• Hank Melluish

Reel Retrospective: My Lengthy Defense of Southland Tales

“This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a whimper… but with a bang.”


Or so says Pilot Abilene (Justin Timberlake), the Iraq vet who sees all in Southland Tales, the epic dystopian comedy from the wildly underestimated mind of Richard Kelley. Kelley was the man behind Donnie Darko. The divisive The Box. And with Southland Tales, his eerily--no, uncannily--prescient Bush-era satire, he cemented in the minds of a few devoted followers a legacy. It may be one of the greatest movies of all time.


That said, the story of Southland Tales is one fraught with hardship. The film made its world-premiere in 2006 at the Cannes Film Festival to catastrophic reception. It was nuked with boos once the screening was finished, as the legend goes, then after Sony Pictures bought the rights the whole thing was butchered and pieced back together to make the story more palatable. Of course, the “Cannes Cut” was just released, and having seen both versions, I can safely say that neither makes a whole lot of sense on its surface. Instead, Kelley the visionary wrote a graphic novel to precede the film. He kept up a website for clue-hunters (as he did with his debut feature) but after the news of the Cannes screening, the word-of-mouth rumblings in the world of film-criticism promised nothing less than disaster and the film crashed harder than the Trier Mega-Zeppelin.


Today, the graphic novels are available but the website is nonexistent. Unarchived and left to rot on Kelley’s hard-drive somewhere, we the audience are left floundering in the film’s half-dead universe. Southland Tales is a movie with a brain well-beyond its budget and its time-constraints, surely, but don’t get it twisted: though contemporary audiences may have found it