Exploiting the Archives, Paternity Leave Edition: Control Nathan Rabin 4.0-Pass Thru (2016)
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the third installment of Control Nathan Rabin 4.0-Payola with Honor, the column where I give the living saints who make a one-time one hundred dollar pledge to this site’s Patreon an opportunity to choose a movie that I then have to watch, and then write about.
As with the first two entries, on the exquisitely good-bad Taekwando Synth-Pop musical Miami Connection and the just plain terrible 3000 Miles to Graceland, I lucked out with this choice in that it was something I had been circling for a while and was looking for a reason to write about. The film in question is Pass Thru, kooky Canuck auteur Neil Breen’s 2016 follow-up to his 2013 cult classic Fateful Findings, which I wrote about for my Sub-Cult column over at Rotten Tomatoes.
Fateful Findings was as ambitious and crazily over-reaching as it was incompetent, closing with a rightly mocked/celebrated climax where all of the dishonest politicians and leaders confess their awful crimes against the public against some of the most hypnotically terrible CGI since the roof in The Room, and then commit suicide out of shame.
You would imagine something like that would be hard to top in terms of sheer audaciousness of vision, but Pass Thru is so utterly bizarre it makes Fateful Findings seem modest and sane by comparison. If you were to tell me that Breen intended to use Pass Thru as the basis for a makeshift religion (otherwise known as “cults”) it would make more sense than positing Pass Thru as entertainment.
Pass Thru is not the first time Breen has played a messiah, superhuman or savior of mankind. In movies like 2009’s I Am Here…Now, Fateful Findings and this, he’s typecast himself as a balding, pockmarked, homely figure of seemingly infinite power.
In Pass Thru he casts himself as essentially a grouchy, mass murdering, killer Jesus from the future who inhabits the body of a heroin-addicted man (Breen) who ekes out a meager existence cleaning up the desert near the U.S/Mexico border in exchange for more of that sweet, sweet smack.
I’m not sure why anyone, particularly a seemingly all-powerful being from the future who is able to bend time, make hundreds of millions of people disappear instantly and control things with his mind would choose to look like Neil Breen. At the very least, you’d imagine they’d choose someone with a less prominent bald spot but this is Breen’s masturbatory vision of himself as the cranky savior of humanity, so of all of the billions of bodies on earth, this irritable Angel chose one that looks like the writer-producer-director-star’s.
The Sodom & Gomorrah-like awfulness of contemporary life is illustrated in part through an unintentionally hilarious life or death struggle for survival near the border as our crazed narcissist from the future frees a group of desperate immigrants from an evil band of human smugglers led by a screaming black woman straight out of a blaxploitation film.
These immigrants are supposed to be terrified for their lives every moment onscreen. Instead, they come off as sorority girls on a field trip gone awry. True, I don’t know much about the lives of desperate illegal immigrants, but I doubt they cross the border with expensive backpacks and perfect hair and make-up.
Breen essentially has two modes here, and I’m not talking about his dual performance as both the world’s least convincing drug addict since Jesse Spano fucked around with those caffeine pills on Saved by the Bell and a futuristic God-man with thinning hair. When he’s interacting with other characters, he’s grouchy and irritable, perpetually nagging at people to stop being so evil and corrupt and also to rise up against all of the bad people with the bad politics and the bad corporations.
But when he’s narrating the film, he switches into wise guru/Scientology mode and starts dispensing aphorisms like “You cannot travel the path until you become the path itself”, “Man’s law changes with his understanding of man. Only the laws of the spirit realm always remain the same” and “It’s never too late. Music’s magical. Universal. It’s timeless.”
Actually, that last one makes him sound like a Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J. As is his custom, Breen’s man-God saves the helpless, emotionally traumatized immigrants but instead of using his magical powers to help them, he angrily yells at them, “Go back to where you came from! You can be a leader, not a follower! You can make a difference! Now GO BACK!”
In Pass Thru, our asshole, kind of reactionary divine being tells immigrants to “go back to where you came from!” and overthrow all of the bad people and make a utopia on earth. That’s puzzling on multiple levels, but mainly because Breen’s Asshole Jesus makes a big show of killing the three hundred million bad people who are ruining civilization and humanity for the rest of us.
Breen’s angry savior tells the world of the following:
* I’m going to eliminate hundreds of millions of the human species.
* I’m going to kill them immediately.
* I’m only going to eliminate humans who have been harmful to other humans.
The third part of what I call Breen’s “positive genocide” plan, where the mass murder of huge groups of people is supposed to be a welcome development, is supposed to negate the ugliness of its first two parts. It does not. You know who else thought he was doing humanity an enormous service by killing the millions of people he held responsible for all of a country’s problem? A dude named Adolf Hitler. And another dude named Mao. And still yet another dude named Josef Stalin. And pretty much every murderous dictators ever.
What these men had in common was that they thought they had the moral, as well as political authority to determine who the bad people in society were, and then to engineer their mass extermination. This is what made them not just bad dudes, but men who can be deemed “history’s greatest monster” without hyperbole.
But when Breen’s jerky Jesus kills everyone he considers a bad person, we’re supposed to see him as history’s greatest hero (easily beating the real Jesus) and someone to not only root for, but look up to, and derive inspiration from. And that’s more than a little bit queasy-making.
As in Fateful Findings, ample dialogue is devoted to characters we’ve just been introduced to loudly proclaiming how evil and corrupt they are to other grinning villains against distractingly unconvincing CGI backdrops. You might imagine that people would try to conceal their evil and duplicitous ways, that they’d try to present themselves as good and honest people of virtue.
Not in the world of Neal Breen. No, in Breen’s universe of endless verbal self-flagellation, the most popular topic of conversation is how evil you are. Pass Thru is the kind of film that has a blow-dried male anchor blurt out “We’re constantly putting out our own corporate-slanted news! Half truths, putting our own spin on it” to which his female counterpoint replies, with the unforced verisimilitude of an untrained actor in an Italian neorealist drama, “We’re just as biased and prejudiced in how we present the news as the public is!”
Later, our god-like hero wears a suit so he can visit the kind of snooty upper-crust cocktail party where everyone drinks champagne, smirks with an air of insufferable superiority and brags about the ways in which they're evil.
They say things like, “As CEO of a major bank, we manipulate interest rates to serve our best interests, with no concern for the customers of course! They have no control over us. It also helps our stockbroker friends, who manipulate their market to the broker’s advantage” and "I know senior elected government officials who I can force my political bias and influence on fellow politicians to vote my way, for a payoff of course.”
If those phrases seem to be missing key words, and also make no sense, that's the way Breen wrote and shot them: as semi-incomprehensible yet insultingly heavy-handed.
Not only does Breen’s otherworldly visitor not add to the conversation with tales of his own corruption and malevolence, but he breaks the mood entirely by shouting, “Isn’t that corrupt?” repeatedly in that shrill, annoying-aunt voice of his. True, he makes all the bad people disappear for being bad but if he didn't, there's no way he'd ever get invited to cocktail party. He is a super-powered bummer.
Breen’s strong conviction that all the bad people need to die immediately for society to advance raises pretty much nothing but troubling, unanswerable questions. What makes someone fundamentally “bad?” Who gets to decide who’s bad and who’s good? Don’t good and evil co-exist within everybody, and consequently in the governments and institutions and businesses we create in our images? What about moral ambiguity? What about forgiveness and penitence and absolution? What about grace?
Needless to say, Pass Thru isn’t overly concerned with any of those questions because they just muddy its strong, unambiguous “the bad people should die” message. How should these bad people die? Why through outer space futuristic A.I magic, of course!
Honestly, the only reason I could see anyone being against Pass Thru’s "let’s kill everyone who’s not good" message is because they too are evil and feel incriminated by the movie’s message.
Breen’s disturbingly vague, megalomaniacal “let’s kill all the bad people” ideology unnerves me in a way Tommy Wiseau’s hairy, hypnotically thrusting ass does not.
At various points in Pass Thru, I found myself thinking things like, “Is Breen advocating genocide and ethnic cleansing as long as the right people are slaughtered en masse?” That make it difficult to enjoy the movie in the same spirit as Fateful Findings, which was nearly as megalomaniacal but not in a way that asked the audience to stand up and cheer when his character becomes the greatest mass murderer in human history.
Breen clearly does not care how his ideas sound to anyone or anything outside his brain, as evidenced by him listing “political correctness” as one of the many causes of humanity's decline, or he would not make his weirdly Fascist-leaning magnum opus feature “Let the cleanse begin!” as his character’s catchphrase.
If they were to create merchandise for Pass Thru, I would want it to be an image of Breen smiling next to a tiger above the words, “Let the cleanse begin!”
Yes, Pass Thru offers us an even more intimate and extended glimpse into its creator’s psyche. That’s an alarming and troubling, if unmistakably fascinating place to spend 88 surreal moments in, but I sure am glad I get to leave.
Then again, I didn’t want to spend thirty one dollars buying Pass Thru from Breen himself. I similarly lacked the patience to wait three to four weeks for my DVD to arrive, and I didn't want my patron to have to wait that long for this piece, so I downloaded the motherfucker in ways that may not have been entirely legal.
In Breen’s unstinting ideology, where pretty much everyone is evil and deserves to die except for whatever god among men he’s playing, that undoubtedly makes me a bad person. The unkind words I am writing about Breen and his life’s work only compound the offense but I must speak my truth all the same, even if it means that I too will eventually perish in some manner of “positive holocaust” at the hands of an Almighty who happens to bear a suspicious resemblance to a certain balding, megalomaniacal architect/auteur.
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