Audiences were left wanting more at the end of The Old Year and when Thomas Crudup’s brain-twisting followup The New Year was released six months later, they finally had all their questions answered, but the answers given probably weren’t the ones they were expecting.
An opening montage rifles through every second of The Old Year, compressed to about sixty seconds. We slow down just as the montage reaches the end of the first film, as the man (Ed Scarborough briefly reprising his role from the first film) closes his eyes and hears the woman’s voice say “Today is the day you wake up.” There’s a flash of light and a baby opens his eyes. He’s inside a glass box, almost like an incubator, and a dark-haired woman dressed in a bright white outfit stands over the box. They seem to be in a solid white room. She speaks to the baby in a soft voice and begins explaining that everything that the baby just saw were memories from a previous life.
The New Year bears almost no resemblance to The Old Year, despite coming from the same creative mind. Crudup bathes the sets in white, glowing light and the camera has a robotic, structured movement. The woman (played by Carol O’Grady) is on screen most of the film’s running time, and she speaks in hushed tones, acting like a narrator for the audience.
It’s soon revealed that the various white rooms are inside a giant ship moving through space. The year is 2556 and the baby and this woman have been on the ship for almost 50 years, yet time moves much differently here than it does on Earth. The woman is a scientist, who is carrying on experiments with consciousness and perception. The baby was chosen because the children are most susceptible to the experiments.
Audiences weren’t sure how to accept this moving, especially since it was supposed to be connected to The Old Year. Some critics found themselves upset because this film seemed to render the previous film in a different light, almost as if the old man’s life was nothing more than a dream or a figment of some baby’s imagination. Others saw it as a natural extension of the man’s life, that his consciousness lived on inside the baby’s mind.
Crudup unfortunately never revealed which group had the right answer, but he seemed to enjoy all the fuss over his little movie, one which he called his most personal film. Again, he never quite explained how it was so personal to him, beyond saying that it one were to watch both film’s back to back, several patterns would emerge that would make the meaning behind the story obvious.
The woman, who’s also never given a name, eventually takes the child to a giant glass chamber, with one side looking out into space. As she puts the child inside, she whispers, “If I never see you again, thank you.” As she closes the chamber, it begins spinning with intense speed and a mechanical arm pushes it away from the ship and out into space. As it floats away from the ship, the baby begins to grow and mature at an accelerated rate. Within a few moments, the baby has become ten years old. A few seconds later, he’s a teenager, and even later still, he’s a grown man (played by Elijah Cranston). The glass chamber continues to float through space as the man studies the universe around him.
The effects are surprisingly well-crafted, which is no wonder when learning that Ray Williams was behind them. He built a masterful spaceship miniature that is beautiful in all its detail.
Soon the glass chamber gets close to a planet and is pulled into its orbit. The chamber falls towards the planet and lands in a vast ocean. As the man escapes the chamber and reaches land and begins his trek to find civilization. The end won’t be spoiled here, because it really must be seen to be believed, but it does end up throwing in an unexpected connection to the The Old Year.
The movie doesn’t really hold anyone’s hand, with the exception of the opening monologue from the woman, and it is tough to find the meaning in the film, but it’s still a marvelous technical feat to behold. This and The Old Year are two wholly original works from Crudup’s unique imagination who was always pushing boundaries and never satisfied with himself, something for which film fans are lucky.