Mercury Review: An audacious experiment
This is arguably Karthik Subbaraj’s best work
The events of Karthik Subbaraj's Mercury seems to take place in an alternate universe where the days are shorter and the nights, longer. This is a gloomy place with misty atmosphere. In one brilliantly realised sequence, a thick blanket of mist is used as a "screen" to project the silhouettes of two lovers dancing. If that doesn’t serve as an example of Karthik’s vivid imagination…
To heighten the intensity of the deafening silence that comes in the latter portions of the film, Karthik opens Mercury with a scene that is punctuated with bursts of loud, heavy metal music. The decision to make the entire film devoid of dialogues is not a gimmick. There is a perfect reason why dialogues wouldn't work in a film like this. And to know why, of course, you need to watch the film till the end.
To be perfectly clear, no real explanation is ever given as to why all the characters in the film are mute -- and only communicate in sign language. Perhaps it has something to do with mercury poisoning? You notice that the fringe characters move their mouths when they speak, but you can't hear them.
There is a scene where the main characters are having a party that gets interrupted by a bunch of cops. The cops don't say anything; they just stand outside like figurines. Cut to the next scene, and you see them speaking to the group in sign language as well. The original suspicion is that the cops are mute too, but it seemed to me that perhaps they aren't; perhaps some words were uttered by them during the transition from the first scene to the present. But Karthik doesn't dwell on these details.
In fact, he doesn't show us a lot in the film, and therein, for me, lies the film's beauty. This is visual storytelling at its finest. There is no spoon-feeding here, and I suspect that a lot of people are going to have a big problem with this. I can already imagine some of them pulling out their hair in frustration, especially after that crazy, out-of-the-box ending.
This is a film that keeps upending your expectations at every turn. You go in with pre-conceived notions about what the film is going to be and then when you get to the ending, all you can really do is to throw your hands up and admit that Karthik has won.
The story, in a spoiler-free nutshell, is this: A group of youngsters find a body in the middle of the night. They make some decisions, and then get caught in the grip of inexplicable panic and confusion. Around this time, you’re beset with plenty of questions. You ask yourself why they behave this way when the body has got nothing to do with them. The film then moves to an abandoned warehouse everything goes bonkers from thereon.
I wish I could really discuss Prabhudheva's character, but I worry that it could be a spoiler. Be assured though that the trailers haven't given away anything. There is a pre-interval twist that you don't see coming, and just when you think you've got it all figured out, Karthik turns everything upside down in the climax. It's an admirably bold move, and makes you see certain characters in new light — which is quite in keeping with at least one of his earlier films.
To me, this is Karthik's best film so far, but it's hard to predict how the general audience response will be. What Mercury will do though is get people talking. It’s audacious, technically-impressive, and an experiment filled with delightful surprises.