- Actors: Sam Waterston, Kristen Stewart
- Director: Tim Blake Nelson
- Format: Widescreen
- Language: English
- Region: Region A/1
- Number of discs: 1
- Rated: R
- Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
- Release Date: June 21, 2016
- Run Time: 90 minutes
Tim Blake Nelson’s Anesthesia utilizes a format seen often before, linking several strangers together through a coincidental series of events or accidental intersections. Sometimes this is used to show a sampling of characters within an environment. In Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, it was a high school, though more often than not it tends to be a specific city. The story in Anesthesia takes place primarily in Manhattan (all except one subplot), but the comments about humanity in have no location in mind. Even if the movie takes place in New York, it is relatable to all Americans.
Anesthesia is a somewhat confounding title until more is exposed about each of the characters and the connection is discovered. Each of them has some form of addiction for self placation. Columbia philosophy professor Walter (Sam Waterston) may be the exception, though he does admit to having thrived off of the adorations of his students for decades. One of his most promising students, Sophie (Kristen Stewart), opens up to Walter and exposes her own compulsion towards self mutilation, whereas his spoiled grandchildren (Hannah Marks and Ben Konigsberg) are exposed as chronic marijuana users by their parents, Jill and Adam (Jessica Hecht and Tim Blake Nelson).
Seemingly unrelated to Walter is suburban housewife, Sarah (Gretchen Mol) who is called out by her children (Jacqueline Baum and Ekatarina Samsonov) for drinking too much during the suspicious absence of her husband (Corey Stoll). There is also a heroin addict named Joe (K. Todd Freeman), who is being forced into detox by his childhood friend, Jeffrey (Michael Kenneth Williams). Jeffrey’s drug of choice seems to be success, as he leaves his suffering friend behind in order to work.
To say the film is about self medication would be an oversimplification, because it is really a movie about the reasons that we numb ourselves. It’s a film about the questions we would rather not have to ask ourselves, not just the ways we distract ourselves from them. And these questions are verbalized often by a number of the different characters in this dialogue heavy screenplay. Fortunately, Nelson’s script handles the dialogue better than some of the other story elements. I was somewhat under-satisfied with the overall film, but this is primarily because of how well the individual scenes captured my interest. I was compelled to the point that I felt myself wishing this were the beginning of a TV series rather than a film heading down a predictable yet unsatisfying ending.
Much of what compelled me was the acting. Some credit must be given to Nelson for the directing and the intelligently written dialogue for each character, but he also managed to compile a talented group of actors for the cast (which also includes Glenn Close). The layered performances had me longing for more from most of them, while others seemed a bit underdeveloped and could have used more time. With a brisk 90-minute run-time, the film could have afforded a bit more time for some characters, or the removal of a few of them entirely. Flawed as Anesthesia may be, it is a film made with sincerity and heart that deeply moved me upon watching it. Sometimes this is better than perfection.
The sole Blu-ray special feature is the trailer. The high definition presentation offers a crispness not entirely necessary with this type of film, though I will admit that it is beautifully shot with the precision of a confident filmmaker.
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Special Features: 1/10