The Man on the Train (2021) | A Review?
by Ask Vestergaard
This review contains spoilers
graphic courtesy of Ask Vestergaard
I left the Stonehaven Film Festival’s screening of Douglas Gaudy’s eco-thriller The Man on the Train with my ears ringing from rapturous applause, my leg gushing blood from the shard of sizzling shrapnel that had imbedded itself into my knee, and my brain sparking with the knowledge that I would almost certainly die a terrible, hyperthermic death before I saw another film anywhere near as good as this.
Part film and part performance art, The Man on the Train follows brilliant journalist Isti Numminen (played by the incredible method actor Anttoni Miskolczy, who spent four months moonlighting as a writer for a student newspaper in preparation for this role) as he reports on the PIG26 Climate Change Conference. The film is shot entirely on its titular train, creating a cramped and foreboding atmosphere from the start – immediately, we know that something is wrong. The tension kicks into instant overdrive with the revelation that brilliant journalist Isti Numminen isn’t supposed to be on this train. In fact, he is on the verge of a panic attack because brilliant journalist Isti Numminen accidentally booked a flight to Edinburgh despite the PIG26 Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow. We as viewers are already on the edge of our seats, and the opening credits have only just finished thanking their Patreon backers. And then the punches keep coming. Brilliant journalist Isti Numminen gets a call from his editor telling him that the conference has already started and that brilliant journalist Isti Numminen’s viewers demand to know the truths that no other news outlets are brave enough to tell.
So, in a sphincter-clenching twist, brilliant journalist Isti Numminen tells his crew to turn on the camera and decides to report on the PIG26 Climate Change Conference despite not actually being there. He sits on the train and lies through his teeth, but since he is brilliant journalist Isti Numminen, his lies are true.
While all of this is happening on screen, the performance art part of the experience is in full swing. Arrayed along the balconies of the Dunnottar Grand Theatre is an orchestra playing live music. But their instruments are hardly the standard affair: instead of cellos and flutes and contrabass balalaikas, the orchestra blows on plastic straws, drums on plastic bottles, and strums on the dried intestines of seagulls drowned in oil spills. With these recycled instruments, they play recycled melodies – everything from Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’ to George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ (all paid for, of course – the message at the beginning of the film stating that ‘all music in this film was stolen’ is pure theatrics).
One would be forgiven for thinking that this was all the performance had to offer. The music had a haunting quality that made the film feel like a requiem – a rendition of the Benny Hill ‘Yakety Sax’ song played with plastic six-pack Coca-Cola rings with turtle corpses still attached comes to mind as particularly beautiful. And yet, there was more.
At the end of the film, after an unbroken 23-minute take in which brilliant journalist Isti Numminen hysterically whispers into a microphone about how NFTs make trees grow faster while slowly putting on a Captain Planet onesie, the train finally arrives in Glasgow. Suddenly, we are greeted with the film’s first shot taking place outside the train: a shot identical to the Lumière Brothers’ The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. At this scene, every member of the audience held their collective breaths. The recycled orchestra mimicked the chugga-chugga of the incoming locomotive by breaking the bones of a group of seals accidentally scooped up by a deep-sea trawler. The train came closer. Closer. Everyone stiffened. We were all logical people. We all knew that it was just a film. A 2D film, at that. We had nothing to be afraid of. And yet – the train came closer.
And then the wall exploded and the cinema screen toppled over and a very real train burst into the cinema and crushed the three screaming front rows beneath its wheels before shattering into a thousand shards of razor-sharp metal. There is so much blood. I can’t feel my leg. I can barely keep consciousness as I write this review, but this has to be said. People need to know.
The Man on the Train is transcendent. It is revolutionary. It is simultaneously a raging manifesto and a nihilistic threnody for the doom of the world. It is a literal act of terrorism. And it is the best movie I have ever seen.