Synopsis by Bhob Stewart
Innovative documentary filmmaker Errol Morris often finds a startling surreal edge in the midst of reality, seeking unique subjects, and discovering humor and pathos in odd, off-the-beaten-path locales. After Morris attracted attention with his memorable look at pet owners and pet cemeteries in Gates of Heaven (1978), he traveled into a backwash of quirky humor by filming Floridians in Vernon, Florida (1981). His controversial The Thin Blue Line (1988) helped free the innocent Randall Adams from prison. Morris ventured into drama with The Dark Wind (1991), and he also made a biographical profile of Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (1992). Now Morris returns with a film he described as "four versions of the myth of Sisyphus." Four eccentrics talk about their seemingly diverse lives, interests, and offbeat occupations: Lion tamer Dave Hoover, following paths trod by his hero Clyde Beatty, offers some curious theories about wild animal thought processes; topiary gardener George Mendo clips hedges to create giraffes, bears, and other creatures; mole-rat specialist Ray Mendez researches the insect-like behavior of these hairless, buck-toothed mammals; robotics scientist Rodney Brooks assembles autonomous robots. Morris finds thematic connections relating the four. While Hoover and Mendo provide footnotes on the fading American scene, Mendez and Brooks look to the future. Contrasting viewpoints are edited into an essay on existence and the human condition, incorporating Morris's reflection on his recently departed parents. Morris and cinematographer Bob Richardson employed a variety of film formats -- black-and-white, color, 35mm, Super-8, and 16mm.