SXSW FILM REVIEW: ‘Paradox’ Delights In Its Own Purposeful Incoherence

You know how sometimes you accidentally leave the video camera recording on your phone when you’re not actually trying to record video? That’s basically Paradox in a nutshell, a mishmash steampunk western from director Daryl Hannah (who’s listed as “auteur” in the credits), and featuring her husband, Neil Young.

There’s no real plot here, just a choppy collection of scenes that feature Young as The Man In Black, a trenchcoat-clad… cowboy? Bank robber? Prospector? It’s never really made clear, as the film foregoes both storytelling and characters — in favor of what I’m still not entirely sure.

Filmed over the course of just a few days, Paradox follows The Man In Black with his gang of cohorts, played by Young’s real-life band The Promise Of The Real, who reside in the wilderness and occasionally dig up remnants of a more technologically advanced society. They also play cards and use outhouses while waxing philosophic with all the profundity of a college freshman who just discovered LSD, Burroughs, and Kant all over the same weekend.

Granted, to critique (or praise, for that matter) this… um… “movie” seems like a fruitless endeavor, as it feels like it was just made by Young’s inner circle for its own sake. Something they decided to cobble together instead of doing nothing. Though I’m not entirely sure doing nothing would’ve been the worse choice here.

That’s not to say that Paradox is entirely void of merit. At some point it becomes a concert film of sorts, with a few songs played in some kind of makeshift tent revival, where Hannah proves to be capable of capturing Young and his band giving a roaring, electric performance. And other moments seem to tip its wide-brimmed hat to the stylized cinematography of Sergio Leone.

Also, Willie Nelson shows up at one point, and seeing it here in Austin meant there was a rousing burst of applause every time he popped up on screen.

While it does seem like a wasted effort to criticize Paradox, which would be like criticizing someone’s home movies, it is a little perplexing as to why Netflix decided to absorb it into its ever-increasing collection of original content.

Granted, their programming has made a name for itself for letting its content makers off the leash, creatively speaking. And I can’t help but wonder what some stoned Neil Young fan will think when they stumble across this movie at 3 AM when they’re looking for something to watch — and whether or not they’ll find profundity in all the chaos.

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