What really makes this movie stand out to me, to be honest, is that it was recommended to me by my dad. I’m not implying that he has bad taste in movies but… what was he doing watching this flick??
The stunning and bizarre film from director John Frankemheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, The French Connection II, Black Sunday) examines a rather existential question as it relates to the choices one makes to meet the demands of perceived societal pressure. At some point, each of us asks the question who am I. Our lives are composed of the choices we make, but what determines these decisions? How much of what we do is just because we think it is what we should do rather than what we want to do? Seconds rather poetically uses the pulp sci-fi device of a second chance at life to peel away the veneer of what makes up an identity.
Aged banker Arthur Hamilton finds that his life has become empty and meaningless, his lifelong journey to achieve financial success has become a hollow effort with little joy in it. His marriage is loveless and his prospects seem minimal. Encouraged by a friend, he seeks out the assistance of a vague organization called the Company. Blackmailed and forced into accepting their help, Hamilton finds himself the object of a radical procedure leaving him with an entirely new identity. A corpse is swapped for Hamilton’s body as a fake death is arranged and a new life set up.
The part of Hamilton for the remainder of the film is played by young and vibrant heartthrob Rock Hudson. Hamilton is reborn in a second identity of young artist Tony Wilson. Living in the seaside community of Miami Beach, Wilson finds himself wrapped up in a hedonistic society full of wine, women and song. Despite the initial second chance at a youthful life that few really get a chance at experiencing, the two personas of Hamilton and Wilson find it difficult to cope. Seeking out Hamilton’s wife, Wilson learns too late that his life was a failure because he exhausted himself in hollow pursuits rather than actually relating to his own life when he had the chance. Distraught and nearing a mental collapse, Wilson exposes his dual identity in a party. To his horror, he learns that his young and vivacious neighbors are also ‘seconds’ similarly remade by the Company’s procedure. Having betrayed the Company’s trust, Wilson/Hamilton is recalled.
Desperate for yet another chance, he is relegated to a drab room full of withdrawn men at phones calling friends whom they hope will accept the second chance that they too were conned into, like some kind of sick pyramid scheme.
A brilliant analysis of modern life, Seconds was a flop upon its release in 1966 but when viewed today it is so clearly ahead of its time. Rumor has it that former Beach Boy Bryan Wilson (at a rather delicate time of his life, strung out on mind-altering drugs and paranoid)viewed the film and nearly had a nervous breakdown. To be fair, the film wants the viewer to have a nervous collapse, even if he or she is stone cold sober. A terrifying and moving look at the inner workings of the human mind, it is everything a good sci-fi film should be.