Focusing on life working inside a movie theater, the basic premise of Empire of Light will be relatable to anyone who has worked in this setting. But the movie set in an English seaside town in the early 1980s tosses some curve balls at the viewers that they may not see coming, or really make any sense to the plot at all.
The movie focuses on two key characters, Hilary, a middle-aged theater manager, and a new employee Stephen. Their lives are at different stages, but they find they have a lot more in common than they expect and start a romance – despite them being decades apart in age. The romance seems out of place, while they’re both adults, the age difference almost seems predatory on Hilary’s part, and Stephen is a willing participant. Besides their working in the same theater, the two have nothing in common – other than their lives seem to be at a standstill.
Facing racial tensions, and Hilary starting to see the world around her through someone else’s eyes – the movie focuses on some of the issues in England in the 1980s. This part of the story, while still relevant today, plays more towards Stephen’s story and primarily affects him, while his coworkers just go about their lives. That is until a large mob breaks into the theater and attacks Stephen and some of his coworkers, who with the exception of Hilary, do not come to his aid. This part of the story seemed to come out of nowhere. Yes, the movie, showed other racial based tensions, but it sent from small incidents to a protest and mob attacks quickly. And after that, it was almost brushed away as part of life and the story progressed.
The same disregard for Hilary’s illness and mental health is taken in the movie. Basically, it’s treated as a plot point and given about five minutes of actual consideration before going to an extreme and not really discussed again. The movie has a lot of issues with follow-through on topics that could drive the story along, and be far more interesting than it actually is.
The movie seems to meander and take its time telling the story. And while normally this may drive some audiences away, it seems to fit the movie well. It’s an enjoyable movie, that takes a turn somewhere in the second act. But the major issue is while the story is enjoyable, the movie seems to have lost its point. Is it their fleeting connections? Hilary’s illness (which doesn’t always make sense), or is it something else the movie wants you to focus on? It seems to get lost in its own story so much that it can’t find a direction towards the end of the film.
Empire of Light will be in select theaters nationwide this weekend.
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About Empire of Light:
Set in an English seaside town in the early 1980s, Empire of Light is a powerful and poignant story about human connection and the magic of cinema.