Cinematic Releases: Tommy Battles the Silver Sea Dragon (2019) Reviewed

Guilt is one of the most powerful of the human emotions. The smallest amount can affect us profoundly, changing the course of our lives and affecting the way we think. It's a difficult emotion to express outwardly, so it's one we internalize, allowing it to stew and fester within us until any hope of rationality is gone.  All of the world's problems are our fault, and yet we are we are powerless to stop them.  How we deal with this guilt is a very personal thing, if we choose to deal with it at all, and each person has a complex process for doing so. Tommy Battles the Silver Sea Dragon is the story of how one man confronts his own guilt, and it's quite a fascinating presentation.

Tommy is the feature directorial debut from Luke Shirock, who also wrote, produced, and stars as the film's title character. On top of all of that, Shirock also composed the music for the film, and wrote the songs that provide much of the film's narrative. Oh, did I mention that Tommy is a musical? This is an ambitious undertaking to be sure, as even with a massive budget and an all-star cast modern musicals rarely work on screen. Yet somehow, within the colorful fever dream of Tommy's memories, it all makes sense, to the point where characters breaking into song seems like the least jarring thing in that particular scene. For as much as is going on in the film, the core story is never difficult to follow. Tommy is a deeply tortured man, and as his story unfolds we truly feel for him, suffering his losses along with him.

The film feels at times like a music video. This is not an insult, nor a knock against the film's originality. Shirock may take quite a few cues from '90s auteurs such as Chris Cunningham, Mark Romanek and (especially) Michel Gondry, but the film never feels like a piecemeal ripoff job like it easily could have in less capable hands. Shirock and editor Amos Mulder do a phenomenal job maintaining a narrative order within the chaos of Tommy's dark memories.

Reading all of this, one might think that Tommy Battles the Silver Sea Dragon is a bit much. That's not entirely incorrect. It's not an easy film to watch, due not only to its difficult subject matter but also its surreal presentation. While phrases like "not for everyone" tend to come off as a bit pretentious, the navigation of Tommy's psyche does require a bit more resolve than many casual audiences may wish to muster up. It is a film as likely to deter viewers as draw them in, but those who allow themselves to go along for the ride will certainly be rewarded.

Tommy Battles the Silver Sea Dragon is an exceptionally ambitious film. Because of that there are a few moments when its reach exceeds its grasp, and others that are just a bit on the nose. These turn out to be fairly minor, and infrequent, speed bumps on this fascinating journey. The road to cinematic Hell is paved with multi-hyphenates unwilling to admit they're in over their heads and ending up with a self-indulgent mess on their hands. But Luke Shirock is clearly no Tommy Wiseau, somehow reigning in all of the insanity to produce something truly extraordinary. Tommy Battles the Silver Sea Dragon is no bloated ego trip; it is a showcase of creative filmmaking that is as unrelenting as it is remarkable. It's by no means a perfect film, but as a debut film it has a polish and maturity that many filmmakers with a decades-long resume can only hope to accomplish, instantly making Shirock a name to watch. It's a heavy, and at times bizarre, film, but it's one also one of the most unique experiences you'll have at the movies this year.

-Mike Stec