The Dark Side of the Sun
Although released on VHS and DVD in 1997, as a canny means of cashing in on the golden boy’s new-found fame, The Dark Side of the Sun was Brad Pitt’s first lead role way back in 1987. And, boy, does he look young. His body has the famous Pitt six-pack, but his face still looks a little chubby, in an appealing corn-fed Midwest kid sort of way.
Brad’s character, Nick, is a young American living in Yugoslavia, which still existed when this film was made but not by the time it was released. Nick’s family have come to this remote but incredibly pretty corner of the world to visit a healer whom his millionaire father (Boyd) hopes will cure Nick’s rare photosensitive condition. Nick, you see, can be killed by any light and all the top doctors in the world have tried to cure or treat him, but to no avail.
There used to be an extremely informative website called Skinema (sadly, no longer online) which billed itself as ‘an examination of dermatology in the movies’, and they concluded that Nick probably has a rare form of porphyria. At its most severe, it can result in death by paralysis, although not within the three days that Nick’s been told he has. Still, for the purposes of the movie, Nick is forced to live in darkness, covering up head-to-toe in motorbike leathers, including a very attractive gimp mask which can’t help but make you think of the infamous Bruce Willis/Zed encounter in Pulp Fiction.
Nick meets a travelling American theatre group and is captivated by the lead actress, Frances (Pollak) and decides that love and life are more important than cowering in the darkness for a lifetime of misery. He sets out to pack in as much living as he can into his allotted three days. This includes sunbathing, getting drunk with his dad and romancing Frances. We know she’s a sure thing, because she’s already sleeping with the most loathsome man on the face of the planet, so clearly has low standards, but she still plays hard to get anyway.
If this had been made as a Movie of the Week for US TV, there would have been a lot more soul-searching on the part of Brad and his dad, but the men in this film have a less introspective view of life. Men who can’t cope with their emotions don’t cry in their therapist’s office, they get drunk, start fights and drive home in separate cars, racing each other and weaving all over the road. This is not big and not clever, so don’t try this at home, kids. But at least there’s no hand-wringing or long speeches about how unfair life is.
The script’s not great, but it’s more than adequate and both Boyd and Pitt do themselves credit as the father and son. It’s a well-portrayed and believable relationship, more so than the romance with Pollak who fancies the dark rider and doesn’t work out that it’s Brad Pitt. Now I know that it’s made clear that she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but if you’re in a remote town in eastern Europe what are the chances that there are two eligible American teens nearby who are never seen in public together? More to the point, what’s the chances that they’ll both sound exactly like Brad Pitt? And, pity poor Nick, who has only three days of sunlight to enjoy, but has to spend one full day of that back in his leathers just to romance her.
This aside, the joyful fatalism with which Nick approaches his certain doom is liberating and there are worse films being made every day by big studios. And it has a proper movie ending as Nick rides to his death, quite literally, into the sunset.