In A Hologram for the King (an adaption of Dave Eggers’ bestselling novel), the question that Clank (Tom Hanks) asks himself time and again is

“Do you ever feel you might have done it differently?”

Tom Hanks plays an American middle-class businessman who is facing a midlife crisis. His relationship with his wife is over, he no longer has the money to afford the college fees of his daughter, and there’s a suspicious lump on his back that might be cancerous.

However, a trip to Saudi Arabia gives him one last chance to save his career, where he has to pitch a potentially profitable IT project – that uses holograms – to the king himself.  The film is very strange as it perches between despair and whimsy.  The sense of pointlessness and ennui that Tom Hank’s character feels as he struggles with the metaphysical and philosophical meaninglessness of existence is beautifully captured by German director-writer Tom Tykwer

While Tom Hanks is more often than not casted the dependable everyman type, he exhibits a more anxious and not to mention darker side to that character. Safe to say, it’s one his richest performances in recent times. Wisecracking, bonhomie and optimism can get Clay only so far and soon it becomes harder and harder for him to be able to maintain his cheerfulness. Tykwer is also accurate when it comes to his observations of the Middle East and its rupturing relations with westerners.

Although many carpetbaggers look to make their fortunes and redeem their lives in the desert kingdoms, all they find is emptiness in their own lives. On the other hand – for Clay, nothing seems very meaningful or real at all. However, it seems quite crazy for Tykwer to make screwball comedy out of such downbeat material. As Clay’s predicament becomes bleaker, the facetious and lighter the storytelling gets.

The opening sequence of the movie, in which Clay is seen miming away to ‘Once in A Lifetime’ by Talking Heads as if he trapped in a pop promo from the 1980’s, is particularly bizarre. Clay is frequently on the verge of humiliation while he, along with his younger colleagues wait to meet with the king in the desert. He couldn’t manage having sex with a Danish woman when he tried to. He risks being lynched when he cracks a joke about being a CIA member.

He’s just unable to decide the world surrounding him. As a matter of fact, he is even perplexed with the musical tastes and behavior of his driver Youssef (Alexander Black). The themes in A Hologram for the King are quite similar to those in the brilliant animated feature by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa, which also focuses on middle-aged angst. The only difference is that A Hologram for the King has a comic, redemptive undertow.

All in all, this film is the love child of Tom Hank’s movies Cast Away and The Terminal, but it comes with an interesting twist.  If you are looking for something straightforward, this may not be the movie for you, but if you want a little mystery, it won’t disappoint!


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