The Limits of Control

May 28th, 2009


The Limits of Control

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Still of Isaach De Bankolé in The Limits of ControlStill of Isaach De Bankolé and Tilda Swinton in The Limits of ControlIsaach De Bankolé and Paz de la Huerta at event of The Limits of ControlStill of Jim Jarmusch, Isaach De Bankolé and Gael García Bernal in The Limits of ControlStill of Isaach De Bankolé in The Limits of ControlStill of Tilda Swinton in The Limits of Control

The story of a mysterious loner, a stranger in the process of completing a criminal job.

Release Year: 2009

Rating: 6.1/10 (8,238 voted)

Critic's Score: 41/100

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Stars: Isaach De Bankolé, Alex Descas, Jean-François Stévenin

A solitary man who does not speak Spanish is an underground courier. Two men who are both thuggish and philosophical send him to Madrid with cryptic instructions. Over the course of a few days, he receives his instructions from a series of distinctive individuals who provide words of philosophy or of warning and also give him a matchbox with a tiny piece of paper, which he reads then eats, accompanied by espresso served in two cups. He is quiet, self-contained, focused on his work. He has rules. He encounters and at times transmits a violin, diamonds, a guitar, and a map. Is he a smuggler? Merely an independent conduit? Or, something else?

Isaach De Bankolé - Lone Man
Alex Descas - Creole
Jean-François Stévenin - French
Óscar Jaenada - Waiter
Luis Tosar - Violin
Paz de la Huerta - Nude
Tilda Swinton - Blonde
Youki Kudoh - Molecules
John Hurt - Guitar
Gael García Bernal - Mexican
Hiam Abbass - Driver
Bill Murray - American
Héctor Colomé - Second American
María Isasi - Flamenco Club Waitress
Norma Yessenia Paladines - Flight Attendant

Taglines: For every way in, there is another way out.


Official Website: Official site | Official site [France] |

Release Date: 28 May 2009

Filming Locations: Almería, Andalucía, Spain

Opening Weekend: $55,820 (USA) (3 May 2009) (3 Screens)

Gross: $425,025 (USA) (28 June 2009)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

When Tilda Swinton talks about a swooping bird in a room full of sand she is referring to a scene in the Andrey Tarkovskiy film Stalker.

Crew or equipment visible: When the Lone Man has passed the last picture in the museum during his first visit, the camera can be seen slightly reflected in the glass of the picture frame.

[first lines]
Creole: [character speaks in Spanish/French creole, English subtitles] You don't speak Spanish, right?
French: [character translates for Creole] You don't speak Spanish, right?
Creole: You are ready? Everything's cool?
French: You are ready? Everything's cool?
Lone Man: Yes!
Creole: Good.
French: Good.

User Review

A Zen Masterpiece!

Rating: 9/10

Sit back, open your mind, watch the magical pictures genius cinematographer Chris Doyle paints and let Jarmusch take you to a new world. This movie is an instant classic, uncompromisingly inviting the viewer to fill in the blanks while being enchanted and entertained. When the lights came up at the end of the screening, I wanted it to go on for hours more. Of course it can be hard work staying with such a quiet, obscure plot, but anyone who walks into a Jarmusch expecting Crank 2 is bound to be disappointed.

Comparisons with Dead Man are inescapable, but possibly have been overemphasized... The Limits are a very different animal: Visually, the potent use of color alone, sets it far apart (Theories on the use of dark orange, anyone?) and -despite appearances- I think Limits is a far darker vision. The repetition of the "La vida no vale nada"-poem is a reminder of a deep angst and deliberate struggle with meaninglessness at the heart of the story.

Isaach De Bankole's stunning features serve as an anchor throughout, although I found his carefully one-note, almost robotic performance a bit too much in some scenes. This would be my only real criticism. -The fact that the Lone man takes himself so seriously had me longing for a moment of humanity, self-deprecation or exhaustion every now and then, just to keep the audience with him and stop his extreme of cool from sliding off into seeming arch. He presents a superego without an id or an ego- Romance or passion are foreign to him, physical needs don't go beyond caffeine and tai-chi. He doesn't even sleep. Seemingly representing the cinema-goer entering the film, the protagonist enters the foreign world of Spain. Observing, receiving information, never responding, never engaging- except to destroy a cell phone. (Nice hint, Mr Jarmusch!) He is presented with philosophical ideas from every person he meets, but never replies. Just like an audience can only engage with any film it sees internally. The final act -and only real action- of the film could be read as the conscious choice to not submit to the controlling, disillusioned machine of "Hollywood cinema", but to limit it's control and remain true to the potentially illusionary values presented by his matchbox-giving guides. To deliberately choose a subjective path less traveled by.

Every conversation -or rather monologue- is left hanging in the air and begs to be continued in the viewers mind. Tilda Swinton, looking futuristically sexy yet classical in her role as a sort of incarnation of cinema, tears open the meta-reality especially far when she lightly observes how much she likes people sitting silently in films. Followed by a spell of the characters sitting silently on screen. Notably, she is the only one who gives Lone Man more than just a note. Her matchbox contains diamonds as well, as if Jarmusch wants to say: "Science, music, sex etc all give me something, but film is where I am given the most precious thing."

As his surroundings change from modernist Madrid, to Gothic Seville, to the bare bones of the Andalusian desert it is as if the Lone Man is traveling backwards in time, absorbing, with every encounter, one of the trappings of an artistic/ bohemian life that stands in the against the idea of societal control: Concepts of music, films, sex, hallucinogens are each absorbed with the ingestion of the papers in the matchboxes. His final encounter with the Bill Murray character erases the personification of control itself, in the form of a corporate/political caricature of the ultimate freudian father figure, leaving the Lone Man at a point of rebirth as he finally takes off his silk suit and fades into the embracing mass of humanity... His final matchbox note is blank. -No more control. The poetic sensitivity, originality and sheer ambitiousness of this movie make me want to get down on my knees and thank Mr Jarmusch and Focus Features for making it. We need more films like this!


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