‘The Place of No Words’ Review: Shared Illusions

A family project, “The Place of No Words” clearly means so much to the tight circle of people who made it that it feels almost like an invasion of privacy to call it a depressing, charmless slog. The director, Mark Webber, stars alongside his real-life wife, the actress Teresa Palmer, and their young son Bodhi Palmer as a father, mother and son called, well, Mark, Teresa and Bodhi.

In the drama, Mark is dying of what appears to be cancer. He and Bodhi have devised a continuously unfolding story set in a world of fairies, goblins, witches and — eventually — robots from a “Star Wars”-like universe.

The movie cuts between the comforts of that fantasy realm (where Mark and Bodhi’s alter egos are Viking warriors traversing mountains and woods) and real life, in which bravery is necessary. The reality scenes in particular evoke the fragmented, impressionistic style of Terrence Malick’s recent films, from “The Tree of Life” onward.

The real and imaginary narratives are gently porous. (Viking Bodhi hands Viking Mark a smartphone.) But some of the ideas might have seemed cuter at home. “And then we fell into a poop world,” Bodhi declares. Cue a fantasy scene at a swamp that bubbles with distinctly flatulent sounds.

Webber, who did his own editing, draws simplistic, mechanical connections in his crosscutting. Ostensibly fearsome creatures called “grumblers” — which turn out to be Jim Henson-esque creations — are likened to the family’s dogs back home. Viking Bodhi talks about slaying a dragon; cut to Bodhi in the backyard, walloping an inflatable dragon with toy swords. It’s sweet, personal and tedious.

The Place of No Words
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on iTunes, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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