by Tony Dayoub
First films. You can usually lump them in one of two categories: watered-down retreads of a pick-your-genre kind of movie or amateurish stabs at revealing something personal (but not particularly interesting) about its creator. Jim Akin's first film is neither. After the Triumph of Your Birth is a beautifully photographed, ambitious foray into the American psyche, replete with resonant musical interludes featuring Akin, his wife Maria Mckee (formerly of Lone Justice) and star Tom Dunne. Fusing Paul Thomas Anderson's sense of the absurd with David Lynch's skewed perspective on Americana, Akin turns a hairy eyeball toward the disconnectedness of the archetypal loner encouraged by our popular culture.
Eli (Dunne) is that loner, embarking on a long walk towards the Pacific hoping to find a redemptive rebirth once he arrives. Along the way, the viewer encounters similar lonely souls (played by Mckee, Tessa Ferrer and Dean Ogle) whose stories don't always cross with Eli's but mirror the painful disengagement he feels from the rest of the world. Occasionally, an impish Answer Man (Rob Zabrecky, formerly of Possum Dixon) pops in to spout platitudes, words of advice which literally hang in the air like some unattainable happiness Birth's characters have little hope of grasping.
Desolate pockets of Los Angeles serve as the backdrop to Eli's journey, revealing Akin's complicated affinity for the city. This love/hate for Southern California marks After the Triumph of Your Birth as the latest in a lineage that spans from as recent a movie as Lynch's surrealist Inland Empire and as far back as Altman's Three Women. Environment informs character in Akin's film, at times underlining if not outright explaining both the inclination and aversion Eli feels towards going it alone.
Dunne's nuanced performance is only one among many which fill in what could easily have been thin, sketchy stereotypes. Often, he resembles a kinder, more introspective Tom Noonan. Dunne elicits not a small measure of empathy as a man willing to trade in his outsider persona if it means more nights in the company of an intelligent, warm soulmate like Eva (Ferrer). Singer/actress Mckee's plaintive voice, whether in her role as music teacher Millicent or on the soundtrack itself, reflects this same angst.
Akin shows us that, though appealing, the pop culture iconography we've taken as gospel about Americans' pioneering spirit is outdated. After the Triumph of Your Birth tells us spiritual contentment lies not in self-reliance but in being strong enough to reach out for others.
After the Triumph of Your Birth premieres at 7:30 pm, Thursday, September 13th, at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90403,(323) 466-3456. A live performance by Maria McKee and band will follow the screening. Tickets are available here.
For those unable to attend, The film will be available to view On Demand on September 14th, here.