Approaching old age and feeling disillusioned with his life, a man is given the chance to start afresh again – just as long as he severs all ties with his past life.
Sound familiar? It should, as a lot of films have clearly drawn a lot of inspiration from it. From Face/Off to Self/Less, Seconds’ fingerprints are everywhere, yet it doesn’t always get the credit it deserves.
While other films focus almost entirely on the hedonistic possibilities that eternal life entails, Seconds never forgets its origins. From the get-go, it is a horror movie, detailing science’s worst excesses when it focuses on whether it can do something over whether it should do something, to the detriment of everything else.
The film’s protagonist, Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph)’s journey comes full circle – he thinks he’s prolonging his life, only to realise he’s swapping one frying pan from the other. His life in the body of a younger man (Rock Hudson) starts off in truly horrifying fashion: unable to speak, strapped up in a chair and covered in bandages in true Cronenberg fashion. By the end of the film, he’s in almost the same situation, the gut-punching ending having lost none of its power 50 years on.
Director John Frankenheimer is best known for character-driven tales of intrigue like The Manchurian Candidate and Birdman Of Alcatraz, and Seconds proves to be the perfect fit for him, and Hudson the perfect actor. The director never stints in showing the ripple effect of Hamilton’s actions, all evocatively captured in an expressionistic, dream-like style that calls into question even the most straightforward of exchanges.
Similarly, Hudson is perfect, utterly convincing as a man revelling in his newfound youth while similarly at odds with what it all means, not coming to his senses until it’s too late.
It’s likely that when Seconds was made, the future they envisioned was one they had expected us to have reached by now. We’re not quite there yet, but it doesn’t seem all that unfeasible in an age where the few own the majority. When a film has such timeless relevance, you’d do well to listen.