“Things never have to change as long as we keep moving.” Such is the simple philosophy of life for ten-year old Phillip (Eric Lloyd). And no wonder, considering that he’s spent the past three years criss-crossing the country in an expansive Chevy Impala with his sultry and, shall we say, “resourceful” mother, Margaret (Deborah Kara Unger.) A quick seduction of a desperate, seedy character, a romp in an anonymous hotel room, wait until the gullible mark’s asleep, swipe some easy cash, credit cards or jewelry, and mom’s back on the never-ending road with Phillip. As Phillip looks back on it, the precocious and impossibly cute youngster — think Fred Savage in “The Wonder Years” — realizes that these idyllic days were doomed to end eventually. Which they do in Hackensack, New Jersey when they accidentally settle in with expert handyman and former minor league ballplayer Pedro (Terry Kinney.)
Or rather, Margaret, enjoying Pedro’s easygoing nature and constant pampering, settles in. Phillip, as revolted by the amiable clod as he is by their newfound domesticity and lack of motion, begins to lose his mind. Literally. Mysterious phone calls and visions of his estranged father haunt the troubled youth, followed by a descent into the occult. Faced with dying inside from this stagnation, Phillip hovers a tiny, chilling step away from submitting to an overwhelming urge to kill; anything to get their show back on the road. His restlessness reaches new heights when his domineering workaholic father shows up with plans to reunite the family under one permanent, static roof.
It’s a highly unnerving experience watching such a cute kid turn into a selfish, single-minded potential killer; especially considering that he isn’t even remotely aware that what he’s doing is wrong. He is a kid, after all; one who hasn’t exactly received the most solid moral grounding. Whatever mom wanted, mom took…and they both laughed about it. Why, Phillip understandably wonders, should it be any different when he wants Pedro or his father eliminated?
“Luminous Motion” is every bit as esoteric as its title suggests. Bette Gordon’s silky smooth, biting black comedy flows effortlessly from scene to scene, powered by Unger’s determinedly unapologetic performance and Lloyd’s shockingly seasoned portrayal of the wise way beyond his years Phillip. Gordon, DP Teodoro Maniaci, and editor Keiko Deguchi have created a slightly surreal feast for the eyes, best characterized by the disconcerting blurred motion of Phillip’s hallucinations.
Based on Scott Bradfield’s novel “The History of Luminous Motion,” the film meanders quite a bit; aimless motion in search of a destination. This is particularly true the closer the film draws to its conclusion. Yet, while “Luminous Motion” may not always be certain where it’s going — indeed, even when it gets there, it seems to want to keep moving as much as its subjects — the pleasure in this case comes in the voyage more so than the destination.