Ressurect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
12Nov/111

Ressurect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles (2011)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

I grew up in the Midwest. Wait, I know that's not a great attention getter, but bear with me: I grew up in the middle of the Midwest, a town of 100,000 situated 200 miles from any place honestly worth being.

So when I traveled I'd end up alone in the car quite a bit, darting between big towns, small towns, what have you, past rows of corn and soy in the deep dark of night. My absolute favorite thing to do on those trips was to listen to the radio. Because when you're in your '98 Toyota, rambling through these empty towns and villages full of solitary street and black, pitted out homes, finding an invisible human connection

The only human contact are these disc jockeys on the static airwaves. These strangers reach out to you, some by trying to create some bond, others by simply telling you what they know and hoping for some understanding. Lectures, stories, bad music, all delivered to me from places unknown.

And some nights I'd get hints at something. Something impenetrable. I'd catch a snippet of a numbers station or hear one lonely, introspective person broadcasting themselves into the lonely night, trying to make that contact. And, for a brief second, they did, but they never knew it.

It's this sort of eeriness that Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles brought to me as I watched it.

The dark of night.

The story is one of those great urban legends you stumble upon sometimes: all across the country, but especially in Philadelphia, tiles have been glued to the street reading the following:

TOYNBEE IDEA
IN Kubrick's 2001
RESURRECT DEAD
ON PLANET JUPITER.

These tile line the roads, ignored daily by hundreds of thousands who pass them by. Over the years, dozens if not hundreds of attempts have been made to discover who is laying these tiles and why.

Resurrect Dead in specific follows Justin Duerr. He's a former street artist turned regular artist who found out about the tiles a decade ago and became obsessed with the mystery. We learn a lot about Justin, and this information is delivered as to be both an interesting mix of filler to pad out the film and a weird attempt to create parallels with the man behind the tiles. But more on that in a minute.

Duerr's quest unites him with others (Steve Weinik, Colin Smith) who are fascinated with the phenomenon, and a decade of leads and clues that the film carefully examines to their logical conclusions. Some are dead ends, some lead to the solution, and others still niggle at the back of the mind.

Well that's a weird visual.

This documentary's style is something that would fit in on Court TV or a number of other real life cold case mysteries. The filmmaker uses onscreen title cards to make his points rather than narrate; it gives the film more of a clinical feeling and definitely aids in throwing the spotlight onto Justin.

The movie makes Justin its hero pretty transparently: he was bullied in school, was on a rough path, and finally found salvation in unraveling the Toynbee mystery. This is paralleled as he begins to uncover the man who the audience is led to believe laid the tiles, who has secluded himself to the world after his ideas were similarly rejected. The viewer is entranced by the procedural and enticed with the character arc. Not the most original or compelling way to make a documentary, but because the subject is so strange and Justin's enthusiasm overrides the baggage of his back story, the movie works.

And what I may like most about how it works is the open endedness to it. The investigators piece together things the best they can, but there's no final confrontation or confirmation. Justin has to settle for what closure he can get, imaginary or not, and force himself to acknowledge that there are things in life that are simply and unequivocally unknowable.

He finds solace in this. We all should.

Posted by Danny

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  1. Thanks so much for this review. You got exactly out of the movie what we hoped people would… and not everyone does.


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