Long Lost. 2019. Directed & Written by Erik Bloomquist.
Starring Adam Weppler, Catherine Corcoran, & Nicholas Tucci.
Not Rated. 94 minutes.
Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Disclaimer: The following article is an in-depth analysis of Long Lost‘s themes & does contain spoilers. There is a significant twist near the end of the film.
Father Gore suggests turning back, lest ye be spoiled!
Most promotional material for Erik Bloomquist’s Long Lost bills it as an erotic thriller. Not to say there isn’t eroticism wafting through the air, there’s just something about the screenplay that feels particularly Marxist. A story about two brothers who’ve never met— the younger, scrappier Seth (Adam Weppler) and the older, wealthy, and weird Richard (Nicholas Tucci)— and the disparate lifestyles they lead transforms from what initially appears as an elaborate psychosexual mind-game into a metaphor about the ever widening gap between the working class and the bourgeois.
The ambiguity of what’s really happening while Seth, Richard, and the latter’s partner Abby (Catherine Corcoran) spend a strange day and night together will keep audiences on their toes. They navigate business, food, games, family histories, and sexual tension as Richard and Seth attempt to forge a connection after decades of being separated by the wealth, and the later lack thereof, of the patriarch who kept them apart. It isn’t until the climactic finish when all the answers become painfully clear. Although the ending is definitive, there are many signs and symbols along the way to suggest greater meaning than solely an excellently sinister twist for a thriller.
From the very start, metatheatre is cleverly introduced into the story. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is referenced in the beginning, reappearing again briefly at the end. Shakespeare’s famous play bookends Long Lost because Hamlet, as a character, embodies two important elements of the film’s screenplay: socioeconomic status and performance. The plot doesn’t mirror Shakespeare, but issues of identity— here, directly tied to class— plague the characters as much as the tortured Danish prince.
Bloomquist uses his film to ask questions about who we are and what dictates our identity. Is it family? Our job? Who we sleep with? What we eat, or what we wear? Is it one of the many roles we play: son, daughter, mother, father, wife, husband?
Or is it all only an illusion?
Aside from the radio station Seth listens to on his way to Richard’s sprawling mansion, metatheatre comes out of the screenplay’s premise naturally. Two long lost brothers come together to begin building a relationship. Seth tries to present himself in a certain role to Richard, and vice versa. On the one hand, Seth comes from the lower class— having lost his mother to an illness from what sounds like a lack of healthcare and picking up every last little shift at his job to make ends meet, hoping to start his own business so he can take hold of the means of production for himself— and he puts on an act at times around his wealthy brother. On the other hand, Richard comes from a bourgeois legacy— his huge estate was built by “seventy–four Mexicans“— and though he tries to act like a regular guy around his younger brother his behaviour belies this wannabe-everyman act.
A perfect scene illustrating this brotherly class divide is when Richard challenges Seth to a game of Chubby Bunny. The game’s silly and fun. After they’re finished, and Seth’s won, Richard quips how his brother is “adroit” at playing “Corpulent Hare” (a thesaurus-twisted, elite re-branding of Chubby Bunny). Even after talking with his mouth full and spitting a mashed pile of marshmallows onto the table, Richard’s bourgeois education shines through in his needless use of ten dollar words.
Gradually the realisation, for the audience, is that Seth has become “an ill–fated participant” in a performance. There are many signs and symbols suggesting he’s caught in a kind of game. One scene features Seth being convinced to stay after he’s ready to leave on account of his brother’s erratic behaviour. He sits down with his laptop and the camera lingers several times on three ornamental ducks next to him. He is the figurative sitting duck— when he’s convinced by Richard, with a cheque, to stay, this is a turning point where the sinister undertones of his visit to the mansion really start to feel overt.
Further than that, themes of voyeurism come out of metatheatre, and the concept of watching/being watched reoccurs throughout Long Lost. First, Richard tells Seth he’s been “watching” him his whole life. Later on Seth watches his brother and Abby having sex briefly. The three of them spend an evening in Richard’s home theatre together watching a film. Most significant is the scene during a blackout, when the trio play Flashlight Tag. Seth discovers there are cameras everywhere, including the bedroom where he sleeps— he watches Richard stare directly into the lens, breaking the fourth wall twice by peering into the security camera and simultaneously looking directly into the film’s camera. Watching/being watched calls to mind the idea of performance, enforcing themes of metatheatre. Performance is likewise closely connected with play, and there are many games happening in the film.
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women, merely players…”
As You Like It
(Act II Scene VII; lines 138-39)
Part of the difference between classes entails bourgeois excess. Mainly, the idea of leisure: the bourgeois have more time on their hands. Out of leisure comes play. There’s a ton of play throughout Long Lost in the form of games. There’s Chubby Bunny, then in the pool it’s Sharks and Minnows, and, when the power goes out, Richard suggests a game of Flashlight Tag. Everything’s a game to him. The most significant— Sharks and Minnows— offers a vivid image often used to signify socioeconomic status, placing Richard and Seth again in a dichotomy of class.
In a 1968 article from the International Socialist Review called “Third Parties in American Politics,” George Novack uses the aquatic analogy writing about politicians “abandoning independent working class positions in order to swim like minnows behind the capitalist sharks in the channels of the two party system.” Author David Harvey, in his book Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, writes how average citizens, taken advantage of by bourgeois financial trickery, “seek to manage their own investment portfolios like minnows swimming in a sea of sharks” (p. 198). In a New York Times article from August of 1979, about an investment broker ironically named Carl Marks, financial columnist William G. Shepherd Jr. wrote: “He was, from the beginning, a minnow among Wall Street sharks.” There are countless examples across various types of literature where the sharks v. minnows analogy is used. It’d be dishonest to say it isn’t primarily used in terms of the economy. In this light, Richard’s macho attitude while challenging Seth to a game of Sharks and Minnows feels like a further game extension of performing class: Richard, the shark, consistently tests the minnow, Seth, as a symbol representative of continuous struggle between the classes.
To each his own—
if you’ve got the money.
After the audience figures out the original Richard was part of “artistic liberties” taken in a “dramatisation” orchestrated by the actual Richard (played by Fran Kranz), the bourgeois games are taken up one last mind-boggling notch. In the final scene, Seth leaves and we hear the radio again. Shakespeare returns with more Hamlet: “To thine own self be true” (Act I Scene III; line 564). The radio voice questions this line because of “the world we live in” versus “the world they live in.” When applied to Seth, these two opposing worlds are quite clear, and he’s left unsure of how to be true to himself when the world around him is so malleable, such a game— that is, if you’ve “got the money.” The N.D.A. (non-disclosure agreement) Seth is fooled into signing when he first arrives at the mansion is a prominent symbol. The fake Richard remarks how wealth can “be a cloak, if you choose to use it that way.” The N.D.A. is a “cloak” used to conceal ugly truths about secret bourgeois lives, a method to legally exploit the working class. That way, they can play whatever games they like and nobody can stop them.
The lower classes have no time to play games because we’re already too busy battling the forces attempting to deny/destroy our identity through capitalism. Abby’s an interesting character in this respect. She remarks to Seth, once he’s seen through the ruse: “There‘s only so much you can with a B.A. in Theatre.” She employs her arts degree to use performance as a way of climbing the social ladder. She takes on a role by shedding her morality— notice her distinct lack of concern for the fake Richard’s death— and accepting the changing roles afforded by wealth.
The slippery identities wealth can bankroll lead us to question the fabric of our social reality. Are we simply actors on a stage set by those with money and connections? Shakespeare’s quote about the world as a stage suggests there are roles we all play. But in a contemporary world dominated by capitalist forces attacking us at every turn— sometimes, as Seth discovers, coming from our own flesh and blood— those roles are less and less determined by us, and more determined by our job, our paycheck, the car we drive, the clothes we wear. If the bourgeois class has money to pay others to act like them, whether it’s a wealthy dude such as Richard playing strange psychological games with his long lost brother or a dictator paying people to impersonate them in case of an assassination attempt, then the very concept of identity loses its foundation, the world in which the rest of us exist is subject to their whims, and everybody on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale becomes expendable like the fake Richard who’s cleaned up like inconsequential debris to be disposed of and forgotten.
Similar to Shakespeare’s character Hamlet, Bloomquist’s character Seth experiences an existential crisis of identity when faced with the theatricality of identity at play in Richard’s twisted little world. Both Hamlet and Seth are sucked into a “world of hypocrisy and performance.” In the end, Seth is left unsure of who he is, as well as what exactly constitutes reality in his own personal world dictated by his limited income versus the untethered wealth of his peculiar brother.
“Don’t you want to play with us?”
Long Lost is an impressive debut feature. The film works perfectly as the eerie erotic thriller indicated by its promotional material. It’s tough, however, to ignore the obvious implications about the performance of class and the appearance of social identity. Not only that, Bloomquist actually does great work, intentionally or not, by turning what might otherwise feel like a by-the-numbers thriller with twists and turns into a social mindbender. There are moments here which will have audiences captivated long after the credits roll. Doesn’t hurt that Tucci gives one of his best performances, embodying the worst of the upper class with a mixture of toxic masculinity and genuinely alluring charm, and Corcoran wrings every last bit of confusing tension out of her role to play well off his character.
Many will spend the runtime trying to determine exactly where the plot’s taking them. Bloomquist cleverly subverts certain expectations of the standard erotic thriller and purposefully plays into others, making things feel familiar at times but then often leaving the audience with a playfully strange sense of ambiguity. Even if he never intended the film to feel rooted in ideas about class, his work in Long Lost touches on Marxist themes without clubbing viewers over the head with an agenda. Ultimately, Seth’s experience at his brother’s mansion blurs his preconceived notions about socioeconomic status and his own identity, not unlike the same way wealth does in the real world.
To some, the whole scenario’s far fetched. Father Gore’s inclined to believe it’s actually indicative of the world in which we all actually currently co-exist— a world where rich people can buy their way out of every problem, no matter how serious, where social mobility allows anybody, even those woefully unprepared and unqualified, to climb to the highest offices of public service, and where anybody with enough capital can present themselves as anybody they wish, for better or worse.