The lone and level sands stretch far away
I didn’t want to see Buried. I had read the premise and knew I wouldn’t be able to take it. I don’t have claustrophobia, but that doesn’t mean I want to be locked in a coffin for an hour and a half. So I decided not to go, because I know my limits. Then the sneak preview in the local cinema tricked me. It lured me in with promises of another movie, one I did want to see. Then, darkness. Muffled breathing. A sneaker bumping into wooden planks. Buried.
Ryan Reynolds is a comedian, but there’s nothing funny about his performance in this vexing film. As Paul Conroy he’s been buried alive under the sands of Iraq; a truck driver in the military catching a bad break. You’re invited to spend the entire film with him inside his coffin. Just you, Paul, a lighter and a cell phone. The first few minutes are uncomfortable, panicking darkness. In a coffin, even normal movement is restricted. It takes Paul a while to find the lighter. Escaping before the oxygen runs out seems an impossible task.
This sounds like a nightmare, and it really is, for Paul, and the viewer. At first. But then, something remarkable happens. You get used to it. You accept it. You are in a box, underneath the soil. A sense of intimacy grows. You’re physically so close to Paul, know exactly what he knows, experience everything as he is experiencing it. This forms a bond. The coffin starts to feel like home. It’s horrific, but true.
Paul goes through the usual stages of denial, rage, regret, bargaining. But after ten minutes, there is no more room for those clichés and Paul must develop into a real person. How he deals with this situation, that many of us wouldn’t dare visit in our darkest dreams, opens him up to us. And since we are always there, always, unblinking, we catch it all. Paul is naked before us. This is another horror, and triumph, of the film.
Buried enjoys a marvelous simplicity of execution. There is no world outside the coffin and yet the film doesn’t bore for a second. Instead of pining for the outside world, it’s the details that you sink in. That lighter, the loose board, and Paul’s clothing, and the cell phone’s screen. It puts the lie to the idea that audiences are always craving more, more, more. What they perhaps most need is for things to be taken away. The less there is, the more important what is still there becomes.
Here, almost everything is taken away. What remains is one of the most interesting film experiences in a long time. I didn’t want to see Buried. Now, I have nothing but the highest praise for it.