Early in "Linoleum," a 54-year-old sad sack named Cameron (Jim Gaffigan)

 
Early in

Early in "Linoleum," a 54-year-old sad sack named Cameron (Jim Gaffigan)

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Early in "Linoleum," a 54-year-old sad sack named Cameron (Jim Gaffigan), the host of a local TV science program, watches a red sports car fall from the sky and land on a suburban street. The car contains a person who looks like Cameron (also played by Gaffigan) and who will eventually take Cameron's job. As the story goes on, the falling car is referred to as an event but not parsed in terms of what "actually" happened. Even at the end of "Linoleum," when the movie gives you a bit more context for its pervasive off-kilterness, the falling car is not fully explained, because this is the kind of movie where what happens is less important than what it means—not what it means in a YouTube video way ("The Ending of Linoleum Explained!"), but what it means emotionally. Most of the important moments, lines, and images are given this treatment, whether it's a chunk of a rocket that falls into the same neighborhood, the recurring visits by a grey-haired woman who stares quietly from a distance, or the coincidence of two high school students discovering that they have the same birthday. 

"Linoleum" puts critics in a difficult spot (provided that they like it) because the more details of its story you offer, the more it sounds like a shallow "twist" movie—the kind where you get to the end and go, "Aha, now I know what I was looking at! How clever!" and never feel the urge to watch it a second time. I'm sure some will choose to treat "Linoleum" that way: as a puzzle to be solved, perhaps as quickly as possible, like setting a time limit on a crossword. It somehow evokes both "Donnie Darko" and "The World According to Garp" (the film version of which has a biplane hitting the main family's house, just because that's the sort of thing that would happen to them). "I'm suspecting that perhaps the universe in our head is more real than reality itself," a character says.

Personally, I thought the final ten minutes, when the filmmaker at long last gives you something, played like less of a wrap-it-all-up-in-a-pretty-pink-bow explanation than a minimal goodwill gesture aimed at people who want to at least feel as if they know what "really" happened. Rod Serling might have appreciated it because the best episodes of "The Twilight Zone" ("The Eye of the Beholder" is one example) seem to give you an explanation (it's about relative standards of beauty!) even as a richer layer sits there un-explicated (think about what's playing on the TV set in the hallway at the very end of that episode). 


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