Seconds

Seconds is the story of a homely, repressed banker (John Randolph) who lives a life of quiet desperation with his emotionally distant wife in upper-middle-class suburbia until his miserable, Kafka-esque existence is radically altered by a sinister corporation that transforms him into a handsome, bohemian painter played by Rock Hudson. John Frankenheimer's wildly ambitious 1967 psychodrama sustains a sense of terror for its first 40 minutes, as it creates one of the most hauntingly bleak and despairing portrayals of middle-class emotional isolation in the history of film. After the protagonist's transformation, however, the film devolves into a fairly conventional tale about the emptiness of bohemian life, which certainly isn't helped by the filmmakers' inability to see a bohemian existence as anything beyond naked hipsters undulating to folk music. The movie regains its composure, however, for a wonderfully paranoid ending that fully restores its impressive sense of doom. Seconds is certainly a flawed film, and it's easy to see why it flopped during its initial release: It's a relentlessly depressing, claustrophobic movie that offers no sense of catharsis whatsoever. Nevertheless, it's strangely touching, and as a portrayal of identity and alienation in suburban America, it's about a hundred times as creepy and sincere as David Lynch's thematically similar Lost Highway.

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