughtful. His relationship with his best friend, Leviticus 'Rose' Washington, played by Welton Benjamin Johnson, is attentive and loving and filled with a wonderful energy. It is this relationship between these two men that presents the real nucleus of the story. Like a couple of teenagers sowing their wild oats, these two fill their days by spiriting around town in stolen cars, pilfering pajamas, and, basically, living each second as it comes... and to the absolute fullest. Their nights are spent in arcane discussions about life, death, religion and yes, even reincarnation. Neuman, speaking to Leviticus, although, at times it feels as though he's speaking directly to the audience, offers some particularly unsettling and very thought-provoking observations about getting old and about death. These observations are given even more weight when you consider that James Carroll Plaster, the actor, died shortly after the film was completed. Director Huckert also utilizes flashback sequences to hi-light Leviticus and Ernie's journey through life together. Transitory images of Neuman’s early years in the war play out, including a moment when he and Leviticus find themselves under attack by the 'Jerry's'. In a powerful sequence, Leviticus thoughtlessly risks his own life to save his friends. We also glimpse Ernie's long-dead wife, who calls to him downstairs, awaiting her morning breakfast, only to replaced by Leviticus as Ernie reaches the top of a long set of stairs.
Late in the film, after getting into some mischief, Ernie is taken down to the county jail for questioning regarding a stolen car. There, he overhears Wade Carney and his lawyer a few cells down. Carney is being offered the chance to live, but only if he agrees to participate in a new scientific experiment being conducted at the Maryland State Rejuvenation Center. It seems, they are offering him a chance at life, if he agrees to be their 'guinea pig'. Carney reluctantly agrees. A similar situation befalls Ernie back at home when he determines that his own condition is worsening. He fears that he won’t be able to care for Leviticus much longer unless he seeks help for his problem. His doctor advises him about an unusual "geriatric center" where they are trying some radical new things to stifle (and reverse) the aging process. After much soul searching, Ernie agrees to go down to the Maryland State Rejuvenation Center and be apart of their experiment. Although vague, the doctors suggest to Ernie that he will get a new lease on life. It's the fine print of this lease that worries Ernie though. But in the case, as in many others, love takes precedence over rational thought and for his friend, he acquiesces.
Once at the facility, it becomes abundantly clear that something very 'out of the ordinary' is going on inside -- and his initial fears might just be justified. This isn't your typical hospital, he discovers. Doors with highly charged electrical currents rushing through them and guards armed with machine guns patrol the facility day and night, helping to dissuade anyone from devising a plan of escape. Ernie's growing fear turns to outright horror when he stumbles upon something that he’s not supposed to see in one of the rooms. Terrified, he charges off down the corridors telling an elderly stranger, “Get out of here, they are going to kill you.” It’s all to no avail because Ernie consented, and the experiment goes on as planned. The process, which lasts several minutes, comes across as psychedelic cinema at its very best. Punctuated by lights and numbers and an eerie synthesizer-laced score, the nearly ten minute segment is an enchanting, if not, frightening, experience. As expected, the reincarnation (or, in this case, body transference), which, at this point, has become a focal point in much of the film’s dialogue, plays out with Ernie inhabiting Wade’s youthful body while Wade inhabits Ernie’s. Science playing God, what a concept.
With science advancing to such a degree that duplicating humans is no longer a work of fiction, this idea of passing the soul from the shell doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it must have when this film was made. It's without question that science has an obligation to prolong life when able, but how far will science go to sustain life? This film suggests that the day will come when a person’s life can be extended, or in this case, re-worked, in order to appease one’s desire to live forever. The big question remains though. Who would be the beneficiary of such a scientific breakthrough? It’s without doubt that the world’s richest and most elite would have the first, and greatest, access to such technology, and the guinea pigs most assuredly would come from the fringes of society, people like Ernie and Wade -- life’s throwaways.
The final reunion between Ernie and Leviticus is as poignant as it is awkward, with two dear friends saying their final goodbyes, before the natural 'passing' occurs. Interestingly, Ernie's last line of dialogue, “I should have tape recorded this” intimates that everything that is past is past and that, in his new skin, his memories will persist. But will they be able to sustain him as the man he was? The final shot suggests otherwise, with Ernie taking on some of Wade’s notable traits in passing. What is Huckert saying by ending the film the way he does? That Ernie is an abomination, or is it simply a coy metaphor for the duality that exists within all men -- two souls -- one good, one bad -- merged. Who knows?
"The Passing" is the kind of film that will have you assessing its deeper meaning long after the credits have rolled, pondering its significance, and why it wasn’t given more attention when it was released in 1983. Sadly, watching this film demands two virtues that are often lacking in most contemporary audiences: patience and a willingness to ponder the meaning of what's transpiring on screen. Director John Huckert has had some moderate success following "The Passing" achieving critical attention in 1998 with his controversial film "Hard". A film about a gay serial killer that was so alarming in its content that Deluxe Film Labs would not work on it. Huckert primarily works as a writer/producer now, penning the low-budget "DinoCroc", "Shakedown" and "Slaughter Studios" in recent years.. John Huckert is a director who should have gone on to make some wonderful films, in my opinion.
"The Passing" can be purchased at Amazon.com and through Brentwood Studios.