PARTS ONE THROUGH EIGHTEEN (2017)
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Opening Credits (0:55-2:14)
Mr. C. and Ray Monroe are driving into the night, putting as much distance as they can between Yankton Federal Prison and the cheap beige rental furnished to them by Warden Murphy. As Ray pilots the car, Mr. C. reaches into his jacket pocket to retrieve his cell phone. Upon waking it, he says “They’ve got three tracking devices on this car.” He observes a blue screen with three black rectangular buttons in parallel: the top one depicts a green capital “C”; the middle one depicts the word “FIRE” in red all-caps; and the bottom one depicts a green capital “D” followed by a symbol that appears to be a DVD or compact disc followed by a green capital “X” (if the DVD icon is a stylized letter “o”, the button would read DOX). He clicks each button and instructs Ray to “get up close behind this truck,” gesturing to a box truck in the left lane in front of them. Ray pulls up behind the truck and Mr. C. types the license plate of the truck into his phone: DEGWW8. “That should do it,” he says, and tosses the phone out the window. (2:14-3:05)
With the tracker situation sorted, Ray gets chatty.
Ray: "Hope you’re not sore at me for running off. Sure was stupid of me to get caught up like I did. Thanks for getting me out of there. How did you do this?"
Mr. C.: "Darya told me what happened. You needed to get out, Ray."
Ray: "Where’s Darya?"
Mr. C.: "She’s waiting for a phone call when we get some place safe."
Ray: "Where are we going?"
Mr. C.: "You’d probably like to go to that place they call “The Farm.”"
Ray (smirking): "That’s what I was thinking. We’re heading in the right direction. Just saying. They’re not going to let us just walk, are they? Bound to be looking for us soon."
Not much for the small talk, Mr. C. curtly changes the subject.
Mr. C.: "You have something I want, Ray."
Ray: "Yes, I do. I got it memorized. All the numbers. Memorized perfectly. But honestly Mr. Cooper, I think it might be worth some money. Maybe…. quite a lot of money."
Mr. C. (perturbed): "You think so, do you?"
Ray: "Yes sir, I do."
Mr. C. looks at Ray with a contempt that feels certain to be a prelude to violence, but remains composed and lets Ray have the last word for the moment. Highway lights hurtle by as an awkward silence hangs between them. Mr. C. breaks the silence: “There it is. Take that little road up there on the right. Let’s get off this highway, Ray.” They take the right and follow bright yellow curve signs through an S-curve that straightens into a pitch-black two-lane road. The headlights struggle to discern double-yellow as Mr. C. and Ray sit in eerie silence, their faces betraying the imminent treachery they’ve plotted for one another. A white fence materializes out of the darkness into the headlights as the road curves right and the pavement comes to an end. The darkness overwhelms the headlights and the road becomes a narrow band of gravel, barely visible more than a few feet ahead. Ray finally breaks the protracted silence: “You mind if I pull over for a sec? I gotta take a leak.” Mr. C. is amenable to the request (“Go for it.”), but casts an intense sidelong glance at Ray as if to extract a premonition of his true purpose. (2:15-6:40)
Ray gets out of the car and goes to the side of the road to urinate. In the car, Mr. C. opens the glove box to discover the “friend” he requested of Warden Murphy: a nickel-plated .357 Colt Python. He inspects the chambers, finds them loaded, and exits the car, making a point to shut the door, arrogantly throwing stealth to the wind. He approaches his accomplice, coming up behind him with the .357 trained on his back: “Ray, I want that information.” Sounding confused, Ray offers a delayed “Yes?”. “Looks like you’re out half a million,” Mr. C. gloats. Hitching up his fly and looking the opposite of concerned, Ray counters “Well, I think you’re wrong about that.” He turns to face Mr. C. brandishing a hand-canon of his own, and Mr. C. immediately pulls the trigger three times, releasing three brittle metallic clicks that betray the Warden’s failure to install a firing pin. Mr. C. looks down at the revolver in shock, as Ray spills the beans (“Tricked ya…fucker!”) and pumps two rounds of hot lead into Mr. C.’s stomach, propelling him backward into the dirt, arms outstretched and legs parted as if mid-snow-angel. (6:41-7:47)
As Ray approaches Mr. C. poised to execute a finishing shot to the head, a white light floods Mr. C.’s body and an intervention from another dimension announces itself. As if from the trees but at the same time clearly from another place entirely, throngs of unkempt, bearded men dressed for difficult lives outdoors swarm the scene, feverishly dancing around Mr. C.’s body in an otherworldly ritual as Ray—fallen backwards to the ground in the midst of this spectral dance—looks on in horror. The combination of Ray’s sluggish movements, muted screams, and a sound-tracking of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” slowed to a crawl through molasses over a steel-drum suggests that time is occurring here in two registers: Ray remains on Earthly time while the woodsmen’s ritual proceeds on another clock. Three of the woodsmen huddle over Mr. C’s body and begin scratching at his wounds and smearing his blood over his torso, face, and neck. One of the woodsmen pushes Mr. C.’s head up as another massages his stomach. A grotesque amniotic-sac-like bladder emerges from the gore and BOB’s face gazes out at Ray who looks on in terror. As the ritual continues, Ray scrambles to the car and speeds away, leaving the woodsmen to their exorcism. A fog rolls through as white light intermittently floods the scene and then dissipates into pitch black. From out of the pitch, a half moon briefly emerges from the clouds and disappears. (7:48-11:24)
Speeding through the dark, a deeply shaken Ray Monroe leaves a telephone message for “Philip” (who we assume to be Philip Jeffries): “It’s Ray. I think he’s dead but he’s found some kind of help so I’m not 100% and…um…I saw something in Cooper that may be the key to what this is all about. I told him where I’m going, so if he comes after me, I’ll get him there. (11:25-11:54)
Amidst an onslaught of industrial noise and feedback, a tuxedo-clad MC welcomes a rowdy crowd to the Roadhouse, “proud to welcome the Nine Inch Nails.” A leather-clad, dark-shaded Reznor growls into the mic: “You dig in places til your fingers bleed. Spread the infection where you spill your seed. I can’t remember what you came here for. I can’t remember much of anything anymore: she’s gone, she’s gone, she’s gone away.” (11:55-16:33)
As the feedback from the end of NIN’s performance drones on, we see Mr. C.’s corpse lying abandoned in the place where he fell upon being shot. Out of utter stillness, he snaps wide awake from beyond death, sitting bolt upright, dead eyes besmirching his blood-smeared visage. (16:34-16:54)
An establishing shot of the desert before dawn informs us that the date is July 16, 1945 in White Sands, New Mexico at 5:29 am MWT. A launch countdown commences: “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1”. At zero, a truncated electronic blip precedes a bedazzling flash of white light and the frenetic strings of Penderecki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” scream unimaginable horrors. A deathly mushroom of hellfire blooms from the parched desert floor illuminating and deforming the smoke rocket trails sent up by the unholy gods of scientism to measure the shockwave. As the mushroom expands, the desert floor becomes an obscene, malignant cauliflower spreading inexorably, transforming the blasted earth into a demonic cruciferous mountain range. The burgeoning cap of the mushroom inevitably subsumes all. (16:55-19:02)
Squid ink spills dissipating smoke specked amber in blackness star fall specks amber burn black pubic malignant sperm ripples tea-stained rice paper dead starlight swarm wasphorde reverse negative star fall scraping hell fire explodes invaginated fuschia perforations expelling antimatter flak and volcanic proto hatred molten to ashen tsunami rains skyward fire columns voided. (19:03-21:53)
A stylized mid-century convenience store materializes from out of the void. A persistent temporal disturbance makes it feel as though we are attempting to tune in what is before us on a ham radio—each time we almost alight upon the frequency the signal is dropped but then weakly reasserts itself again just before we give up on dialing it in. So it is that smoke billows out from the door and then doesn’t. And then does. And then doesn’t. Then it does. And doesn’t. Same with bright light, beaming and not, not and then beaming. Suddenly there are woodsmen, blasted, unkempt, arms at their mid-sections, fists closed or open, shuffling then standing then shuffling again. There are two gas pumps in front, each with a light bulb on top, and stacks of cans—one suspects full of corn—in the windows of the blasted building. Another light beams out from top right and at far right we see a staircase, perhaps to an upper room. At far left, a corner of the gas pump overhang is mysterious illuminated from off camera. As attempts to dial in the scene before us continue to fail, the focus changes and we see a dark field with four halos of light—one at top left by the overhang, one above each gas pump, and one at tip-top right, suggestive of a stellar constellation. Close-ups of the windows flicker and intensify and we see woodsmen at work within the store, but the tune-in failures result in intermittent splicings of an abandoned store. In the midst of an off-kilter backlit close-up of the store, a portal opens out of a widenening gyre into blackness. (21:54-24:35)
Experiment is hovering in the black, a female humanoid form, arms outstretched but reversed such that her right arm emanates from her left shoulder and vice versa. Her head is round with petite horns and there is a gaping orifice in the middle of her otherwise featureless face. Seized by a poison, she heaves and wretches three times, forcefully disgorging a vomit of viscous fluid that emanates from her like an umbilical cord or a demonic Nerds-rope. The fluid is teeming with eggs of various sizes and also bears along a large black tumor in which we see BOB’s face. An egg breaks out of the fluid and crosses behind the BOB tumor out into the black. (24:36-25:22)
Swirling fire and ash open a burning heart from the deepest of the deep and a pebble of molten gold comes hurtling toward us from the center of the distant heart of fire. Red shooting stars shuttle past at blinding speed, giving way to a violent violet ocean. After a time, we see a distant column of stone erupting from the violent sea. Up the slender island of rock we slowly climb to a silver castle with a silo-like dome. A small slot in the wall approaches and we pass through it. (25:23- 29:25)
Old jazz music, possibly bask-masked, plays quietly from a phonograph in an elaborate room with a dazzling woman—Señorita Dido—sitting placidly on a sofa. It appears to be the same room, or at least a room within the same place, where Cooper and the Giant (credited as “???????”) were sitting in the first scene of the new series. At left is a large thimble-shaped transmitter, similar to the one Cooper encountered on the odyssey with Naido in Part Three. Señorita Dido is swaying almost imperceptibly gently to the music. There are traces of reversed sound as she moves, indicating that sound is backwards here, despite the fact that the music at times seems as though it is playing forward. The thimble transmitter begins to ping and the Giant (“???????”) emerges from behind it, looking curiously at it. He turns to face Dido and they come to an understanding. He gazes out toward the slot from which we entered with a look of grave concern as the pinging thimble continues to transmit its warning. He turns to the thimble, looks down at two circular gauges in front of him and reaches out to flip a switch that stops the pinging. He walks over to Dido, they come to an understanding, and he turns to leave the parlor, disappearing behind the thimble. (29:25-32:55)
As the music grows faint, the Giant ascends a flight of stairs. His footfalls are reversed and they make a gentle, disorienting plinth-plinth-plinthing on the rug. He enters a large room with another thimble transmitter in the center and walks across to a large stage with a third thimble and a small balcony nearby. He looks up at the stage, puts up his hand, and a screen appears, depicting the atomic explosion at White Sands that we witnessed just minutes before. He takes in the mushroom cloud, the convenience store and woodsmen, and finally the Experiment through which the malignant destroyer of humanity that is BOB was spewed forth into the black. He pauses the feed on BOB’S image. The music turns ethereal, almost funereal, and the Giant ascends toward the ceiling alongside the stage and hovers in mid-air, a spotlight from the back of the house illuminating him.
Señorita Dido enters from the back of the hall and is walking with somnambulant dignity toward him as the music and lone spotlight lull us into a dream-state. One is moved to certainty that they are up to something very serious. The spotlight projects her shadow onto the wall beneath the Giant and as she approaches him, her shadow and her figure nearly converge at the very moment that a faint orange light begins to emanate from his head. She takes up a place just under his floating feet near the lip of the stage as the freeze-frame of BOB is replaced by a skyfull of twinkling, falling stars. She looks up at the giant and smiles in awe, breathing in deep drafts. Light teeming with particles emanates from the Giant’s head and takes up the form of a river and tributaries, then a uterus with fallopian tubes pushing out of the river, particles swarming. We feel that universes are being born as thick coils of particles form at the top of the light funnel, like a labyrinth of possibilities for being. Dido looks on with increasing wonder. One light particle becomes particularly large, and as Dido gazes above her, enraptured, it gathers momentum and burgeons into a large pearlescent orb, pushing out from the uterus of light and floating down into Dido’s outstretched hands. She receives it and pulls it toward her like her beloved, fully present to the experience and awed by it. Gazing into the orb, she sees Laura’s face amongst the stars, which twinkle and drift and shoot across the tiny globed sky. She kisses the orb and lifts it back into the air, setting it free. It ascends to a magnificent golden machine where it enters a flute-like tube, gets distilled into a single particle, and then launched from the tube on a collision course with Earth, moving like a suspended penny toward its destination. Dido looks on in awe as the golden penny descends. (32:56-41:19)
An establishing shot of the New Mexico desert clicks off the numbers from 1945 to August 5, 1956. A single egg sits amidst the ripples of windswept desert sand. The egg hatches and a creature emerges, insect-like and winged, but with the hindquarters of a frog. It struggles off into the desert like a clumsy beetle. In the sky, a full moon is overwhelmed by clouds. (41:19-43:23)
On a moonlit evening alive with the music of crickets and cicadas, a teenage boy and girl emerge from behind a New Mexico gas station that can’t help but bring to mind a certain convenience store. The boy asks the girl, “Did you like that song.” “Yes, I did like that song,” she self-assuredly replies. They walk slowly, encompassed by the magic of anticipation. The girl stops short: “Oh, look! I found a penny! And it’s heads up! That means it’s good luck!” As she inspects it, we wonder whether it might be a manifestation of the golden penny distilled from pearl of light bearing Laura’s image, sent to Earth to protect her. The boy offers, “I hope it does bring you good luck.” She repays him with a winsome smile. (43:24-44:27)
A black silhouette descends from the sky and a woodsman walks forth into the desert. Meanwhile, a couple drives along a country desert road in the dark. Up ahead, another car is stopped and overtaken by woodsmen. We pick up the signs of temporal disturbance and discontinuity again, as the muffled screams of the man and woman in the car seem slower and farther away than the distorted speech of the woodsman: “Gotta light?”, he inquires repeatedly. Though we hear these words intelligibly, the temporal divergence of the couple from what we see unfolding on screen suggests that the words may be unintelligible to them. They speed away in terror but seemingly unscathed. (44:28-46:38)
The boy and the girl are walking down the road to her house, making awkward but expectant small talk.
Girl: “You live in town don’t you?”
Girl: “You live by the school?”
Boy: “How did you know that?”
Girl: “I just do. So, I thought you were going with Mary.”
Boy: “No, that’s over.”
Girl: “Are you…sad…about that?”
Girl: “Ok, that’s good…that’s good…that’s good.” (Her hands are together; she’s fidgeting with her thumb.)
Girl: “It was really nice of you to walk me home.”
Boy: “I really wanted to. Do you mind if I give you a kiss.”
Girl: “Sigh…I don’t I don’t know. I just…”
Boy: “Please. Just one.”
Girl: (sigh…nervous laugh…closes eyes and tilts head)
Boy: (leans in and gives her a gentle peck on the lips)
Weak-kneed, the girl makes her way to the house, clearly on cloud nine. She waves dreamily from the porch at her smiling boy. (46:39-49:00)
The woodsman traverses a hill and sees a radio station. He walks toward the station amidst a symphony of cricketsong. At the station, a 45 spins on the platter as a voice sings out “When the twilight is gone and no song birds are singing…” KPJK is “On the Air.”
A disc jockey sits behind a booth sizing up the plan for the evening broadcast. The clock in the booth reads 10:16 pm. As the song plays, we see a radio in a mechanic’s garage where a man is working on a car; we see a lunch counter in a diner where a woman is cleaning up. We see the freshly-kissed young girl sitting on the bed and beaming (and notice that she has two curious abrasions on her knees about the size of quarters). The woodsman enters the radio station, shambling into the office. A receptionist approaches him and shrinks back in horror when he asks her for a light. He grabs her head with black hands and crushes her skull. She sinks ruined to the floor. He casts his eyes on the man in the booth and enters, asking yet again for a light. The man turns around, utterly petrified, as the request is repeated in the same distorted monotone. The woodsman takes the disc jockey’s head in one hand and applies pressure. We hear the skull begin to give way, as the woodsman violently rakes the record off the platter, broadcasting static into the night. The auto mechanic, the woman at the diner, and the young girl—all of whom were listening to the broadcast—notice the abrupt interruption.
In full knowledge of how to broadcast, the woodsman goes live into the mic: "This is the water and this is well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within.” All the while torturing the disc jockey, he repeats this mantra a second time and the woman in the diner collapses. After the fourth time though, the mechanic drops to the floor. (49:01-53:24)
The locust-frog crests a hill and moves slowly but inexorably toward its destination. (53:25-53:55)
The young girl is still listening to the broadcast, the woodsman’s occult mantra filling her room. She reaches toward the radio presumably to turn it off, but just as he repeats “and dark within,” she succumbs to sleep. Outside, we see the locust-frog pull to within striking distance of her open window. It haphazardly flies up to the window and crawls in. As the mantra continues, it crawls over to the girl and we observe that its feet have five distinct digits that eerily resemble the fingers of a human hand. On cue, she opens her mouth wide and the locust-frog crawls in, its humanoid feet pulling into the cavity. She closes her mouth and swallows. All the while, the woodsman’s mantra incessantly repeats: “drink full and descend.” The disc jockey, who has by now suffered prolonged and merciless torture at the hand of the woodsman is finally done in, as blood cascades to the floor in what seems to be buckets. The woodsman’s eyes roll back in his sockets such that only the whites remain visible as he finally finishes the job. He shambles out of the station and is briefly bathed in white strobing light as he emerges into the night. As he disappears into the pitch black, we hear the distressed whinnying of horses or indigenous ritual chanting or perhaps a mélange of both. (53:56-57:23)
The credits begin to roll and we are taken abruptly from the black night back into the girl’s room. She is asleep and her eyes flicker as if she is having a dream. We hear the faint scratching of the needle on the vacated platter back at KPJK still broadcasting into the night and it faintly reminds us of the sound coming through the phonograph when the Giant gave Cooper the clues and this terrifying warning: “You are far away.” (57:24-58:00)