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‘Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time’ Review: Two triumphant hours with a friend

'Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time' - Robert B. Weide

Just as Robert B. Weide gives full disclosure for why he has put himself in this documentary, I shall do the same for putting myself in this review. Full disclosure: I am a Kurt Vonnegut nut, a Bokononist if you will. And just as any Vonnegut nut knows, the core joy of his work is that after a while – beyond the wisdom, laughter, sagacity, colour and splatter of scatological punchlines – the true gift comes to the fore: Time spent with Kurt. 

Now there are some writers who wouldn’t be happy with that appraisal. Indeed, it does sound rather reductive of the prose itself, but that isn’t the case—just as it isn’t the case for this documentary, Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time, either. For Vonnegut was all about recognising gifts that often pass us by, and it is a fact seldom reckoned with that it isn’t often that you’ll ever find a friend. Vonnegut’s prose proudly comes from the balmy pastures of a comrade’s chatter, and all their unencumbered thoughts to boot. 

This documentary is time spent with a friend. Weide is our guide through that notion, like when the royal ‘I’ pops up in one of Vonnegut’s books and our cranky old friend wanders onto the pages. The documentary might be filled with revelations – stories about how he was fired from Sports Illustrated after one single concise and profane-laden article, phone calls to Billy Pilgrim, and so on, and so on – but the boon of the doc is laid out as clearly as the premise on one of Vonnegut’s first pages: Let’s spend two hours with a friend and learn the tale they have to tell. 

With joyous and sincere corroborations from those who knew him best, this crux becomes something to cherish throughout. A friend is a wonderful thing, and that is what makes his work reside in the upper echelons of art through the power of transcendence. As is revealed, even to the subjects themselves as they gaze back through time, his books were an arm around the shoulder of his children when he was absent or grovelling, a reassuring word to his wife when his love was not openly presented, or he wasn’t there at all. 

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And as you begin to suspect, his writing was a friend to him too. It helped him get his troubled mind in order and exorcise the tragedies that befell him—it helped him celebrate the absurdity of meaning beyond measure in a world where madness rules the roost, like a demented cockerel of chaos in an allotment a little too small to step aside the unspooling stream of mishaps and seek shelter in safe quietude like a writer hunched over the unimpeachable bubble of his world-weaving keyboard. 

In a documentary that performs hopscotch through time, the fact that it took almost 40 years and a long-dead author to get here is almost fitting—as though Vonnegut himself has played cat’s cradle with fate from beyond the grave when just enough daisies have been pushed up and shat on.

You see, the mantra that he clung to is that we don’t really know what the pleasant times will be because the world isn’t a meaningless torture with the occasional happy accident, it’s simply too full of meaning to fit neatly into a tale. Thus, there is no more pertinent time to ponder whether this shower of faeces that has passed through the fan will fertilise a field where better times can flower. In this sense, the wholesome amble through the life of this beloved writer has a note of prescience—much like one of his books. 

However, there is always a caveat, some arsehole-shaped asterisk, (hell, even Vonnegut only gave Slapstick a D), and maybe if you were picking fault with Unstuck in Time, you could argue that it wanders a little northward of his prime 230 pages mark. That being said, with 40 years to wade through, a few minutes can be forgiven—especially when everything that is there transfigures tragedy with such dogged temerity that you’re almost gladdened for trouble and turmoil just for the fruit that it fosters, and when the laughter and good times plop on life’s plate you can wolf down those moments and say, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’ 

You can find out about how to watch this glowing triumph and warming hug by visiting Altitude Film and clicking here. Kurt Vonnegut: Unstick in Time is released in UK and Irish cinemas and on Altitide.Film and other digital platforms from tomorrow (July 22nd). You can check out the trailer below.

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