Walter (writer/director William Cusick) is a struggling musician who has been trying to complete his first album. The trouble is that he’s been moving at a snail’s pace so long that it’s taken him 15 years to get to where he currently is. The project has consumed him so completely that he now slips in and out of different fantasies and alternate realities. In one alternate universe, Walter is a superstar recording artist who has just announced that he’s not going to tour anymore. In another, he’s a suburban husband and father who’s hobby is music. But it seems that no matter what universe Walter visits, he always runs into people who insist on critiquing his music for him; and it seems that most of these critiques are most unkind.
William Cusick’s “Pop Meets the Void” is a bizarre and eccentric examination of the creative process. Rather than tell a linear story with a traditional narrative, Cusick explores Walter’s universe by having him jump back and forth into several different worlds (much like Billy Pilgrim did in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five.”) Yet despite the different circumstances in each world, Walter remains a prisoner because he remains true to his artistic vision. No matter what world he travels to, the people in that world insist on muzzling his musical creativity.
The film is visually stunning. Whenever Walter shifts into another reality, Cusick uses animation and CGI graphics to depict the change. Backgrounds break apart, melt away in a miasma of colors and shapes and then reform into something new. The effects, which were created by Jonathan Weiss, are startling and they give the film a real emotional power.
The film’s other area of strength is the original soundtrack written by Cusick. The director portrays Walter as a bland and milquetoast individual who is constantly buffeted about by those around him. But his strength and emotional core is the music he creates that no one seems to understand. It may hold him prisoner but it’s also his lifeblood and raison d’être. Cusick’s music is a splendid reflection of what Walter really is inside. It’s sonorous and stirring.
While the film will resonate strongly with those who struggle with any area of the creative process, it may not offer much to those traditional moviegoers who just want to watch a story unfold and be entertained. They will probably be frustrated by the movie’s lack of narrative and its fragmented quality. Still, “Pop Meets the Void” is a shimmering, colorful and vibrant look at the prison that struggling artists can find themselves trapped in. It’s a savory and very different cinematic experience.