Driving from despair in a VW van

Independent art films seem to have this remarkable ability to shake up whomever is watching. That is, whoever actually understands what they are watching.

Independent art films seem to have this remarkable ability to shake up whomever is watching. That is, whoever actually understands what they are watching. Often, these films deal with complex emotions and situations, but frame them in the abstract, making it difficult for the average viewer (read: anyone who doesn’t quite comprehend the abstract) to follow along. In the cruelest irony for the filmmaker, it is often the art itself that makes the film less approachable.

Yet, for as many of these types of films that exist, there are just as many independent art films that are emotionally complex and still comprehendible for the average person. Enter Bass Ackwards from director Linas Phillips—a film that carries just as much weight in the road movie genre as it does as an artistic piece of cinematography.

The film follows Linas, an aspiring filmmaker with no real job and no real life. After he finds an old beat up 1976 Volkswagen van, is kicked off his friend’s couch and rejected by his married lover, Linas decides to drive from Seattle to his parent’s house on the east coast to regroup.

From the beginning, it’s clear that Linas is supposed to be the likeable loser. On the one hand, the guy is a loser. He is jobless, homeless, and in love with a married woman. But on the other hand, there’s a distinct problem with this: He’s not all that likeable. Don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly pitiable, but he seems creepily detached from life, which makes it difficult to actually like the guy.

Part of the problem may be that there are a few unnecessary shots. We see Linas moving in and out of hotel rooms, getting splashed in the face with a packet of creamer he opens for coffee, driving by a dead animal, etc. The purpose of these clips, I’m sure, is to show just how pathetic Linas’ situation is so that the transformation that happens later (because there has to be one, or there would be no movie) is all the more powerful. But the short scenes fall flat and in the end they leave the viewer shaking his or her head, wondering why he or she just saw them.

As the plot progresses, it’s almost like Linas is coming of age. Over the course of his travels, he learns how to make the most of his situation (and to move on with his life) through the people he encounters. Whether it is Jim (a man more pathetic than Linas, but somewhat content with his situation), Vic (the gas station attendant who lost a daughter and is, as he puts it, “okay”) or Alex (a child he buys beef jerky for at a gas station), Linas ultimately learns that he can move on from grief.

One of the key moments in this process, and probably the most brilliant line in the film comes when Vic is talking about how he dealt with the loss of his daughter. He says, “It’s like there’s a thousand little knives just stuck in your gut and they just stay there, you know, until something distracts you.”

With moving and ultimately real dialogue like this, this film is downright believable. While Linas may be on the creepy side, he’s a real guy that could be anyone. And it’s that knowledge that has the ability to shake up the viewer, giving everyone (unless you’re some cyborg who can’t feel) something they can relate to.