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Lloyd I. Sederer, MD Headshot

'Locke': A Film Review

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A film written and directed by Steven Knight and starring Tom Hardy

Review by Lloyd I. Sederer, MD


Locke, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) that is, has a moral quandary whose resolution is the centerpiece of this film. At what price should or can he (or anyone) redress past mistakes, those of our own doing or those that befall us as the legacy of our family's misdeeds?

Most reviews I have seen about this film tout its one-man show, its literally noir cinematography, and its use of phone dialogue (and some monologue) to drive the narrative. And all of that is quite well done, as is Hardy's exceptional performance, for sure. But I keep puzzling about how Locke responded to his dilemma, needing to meet his standard of doing the right thing, since just about everyone else in the film thought he was mad, and it did not add up to me.

The film opens at night at a large construction site abuzz with action. A man dressed in heavy gear appears and heads to his car. He shakes off his thick boots and outerwear, throws them into a plastic bag, and then gets into a right steering wheel BMW SUV -- shiny, new and expensive -- tossing the bag into the back as radiant motor dials illuminate the car's high-end interior. The rest of the movie, more or less, takes place in the cab of the car; what does not are exterior shots of roads, wheels, trucks, highways from above and the like, all glistening from rain, headlight beams and traffic lights. The ensuing drive for the duration of the film gets a bit disorienting and tough to bear -- unless you are a long distance truck driver, I suppose.

Locke has made a decision and he is about to inform all the parties that it will impact. It is 10 hours before the "largest concrete pour" in European history, save for some nuclear plants and other extraordinary monoliths. Locke is a structural engineer (I guess) whom we learn is the single most important person in staging the pouring of the foundation with 218 trucks, $100 million (not British pounds since the mother company is in Chicago) in costs, and way too many metric tons for me to understand, and he is leaving the job for another mission. He starts his drive to London, some two hours away, to attend to a woman he claims to not care for who happens to be giving birth to a child he fathered in a single moment of an otherwise lifetime of discretion.

We accompany Locke, as if seated beside him, for the drive and the endless, agonizing calls he will make and take in the wake of his decision. The consequences of his actions are summed up about 45 minutes outside of London (no we are not there yet though the traffic is not too bad) when he says he has lost his job, his home and his marriage. Many on the phone are quick to add he also appears to have lost his mind to sacrifice so much for ostensibly what (or who) seems to matter so little.

Our man Locke, however, does make good on his construction job, even though he is not on site. He has always been on top of his work: he manages the metric tons from the car using subordinates, pay offs, his very tidy and complete notebook that he has with him, and his screw you attitude to his superiors in the U.K. and the USA in order to prevent them from interfering and upsetting his carefully cemented plans.

Locke has determined in his mind that he will honor the woman giving birth to their child, but not his wife, two children or a successful career. This is a woman, we hear, that he has not seen in months, whom he asserts he has no feelings for, and who was but a brief departure from his methodical, moral life. Apparently, all was going quite well when this indiscretion occurred, we learn listening in to the phone calls: another large pour had been accomplished; she was an available secretary in her 40s, all alone and lonely -- as was he. They had a few drinks and a one-night stand. She became pregnant and he was on to his next pour, a different type of creative endeavor. Her pregnancy, we hear, was unbeknownst to him until she called him the day this drama takes place to tell him she was at the hospital and about to give birth, two months prematurely. She pleads for him to join her. For some (to me) still inexplicable reason(s), he does, throwing all the rest of his life out the car window. Is that what his life had been, rubbish?

We also learn, as he talks to an empty back seat, that Locke's family had its share of failures and disappointments. Frankly, I am not sure quite what these were or how they reached such proportions to leave him so brittle and self-destructive. Yet, with steely righteousness, Locke is bent on being with this woman and her/their child -- no matter that he does not really know or care for her, has no future with her, and that the cost will be everything he has labored to accrue, including two children still at home.

Locke is resolute. The pour will be done flawlessly and he will get to the hospital. The massive detritus of his actions towards his family and company he will deal with in the morning, though it is not clear how many trucks will be needed to cart away the damage. I was glad the film ended before the dawn. At least at that brief moment as he entered London Locke had achieved some transitory measure of relief -- perhaps like when he had his interlude with the mother of his child seven months earlier, now enhanced by some form of virtuous rapture. It is a moment that I hope serves him well because it is not going to last, and I did not want to witness the pain about to unfold when the sun comes up and reveals the cracks in the concrete of his moral edifice.


2014-02-21-Screenshot20140221at2.57.30PM.pngDr. Sederer's new book for families who have a member with a mental illness is The Family Guide to Mental Health Care (Foreword by Glenn Close).

Dr. Sederer is a psychiatrist and public health physician. The views expressed here are entirely his own. He takes no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.