| Miracle Mile


Steve De Jarnatt

USA, 1988


Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 18 October 2011

Source MGM DVD

Categories 31 Days of Horror VIII

On Friday, October 21st at 8PM, Not Coming to a Theater Near You will be co-hosting a screening of Miracle Mile at 92YTribeca in conjunction with the Doomsday Film Festival and Symposium. For tickets and further information, please visit 92YTribeca’s website.

Miracle Mile denominates a strip of Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, and in Steve De Jarnatt’s eponymous film it is strewn in neon, high-rise condominiums, buzzing street lamps, and palm trees. It is after four-o’clock in the morning, and the strip’s few occupants have gathered at an around-the-clock coffee shop. Together they are a seemingly ordinary patchwork of somnambulant personalities: a pair of rowdy mechanics, a drag queen, a jet-lagged flight attendant. New to their party is Harry, a tall, spectacled man without any obvious quirk - the sort one would expect in any crowd at this hour - and outfitted with a vivid blue blazer. He holds a bouquet of flowers, a gift for a date he intended meet hours prior.

The date in question, Julie, is employed by the coffee shop, and is at this point asleep at home, having been stood up on a date she genuinely looked forward to. Harry is afraid of this, and enters the diner with a resolve to find her and immediately resuscitate her interest.

The two met days before at a museum. In the opening scene, they eye each other with increasing flair, as the narration eavesdrops on a tour guide who describes the evolution of the Earth and human species. This evolution culminates in a meet-cute: finally exchanging words, Harry and Julie agree to see each other again. But on the date at which Julie playfully assures him they will consummate their affection, Harry’s alarm malfunctions, but he shows up nonetheless determined, hours late.

Miracle Mile is up until this point a romance, but it is decidedly a shallow one. Save for Julie’s punky hairstyle, one of a number of artifacts that dates this as a 1980s film, the forlorn lovers remain largely indistinct. Nothing is known of their history, really, only that they’re immediately infatuated with each other. Their mutual interest is so unspoiled and matter-of-fact that you watch them oblivious to the threat of heartbreak.

Heartbreak is an obvious plot element in a narrative setup such as this, and when Harry arrives late, without any knowledge of where or how to reach Julie, you imagine that they’ll soon reconcile. But the ensuing circumstances are wholly unanticipated. Hours later, having been rustled awake from a Valium-induced slumber, Julie cranes her neck upward and sees Harry, slowly comprehending that he is hurriedly pushing her down the street in a grocery cart. “You’re late,” she matter-of-factly mumbles. The streets are still empty out, but the atmosphere has suddenly and unremittingly assumed an aspect of urgency.

Miracle Mile’s central romance is more appreciable as a barometer for this atmosphere of dread. In order to deeply feel its worry, to perceive its bombastic final third with apprehension instead of excitement, it is necessary to dwell on these characters. By the time they reach a point at which their love becomes reconciled, it accompanies the revelation that the end of the world is less than an hour away.

This revelation is delivered in the film’s periphery, via a phone call Harry picks up at one of the coffee shop’s pay phones, and henceforth paranoia steeps Miracle Mile with gathering dread. As the film proceeds, and as the sun slowly illuminates the sky, it finds more characters and more people. When Harry finds Julie it is still empty out, but when they near their only source of hope - a helicopter that will usher them and a few others to the airport - the streets are suffocated in traffic, fires and violence are in all directions, and a sense of futility becomes the predominant threat against the unadulterated love that characterizes our moonstruck couple.

It’s not long before the expectation that these two will enjoy reconciliation is called to question, and even though movies regularly present fatalistic scenarios thwarted by impossible heroism, seldom are they as determinedly bleak as this. This bleakness isn’t rendered in a way you might think, however; Miracle Mile depicts a scenario that affects all people on earth, yet remains inextricably focused on only two of them. As it depicts their reconciliation, our expectations are ironically satisfied: we see them together again and happy, only this reconciliation comes at the expense of potentially avoiding a nuclear attack.

Miracle Mile spends its duration with Harry and Julie in the foreground, and our comprehension of the worldly threat is construed from what occurs behind them. There is no mushroom cloud, and no formal explanation of precisely what is going on or why, and in a sense this explanation is unnecessary because we’re to identify with these two characters, to assume their notion of urgency and priority. It is due to this priority that the film concludes with disarming restraint, with the two staring into each other’s eyes moments before their death. They are smiling.

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