“Free Will” is a philosophical term of art for a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives.” – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
By EJ Wickes
CollabFeature presents the groundbreaking film (above), Train Station (2016)
What the film Train Station implies is that the simplest decisions are often the ones that send our lives into the most unexpected directions. We try to prepare ourselves for every situational outcome, but turn left rather than right and an entirely new butterfly effect occurs. This indie film selection is a remarkable exercise in the roulette of randomality and choice.
Train Station, produced and directed by Yosef Khouwes, is a collaborative effort between forty, yes forty filmmakers and forty-three actors, playing the same character across twenty-five different countries. Every time the main character is faced with a decision the scene transforms into a new location, along with new actors continuing the previous actors’ roles. At each point in time when the protagonist chooses their path, they become an entirely new person existing in an entirely new location. As a philosophical implication: Your universe changes along with your choices and you essentially become reinvented through your own actions.
The film begins unassumingly enough in a Nairobi train station. The man in brown, as all the players in his persona will be wearing, has just been told that his train has been delayed for an undetermined length of time. He can either wait or return to his home. He makes his choice and immediately the scene cuts to a train station in another city with our unnamed traveler, played by a new actor, abruptly demanding a refund on his ticket. As he leaves the station a series of random events occur, demanding choices at every turn.
The sequence of events and continuity moves well from city to city and actor to actor. Each choice leading to a new situation, leading to new choices, ultimately resolving themselves as the means to an end. But the story is incomplete, because…what if? What if our character makes a different choice at any particular point in the sequence of events?
The directors play through several series of events multiple times, each beginning at square one. As our character makes different choices leading to different outcomes, as in life; each series of events draws cleverly to its own end, but always leaving the protagonist stranded at another fork in the road.
One observation is in how the juxtaposition of culture and tradition from country to country affects the decisions made by each personification of the main character. It’s easy to lose track if you’re not paying attention. The film takes the viewer through many examples of human nature and behavior employing a myriad of uniquely stylized scenes.
The tone of the movie is set only after the unnamed traveler decides to wait for his train. There he is met on the platform by an “old man who knows”; suggesting a hint of Krishnamurti, and a philosophical conversation begins…about choice, free will and awareness.
The performances were convincing except for one or two rough patches of dialogue here and there, but the pacing and structure of the entire film were smoothly scripted. As each scenario unfolds the film expands into a series of short films each with its own international backdrop. Beyond the narrative, the feature itself is a fine example of the “visual art” of filmmaking. The context is relevant, the cinematography is crisp and the locations appeared to have been well scouted for color and texture.
Even though I thought one or two of the scenes were a bit contrived; maybe a little too “slapstick”, other scenes were very noir-esque, laced with Lynchian nuances and sublimely surreal. As artists we understand how coordinating that level of collaboration becomes a monumental feat in itself. But when the process yields this promising of a result, well that’s the icing on the cake! Bottom line? Train Station is an ambitious experiment in art house filmmaking that actually holds up.
“It was a bit of a struggle to come up with a short trailer that conveyed the complex concept of the film and was exciting at the same time. When the idea struck, we got super excited and the whole thing came together super quickly. There’s a beautiful insanity to this teaser… it makes you want to watch it over and over. Like a train racing by that you’re supposed to catch… but it’s just out of reach. Thanks to Justin Ferrato, Casey Penn and of course all 40 filmmakers and all 40 ‘Characters in Brown’ and everyone involved.” – Marty Shea, Director
EJ Wickes is a visual artist, the Creator, Designer and Publisher of The Metamodern Magazine and the Managing Editor of Cult Critic Film Magazine. His aesthetics lie somewhere in the vortex between painting and filmmaking. Eric has worked as an Art Director, Lead Scenic and Leadman on many film productions from Wes Craven’s “The People Under the Stairs”, to his most recent involvement with the Verizon Go90 Channel, airing of the comedy series “Embeds”.