So every year the Oscars conveniently ignores some of the best performances and/or movies of the year. This year everyone's talking about Ben Affleck getting snubbed for Directing, and—while I admittedly enjoyed watching the Academy cave into the fact that almost every other important award ceremony gave Argo Best Picture—my favorite Oscar snub this year was Holy Motors.
Holy Motors is the first feature film from director Leos Carax in 13 years, and like Joe Williams claims in his review for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch it plays like a bunch of "vignettes... based on cafe-napkin scraps that the director could neither discard nor expand into something coherent." In a certain sense, the scene with Monsieur Merde lying naked on Eva Mendez lap with a huge erection (sorry, Google wouldn't find me a picture of it, so instead here's one of M. Oscar having sex with an insanely flexible, unnamed woman, both of them in motion-capture suits) is a metaphor for the whole movie: it's like watching Leos Carax masturbate, and if that's your thing then it's incredibly enjoyable, but some will undoubtedly find the movie oddly perverse.
Unlike Joe Williams, however, I don't think the movie is incoherent. Holy Motors is fairly evidently a film about film. M. Oscar is basically an actor who plays eleven different roles during the course of the film and whose faith in the power of cinema seems to be waning. One of the first "appointments" he has is what appears to be a sci-fi action movie where he beats up several (imaginary) bad guys in a motion-capture suit and then participates in the act pictured above. In the middle of the movie M. Oscar confronts a man who appears to be his boss (he is credited as "L'homme à la tache de vin", "the man with the birthmark") who tells him beauty is in the eye of the beholder and asks, "What if there is no more beholder?" There are a lot of weird moments in the movie, especially at the end when the cars talk to each other, but if you're looking for a clean cut explanation this one fits pretty tightly. I don't really think this reading is the reason you want to watch this film, but it does help make it into more than just a series of vignettes.
Another way to look at the film (centering around the same question of "what if there's no more beholder") is as a struggle to make meaning for yourself in a world where the big Other* ("the beholder") doesn't exist. If the big Other doesn't exist (as Lacan argues it doesn't) then there's no external guarantee that our actions have any meaning. Someone who doesn't believe in the big Other (despite its nonexistence, most subjects believe in the big Other at least unconsciously) in psychoanalytic terms is the definition of a psychotic.** In this reading the movie becomes an enjoyably alienating experience of psychosis, and (apart from one other thing which I'll discuss next) was the reason I loved this movie.
Finally, Holy Motors is just beautiful. In the first few minutes we watch a man known only as le dormeur (played by Leos Carax himself) discover a secret door in his wall that leads into a movie theater (more admittedly obvious but still awesome metatheater). The scene with M. Merde (more pictures because of reasons) is absolutely wonderful. If you want to see something original and perhaps thought provoking you should definitely give Holy Motors a chance.
Oh, and did I mention this movie came out in 2012? And the Oscars ignored it? Despite the fact that the main character's name is Oscar? In the past there have been many Oscar snubs that are very hard to understand (Martin Sheen not getting nominated for Apocalypse Now, John Cazale not getting nominated for The Godfather: Part II, Ray Liota not getting nominated for Goodfellas) and this doesn't really rank among those. It is, however, rather disappointing that it wasn't at least nominated for Foreign Film.
TL;DR: Holy Motors is a very strange and at times slow film that may not grab every audience, but it certainly grabbed me for its metatheatrical elements, its alienating depiction of psychosis, and its beauty in general. Four beers because it's not for everyone, but if it is for you then it might be the best time you've had in a while. Four Zizeks because of its accurate depiction of psychosis which is awesome but doesn't really go anywhere.
*For more analysis of the big Other, check out my review of The Cabin in the Woods.
**Zizek, Slavoj, For
They Know Not What They Do,
Verso, New York, 2008, p. 151