There’s a charm in naming your kid after you, or so it feels, for the concept is alien in the Indian context and a warning but prevalent one in the west. However, the suffix ‘Junior’ brings a bag full of connotations. A grandpa still features as Jr. in the invitation card for the golden jubilee of his wedded life; more often than not it remains an emotional symbol on the ID card and leads to an identity crisis (barring Robert Goddamn Downey Jr., of course). To stray away from his father’s identity and create one of his own may have been the reason why Marlon Brando Jr. never allowed that postfix; and create, not just an identity but the deepest hole for a niche did he.
Director Stevan Riley gathered a unique approach and decided to make Marlon narrate the deepest secrets of his heart through audio recordings from radios, and Brando’s personal self hypnosis tapes and video feeds. The film, despite being a documentary hits you with a crisp recounting of emotions, and shades of storytelling. The film starts with a digital face of Brando suspended on a screen in electronic space reminding us that he’s still in charge of how his story is told. He left behind enough material to have his story told the way he wanted. All that was required was a narrator who could put all the pieces together. Riley does a phenomenal job by rearranging the jigsaw and sewing it all together in a tight film.
The film follows the obvious bildungsroman pattern in a non-linear way. We have a few glimpses of Marlon as a kid in still pictures as he talks about his fondness for his mother. She was an alcoholic. “I loved the smell of liquor in my mother’s breath. It was very sweet,” he says in a soft voice. In another recording he urges himself to be relaxed and not be nervous, going back to his happy spot in the arms of his governess hired by his mother as a kid, where he received affection. He was deeply affected when she left the family to get married. It was tantamount to desertion in his young impressionable mind.
It transcends time and travels many years in future. “The strong sense that I had... to be free,” he says as an old man, reminiscing over the past. His childhood wasn’t a very pleasant one but all looks prim and proper in retrospect. He affectionately remembers how he would sell bottles and mow lawns, as a kid, just to earn his 10 cents to go to the movies and escape everything. That sense of good feeling would get him through the week. “Those moments in the theatre were magical.”