‘Locke’ wrestles with choice, responsibility

“Locke” (2013 production, 2014 release). Cast: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman (voice), Ruth Wilson (voice), Andrew Scott (voice), Ben Daniels (voice), Tom Holland (voice), Bill Milner (voice). Director: Steven Knight. Screenplay: Steven Knight. Web site. Trailer.

Coping with the conditions of our lives can be more than a little challenging at times. We often find ourselves faced with circumstances we dread, some of which may carry difficult choices and demanding responsibilities. But, then, in all fairness, we must also ask how we got ourselves into those dilemmas to begin with. Those are the conundrums a beleaguered protagonist must address for himself in the unconventional personal drama, “Locke.”

Construction manager Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is about to go on the ride of his life. On the night before he’s scheduled to oversee the largest concrete pour for a non-military construction project in all of Europe, he unexpectedly sets off on an anguished two-hour drive from Birmingham to London. He abandons all his existing obligations, both to his job and his family, and his impulsive actions perplex those depending on him. But Ivan has his reasons, and they involve concerns more important than any of his prior commitments.

So what’s prompted Ivan’s seemingly irrational actions? He’s making a journey to be present for the impending premature birth of his child, a baby born out of a one-night stand he had with a lonely construction project assistant, Bethan (Olivia Colman), seven months earlier. Ivan had been keeping Bethan’s pregnancy secret for months, but he planned to inform others of it as soon as the concrete pour was complete. Those plans went awry, however, when the baby’s early arrival threw a wrench into Ivan’s schedule. And so, as he sets off on the drive to London, he seeks to square up matters with his family and professional colleagues through a series of phone conversations – calls that herald the collapse of everything important in his life.

Over the course of his journey, Ivan learns from his boss, Gareth (Ben Daniels), that he’s being fired for abandoning his responsibilities at such a critical juncture in the project. Despite this dismissal, Ivan feels compelled to follow through on his work commitments and seeks to make arrangements for them to proceed as scheduled with the aid of his assistant, Donal (Andrew Scott). Accomplishing this task is easier said than done, however, when he learns that, per Donal’s usual nightly routine, he’s been drinking, making it difficult to convey detailed instructions for what needs to be done.

Meanwhile, Ivan also must contend with his family, who had been expecting him to join them at home to watch a football match. When he calls them about his change in plans, they’re puzzled, not suspecting a thing about what he’s up to. Ivan’s sons, Eddie (Tom Holland) and Sean (Bill Milner), are understandably disappointed that their dad won’t be joining them. But Ivan’s wife, Katrina (Ruth Wilson), is positively devastated, not only because this is the first she’s heard of his infidelity, but also because she’s receiving the news in such an impersonal way. Ivan struggles to smooth things over with everyone, but this task proves far more difficult than anything he has to contend with in his dealings with Donal and Gareth.

And, if all this weren’t enough, Ivan also has to cope with the drama of Bethan’s condition. In addition to calming her over the shock of going into premature labor, Ivan must wrestle with Bethan’s emotional neediness. Despite the fact that she’s carrying Ivan’s child, he feels nothing for her emotionally beyond a general concern for her well-being. He has compassion for her fragile state of mind and the circumstances he’s placed her in, but he has no intention of pursuing any kind of romantic involvement with her, because he still loves Katrina, despite their marital difficulties. Complications related to the child’s delivery add more fuel to the fire, pushing Ivan to the brink of his own emotional meltdown.

The issues raised during Ivan’s unplanned road trip also recall painful issues of his own past, particularly those involving his contentious relationship with his habitually irresponsible father. In a series of monologues, Ivan rails at his old man’s unapologetic lack of reliability, lashing out at the lack of concern he showed his family as Ivan was growing up. He even berates himself for having occasionally followed in his father’s footsteps. But, as someone who has sincerely sought to straighten out his life, Ivan affirms his efforts to do the right thing now, no matter what transgressions he may have committed – and no matter what the cost may be to him going forward.

Ivan’s experiences shine an intensely bright light on the issues of choice and responsibility, hallmark principles of the conscious creation process. For some of us, it might be easy to shirk our responsibility for our creations, asserting that “things just happen,” thereby providing ourselves an all-too-convenient justification to walk away from them. However, given that nothing in our lives happens without the choices we make, we can’t realistically disavow our responsibility for their manifestation (and, even if we were attempt to do so, we would almost assuredly pay a higher price for having done so later on). Knowing that, then, it would behoove us to not only carefully consider the choices we make, but also to envision what consequences might arise from the options before us, given that we’ll be responsible for the fallout associated with them, no matter which one we ultimately choose.

To his credit, Ivan recognizes this and makes a concerted effort to rectify his missteps, despite the high personal price he may end up paying for doing so. Not only does this make him accountable for his choices, but it also helps to strengthen his fundamental awareness of how the conscious creation process works, a recognition that, one would hope, will encourage him to act more responsibly down the road. He thus sets an example worthy of emulation, especially for those who would attempt to worm their way out of their responsibilities.

Ivan’s efforts also make clear that we’re not tied to our past or our prior choices. He freely admits that he screwed up, but he also willingly agrees to make up for his transgressions, no matter how painful that restitution might be. At the same time, he also fully realizes that, just because he may have acted irresponsibly in the past, that doesn’t mean he’s locked into a pattern of comparable behavior for the future. He recognizes – and doesn’t hesitate to decidedly avow – that he knows he can choose new beliefs about what he manifests from this point forward (as evidenced in his monologues with his father). He’s aware that he’s not forever shackled to whatever he may have done previously. That’s a very healthy attitude that we’d be wise to follow, no matter how much we (or others) may try to saddle us with views to the contrary. It’s even metaphorically apparent in Ivan’s line of work; regardless of what difficulties may arise, he’s always able to “build anew.”

The ability to reconstruct one’s life is an option that’s always with us, regardless of how daunting the circumstances might seem. This is made possible by the ongoing continuity of existence, a belief in the idea that “life goes on,” no matter what may come up in our everyday reality. This notion, explored in such other films as “People v. The State of Illusion” (2012) and the recently released “On My Way” (2014), is poetically symbolized here by the inclusion of the “journey” element in the picture’s narrative. The road, which provides the backdrop for Ivan’s trip, is also symbolic of the personal journey on which he has embarked, one that involves implications far greater than just getting him from Birmingham to London. It metaphorically chronicles the arc of his learning curve, his individual evolution, and his personal growth and development, all of which are indicative of the conscious creation principle that we’re all in a constant state of becoming. As it is with Ivan, so it is, too, with each of us.

Journeys like this hold tremendous potential, despite their associated difficulties. As dire as these sorts of circumstances may appear, they also frequently carry the seeds of change, often for the better. Indeed, when an old way of life crumbles away, its demise often paves the way for something new to emerge, and, thanks to our manifesting beliefs, we’re the ones driving the process behind what eventually surfaces. This phenomenon can materialize in a variety of ways, from minor alterations to sweeping modifications. Even a complete rebirth is possible, another metaphor that looms largely, both literally and figuratively, in Ivan’s story. Again, if such transformation can happen for him, there’s no reason to believe that it also couldn’t happen for us, especially if we zealously embrace the beliefs that make such outcomes possible.

“Locke” is a surprisingly engaging film despite its rather unconventional format. In many ways its narrative is akin to a one-person stage play, which some might find a questionable storytelling approach. But the writing is effectively enlivened with the film’s dynamic cinematography and editing, which never allow the material to become stale. Admittedly, some of the dialogue could have been stronger and, at times, less technical (you’ll come away knowing more about concrete than you probably ever wanted to know), but the effective explorations of the metaphysical themes examined through the screenplay make up for these deficiencies. Hardy’s performance is generally solid, representing a big stretch over his previous portrayals, though it could have been stronger in spots, especially in the continuity of his accent. As for the supporting cast, whose contributions are entirely vocal, viewers get a mixed bag, with some of the players (like Wilson, Holland and Milner) serving up fine portrayals and others (like Colman, Scott and Daniels) turning in performances that come up lacking at times.

The road of life is filled with twists and turns, many of which take us by surprise. But the more we realize we’re in the driver’s seat, the better we’ll be able to map our own course. Ivan Locke learns this for himself during his lonely drive to his destiny, one that’s both literal and metaphorical. Here’s wishing him – and all of us – a safe trip.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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