“The catastrophic death of a star brings new life to the universe. In order for us to live, a star must die. We are all stardust.”
These are the opening lines in Carol Morley’s film Out of Blue, drawing me in like one those documentaries you might see at a science museum or observatory. Images of the cosmos sweep on by, leaving the viewer inert and floating, skimming along the spilled milk of the milky way. The issue here is that surrealism and the detective narrative aren’t exactly the most complimentary, especially when it lulls the viewer into a state we call sleep.
The illusive atmosphere sometimes suits the puzzle, like when lead detective Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson, “Maze Runner: The Death Cure”) sees a red scarf floating by the window in her bedroom or random blue marbles falling to the floor. We know they are significant somehow, and then we find out why, although it becomes exhausting when characters we thought were real aren’t really real, the movie turning into an acid trip that never stops.
The real detective work of Out of Blue is to find out what caused astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell’s (Mamie Gummer, “Ricki and the Flash”) death. Main suspects include colleague Ian Strammi (Toby Jones, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”) and lover Duncan Reynolds (Jonathan Majors, “Hostiles”), though neither narrative sits well with Hoolihan. Then there is the serial killer dubbed the .38 caliber killer, whose MO seems to fit the case. However, the killings stopped in the 80’s, so why would they suddenly start up again? Adding to the mix is Jennifer’s sketchy family, her decorated war-hero father (James Caan, “The Tale of The Princess Kaguya”), neurotic mother (Jacki Weaver, “The Disaster Artist”), and twin brothers (Brad and Todd Munn, “Riverdale” TV series) who are oddly confrontational.
With the exception of Weaver, none of the other family members can hold their acting weight with Clarkson. Fellow police officers Janey Mac (Yolonda Ross, “How to Get Away with Murder” TV series) and Tony Silvero (Aaron Tveit, “Les Misérables”) fare better, both adding a much needed dose of reality to Hoolihan’s drifting persona. Aaron Tveit is especially good, playing the young cop swagger to perfection. It is a shame he didn’t have a bigger presence in the movie, not only because he played his part so well, but also because of how much attention the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment received. After the 100th reference, I was ready to throw in the towel. Yes, we get it, observation changes an outcome, the cat is both alive and dead until we open the box to see which it is. Hoolihan is skeptical that two people could spend an entire night talking about the famous paradox when she herself brings it up for half the movie.
As Hoolihan delves deeper into the investigation of Jennifer Rockwell’s death, she discovers it is far from a simple open-shut case, even if everyone else wants to believe it. In the process, she unearths dark pieces of her own past, a past she had left behind once she put the badge on. This brings the audience back to the opening lines of the film, which draws a close connection between life and death. For us to live, a star had to die; Jennifer Rockwell had to die for something else to live. Heavy stuff.
It has to be said that Morley (“Edge”) is a stylistic director, with a style that has echoes of David Lynch, so if you go into Out of Blue expecting a David Fincher type of crime procedural like “Zodiac,” you will be sorely disappointed. If uncertainty and confusion are your thing, this movie has it in large doses. Just know that the puzzle never quite comes together, so leave your detective cap at home and bring a blanket instead — for a night under the stars.