Star: Michael Hanelin, Stacie Stocker, Bailey Stocker and Tony Sarnicki
Given that what drives the story isn't the fact that Hervey's wife left him but that she returned, it's a trip to realise that Mills removed the return entirely from this adaptation of The Return. Sure, Alvan Hervey is updated to become Martin Klinger, whose wife e-mails him at work to tell him that she's leaving, but the script departs from the source story at that point, except for its concentration on Klinger's wild struggles to come to terms with what's just happened. While we soon see a lot of Chelsea Klinger, not to mention their daughter, a character who doesn't exist in the story, we never once see either of them for real, as each scene is conjured up inside Martin's mind as he searches for some sort of understanding of what their relationship really was. In ignoring almost the entire story and removing the event of its title, Mills ambitiously concentrates on what Conrad was aiming for, namely an exploration of emotion within the descriptive language for which he was known and which is incredibly difficult to adapt to film.
Running less than seven rushed minutes, it makes a pretty decent attempt to adapt the claustrophobic and hallucinatory tone of much of Conrad's fiction into visuals. One of my favourite lines from Conrad is one from The Secret Agent where he described a street as 'a slimy aquarium from which the water had been run off.' It's a magnificently concise setting that reeks of oppression, but it would take a budget far more substantial than anything Running Wild can bring to bear to show that as well on screen. This sort of thing is very apparent in The Return, which means that, for instance, Mills is tasked with visualising a sentence like, 'He walked at her, raging, as if blind; during these three quick strides he lost touch of the material world and was whirled interminably through a kind of empty universe made up of nothing but fury and anguish, till he came suddenly upon her face—very close to his.' Such a task would stretch the likes of a master, but Mills does give it an interesting go.
It's ironic that I most want to praise Rolo Tomassi here, the Running Wild editor, given that it's a clearly a pseudonym borrowed from LA Confidential, where it was used to subvert a screen adaptation by cropping out hundreds of pages of source material and allowing it all to move in a completely unfaithful direction. I have no idea who handles the role of Tomassi at Running Wild, or whether it's even the same person from one film to another, but whoever it was here did a great job. If it's Mills himself, he deserves extra praise for his work with the camera. The various experiments of this sort that pepper the 52 Films in 52 Weeks project which, after all, was an experiment to begin with, aren't always successful but they were a strong point in this entry. That's a good thing, because there's little here except the experimentation. Certainly, anyone wanting to see the source story on screen is going to be disappointed, even if they factor in the contemporary setting. You can't really have The Return without the return, after all, and it needs an end.
The key actors tasked with bringing this one to life are used to Mills's experimentations. Michael Hanelin, the Running Wild casting director, is the actor given the opportunity to bring life to Martin Klinger. In this adaptation, he's less an updated version of Alvan Harvey, given that he has neither his name nor any of his dialogue, and more of a similarly fraught bundle of emotions with a new name. Hanelin is powerful in what must have felt somewhat like a test scene performed for an acting class. Playing Chelsea is Stacie Stocker, who never disappoints, even with only a week to prepare, as she substituted here for an actress who baulked at the last minute from performing a (completely safe for work) scene with a vibrator; even bringing her real daughter, Bailey, to play her screen daughter. Surely less of a disaster than the rain that saw the last film become silent, Mills masochistically enjoyed the challenge. 'It's almost becoming fun,' he said in the accompanying webisode, 'to solve these problems.' And that's why 52 Films in 52 Weeks.