Conspiracy theories flood the discourse. They were once the topic for crazy newsletters with rabid followers. Now any subculture or political faction engages in what would formerly be called conspiracy theory research. In 2018, Under the Silver Lake debuted with little media push. It grossed barely any money. It did capture the world Americans find themselves occupying in our age of open lies, hidden string pullers and dissembling media.
The film stars Andrew Garfield, playing an unemployed scrub in 2011’s Los Angeles. He has a nice evening with a neighbor, and when she and her roommates vanish, he becomes a detective. What unfolds is a bizarre, funny journey though the darker side of Tinseltown. Eventually, he discovers that myths can be true and there is a giant conspiracy that leaves clues out in the open to guide one to its destination. All his Charlie Day theorizing and research pays off. In the end, he is reminded that this is not for him, and he must remain quiet.
It is worth the watch, and its mood and atmosphere will remind you of another LA film about the fringes: Nightcrawler. These films take the fringe of LA who cannot make it in the system and pushes them through the broad mechanisms at play in the city. In Nightcrawler, our protagonist is morally awful but has agency to play with events within the system. In Lake, our protagonist is an interloper who cannot effect change but can reveal what is going on deeper in LA. Another modern LA mystery like Mulholland Drive may come to mind while watching it, but this film is more straightforward. Both have their homages to old Hollywood, but Lake celebrates them. For Millenials, the young have old Hollywood posters up on their walls and enjoy ‘50s films.
Garfield is the key here as he plays the burned out everyman well. This is where the film fits our moment. No one cares that his neighbor is gone except him. The conspiracy theory researchers of the last five years feel no one in positions of authority care or are willing to do the work to connect the dots of what is right under their noses. Covid, Deep State ops, the Vegas shooting or even Pizzagate all fit this profile. Why can a schlub like Garfield figure it out but not anyone else? Why do anonymous accounts figure out truth nine months before it gets reported? There would be no QAnon if a media outlet spent $75,000 to hire some young guy just to investigate and report in the C bloc of some nightly show about odd connections and details in events. This is why Alex Jones has a following. He explores the strange and a few years pass before he is vindicated.
Helping this film is Garfield’s portrayal, which allows the viewer to relax and enjoy the unfolding mystery. One can watch the classic ‘70s conspiracy film The Parallax View and laugh at how staged it is. Both films are fake productions from the same Hollywood maw, but even at its most contrived Lake is more acceptable. Warren Beatty’s glam looks, a journalist as a hero, shadowy deaths linked to a corporation are comical to a viewer who knows that is all so far from reality (journalists being handsome & heroic) or a reality that we accept (mysterious hits like Epstein get shrugged off). A reboot of Parallax would be campy; it might make viewing for Netflix’s Russiagate crowd that followed the Krassensteins. Garfield is the loser who would care. He can piece the mystery together yet cannot see that his actress fuck-buddy is one of the Shooting Stars hookers.
The idea that the conspiracy is hiding in plain sight fits our times as well. Neil Postman’s prophetic warnings that we would have too much information and drown in the glut from the Internet has come true. It makes for hiding actual messages all the easier for those in control. With every medium under their thumb, why wouldn’t the real elites have fun? At the end of this, Garfield discovers the elites do want to have their fun in ways normal people could not create or even understand.
That’s a secret to this film not getting a bigger push. It’s not just Topher Grace saying they should be doing adventurous stuff and starting things like men just 100 years ago, which is a dangerous criticism of today’s society. It’s not the connection of prostitution and the modeling/acting pipeline Crazy Days and Nights describes that the film openly shows. It talks too openly about mimetic power and the artificial nature of modern rebellion. The scene with the Songwriter is direct with this message even having said character speak directly to the camera. He is not taunting Garfield’s amateur detective but you the viewer. It is all fake. Your love songs, your party songs and your rebellion are all from the same source. Garfield’s reaction has nothing to do with the missing neighbor but with his worldview being a lie.
This film itself is a product and meme. It might be the wink from the powers that be that they understand, but there is nothing you can do about it. A garbage film twenty years ago adapting the cartoon Josie & The Pussycats used a satirical angle but did the same. All those trends and fads are brainwashing provided by a core of handlers and the government wants to adopt it as well. Films like this could be nothing. This could be digging way too deep into small films with small followings… or this could be those handlers giving you a wink and telling you that you are right. Just don’t tell anyone.