The Debt of Maximillian
Travis Lee Eller, Mark Valeriano, Angelica Tate
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…a sobering piece of cinema that keeps the tension high and the moods low…
Even as we collectively have been developing a better understanding of what addiction does to the human brain, there remains a certain spectre around those in its grip. Dependency can have an effect on people tantamount to a disease, in how deep-set it can become, yet the simple act of explaining that invariably arouses debate by those who fail to get what that actually means or, even worse, how it can be combated. One of the more prevalent, especially in a pokie-riddled nation like our own, is that of gambling addiction, a topic that this film portrays in all its crushing potency.
While the plot itself seems quite straight-forward – Max (Travis Lee Eller) and his struggle to get out of a sizeable amount of gambling debt – the production at large treats it with the same overwhelming weight as it would for those in similar circumstances. The soundtrack makes surprisingly solid use of public domain and Soundcloud pieces, along with director/cinematographer/editor Saxon Moen’s honed-in contributions, to create an oppressive atmosphere that makes for a solid foundation to a tale all about the risks we take and the prices we and others pay for doing so.
Eller himself does wonderfully in the lead role, channelling the right amount of roundabout lying and a faint undercurrent of just how in the shit he really is despite his words, allowing the audience witness a man in a terrible situation, while also setting us up for an even worse idea: he’s not even in as deep as he could be. The other characters are similarly playing with the odds, whether it’s with substance abuse, the abusive relationships connected to substances, or taking measures in the face of debt that somehow gives Max a look at what he could still become if this spiral continues any further.
In the process, the film asks questions about what drives people to make these decisions, let alone compounding them with even worse ones, and while it doesn’t outright reach any conclusions, it certainly proffers some sickly food for thought about these kinds of self-destructive patterns of behaviour. Said patterns are an unfortunate recurrence in the human condition, and in the current ‘screw quarantine, I need my beach time’ social climate, you don’t need to look far to see it in action.
Maximillian approaches these ideas in a similar fashion to the gambling-centric Uncut Gems, showing the high-calibre anxiety that its protagonists go through as a means of making them learn the error of their ways. Although, rather than Uncut Gems’ more cultural perspective, this one stays strictly human, making no judgments while still pointing out who put who in what position in the first place. It’s a sobering piece of cinema that keeps the tension high and the moods low, and a potential wake-up call for those who might recognise similar patterns in those close to them.