Someone made an Infinite Jest movie and it's interesting


By Mallory Brarand

If you’re a Collegiate upperclassman taking English electives, odds are you’ve seen one of your classmates lugging around a novel thicker than any textbook. And if you’ve ever taken a moment to ask them to sum up the book, they look at you and say, “It’s complicated.” Though I personally have never taken Upper School English teacher Dr. Z. Bart Thornton’s Postmodern Novel course on Infinite Jest, I did recently get the opportunity to watch one of the most intricate projects I’ve ever seen: Myles Byrne-Dunhill's Infinite Jest.

As a certified Infinite Jest expert, Thornton has been teaching and studying the novel for many years. In an article he co-wrote with one of his students, Madeline Nagy (‘14), for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) magazine Independent Teacher, they summed up the novel: 

“David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest unfolds in the near future. The United States has merged with Canada and Mexico; northern New England has become a toxic waste dump palmed off on the Canadians. Quebecois separatists–many of them in wheelchairs–prowl the lower states, performing terrorist acts…. Citizens spend their time fearing global pandemics and watching entertainment cartridges. One of these cartridges—highly sought—produces in its viewer a state of blissful, and fatal, catatonia. 

Infinite Jest is set largely at a Massachusetts tennis academy founded by a mad genius and at a residence for recovering addicts just down the hill.  The novel explores the price we pay for our frantic pursuits. We meet intellectual tennis prodigies and wayward teenagers, professional football players, avant-garde filmmakers, and middle-aged people struggling to find a community that will lead them to the Higher Power that will help them change their lives.”

After watching Myles Byrne-Dunhill's film multiple times, I can confidently say I had no real understanding whatsoever of the plot of Infinite Jest. So, heeding the advice of Thornton, I looked up various synopses of the book. Through these brief summaries of the thousand-plus-paged book, I learned that the story is anything but linear. It weaves in and out, jumps back and forth through time, consistently creating new narratives and motifs. I recognized many of the plot points in the synopses from scenes in Dunhill's film. For example, both the synopsis and the film include scenes set at the tennis academy and the halfway house. 

When I first heard about this video, I thought it was just another ordinary fan film. But upon further inspection, Dunhill’s production was anything but. From the first time I watched it with my friends, I could tell that an immense amount of time and effort was put into creating the various scenes and characters. The video’s description reads, “We aimed to capture the spirit of the writing while also creating a captivating viewing experience.” From the costumes, to the locations, to the music selections, to the opening and closing credits, I think it is fair to say that they succeeded.

Though completely lost the entire 2 and a half hour duration of the film, I was intrigued by many of the shots I witnessed. My favorite scene comes at the very end of the film. Loach, styled in what seems to be a western bandit outfit, demands, in French, that a tied up Craig tell him where the film titled “The Entertainment” is. I pieced together, with help from both the film and the synopsis, that “The Entertainment” is a film produced by the founder of the tennis academy that “is so captivating that anyone who watches it either wastes away watching it on repeat or harms themselves for a chance to see it again.” Craig’s character, maintaining that he doesn’t know where the movie is, then dies in a theatrically creative shot, showing Loach killing Craig in a shadow. 

For example, Dunhill says, “sourcing dialogue from the book itself,” was a major challenge, since the novel’s length made “finding a specific moment or passage… a lengthy task.” Also, since the movie is significantly longer than a regular student video project, “Editing took a lot of hard work, and Stan’s computer was barely up to the task. By the end of the process, the laptop was almost non-functional and extremely slow due to the size of the file. I remember there was one moment when I thought I had accidentally deleted the entire movie,” said Dunhill. 

Though the process of creating this film was long and grueling, Dunhill made it through to create an incredible full-length film. Dunhill says that the two of them “very much trusted the other’s ideas without question,” in order for the sequencing and editing to go smoothly, and that “moments like when we would put in a music clip and it would fit perfectly made the whole experience worth it.”

If you’re wondering whether Thornton’s Postmodern Novel course is right for you next semester, the filmmaker describes it as “intellectually challenging” and “rewarding.” And of course, if you’re looking to get a sneak peak into the depths of Infinite Jest or just enjoy a masterfully executed amateur film, watch Myles Byrne-Dunhill's Infinite Jest.


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