I used to really enjoy writer/director Hal Hartley's work. For my taste, though, he peaked with 1992's Simple Men. Flirt and Amateur were as pale imitations of his masterwork, and No Such Thing isn't worth mentioning. Although The Girl From Monday is credited as "A Science Fiction by Hal Hartley," it's still more indie than sci-fi. And that's just the final straw in a long series of missteps.
It's beautifully shot, and I have to give the guy credit for making an ambitious movie on digital video, but there seems to be no narrative thread apart from The Girl, who shows up at the beginning and leaves at the end. There's been some sort of consumer revolution that has allowed the virtual takeover of society by a media conglomerate, and Jack (Bill Sage) is the increasingly remorseful architect of that revolution.
A major component of the new system is the trading of "personal value" on the stock exchange. When two people consent to have sex, their personal value increases. (Sex without value increase is criminal.) Hartley dances around the "sex as value" concept quite a bit, but never really makes it stick. Hell, even the ham-handed Saturn 3 used a variation more effectively:
James: Yes, you have a nice body. May I use it?
Alex: I'm with the Major.
James: For his personal consumption only? That's penally unsocial on Earth.
Unfortunately, because we never get emotionally attached to The Girl, when the greedy (his word) Principal Funk cuts a deal with her to use her body to increase his personal value, this outrageous violation barely registers.
There's nothing wrong with making a science fiction movie on a budget (see Primer--and then see it again), but a couple of black-clad corporate "soldiers" with cheesy B-movie helmets, Super Soakers and a black Hummer are not enough to set the proper tone for a futuristic or even an alternate-reality movie. Gattaca was by no means a big-budget movie, but it set the bar pretty high with its subtle retro-future styling.
Hartley's evident intent was to make a statement about the overbranding of America, but he seems to have missed the idea of visibility. While it's often more effective to keep the monster hidden in a horror movie, here that technique doesn't work. In 1984, Big Brother is omnipresent and ever-threatening. In the Alien movies, "The Company" is practically a character itself. In our society, how are we kept constantly aware of such corporate giants as, say, Nike? Branding. And in life, as well as in film, branding means logos.
The interactive advertising (and blatant product placement) of Spielberg's Minority Report makes the point spectacularly; Alex Cox's Repo Man takes it to the opposite extreme with its ubiquitous generic products. Yet in Monday, there's nary a logo to be seen. Instead, characters continually tell us about the Big Brother-like multimedia giant, Triple M--an egregious violation of the "show, don't tell" rule of filmmaking. All he really needed to do was hire a graphic artist and take a trip to Kinko's.
The best part of the DVD for me was the "making of" featurette. It was consistently entertaining (I especially appreciated hearing Hartley refer to himself as a "craftsman" rather than an "artist") and it was instructive to see how much Hartley does with so little. Unfortunately, the movie itself didn't live up to the potential displayed in the featurette.
Which is not to say that I hated it, but it could have been so much more. But you know what? Hal Hartley doesn't make movies for me; he makes them for Hal Hartley. And even if we don't always connect, I'll always respect him for following his own vision.