It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what The Center is trying to say. Is it a film about how no-one really understands twenty-something male writers? Is it a critique of Scientology? Is it actually all about the meaningless of modern existence, through a cunning use of constant urban imagery (lots of random shots of streets) and a neverending loud score (often louder than dialogue)?
The Center doesn’t seem to know what it’s about. So if you can figure it out, you’re doing well.
This story of a young man who falls in with a crowd of people suspiciously cultish in their outlook fails on a few fronts, but the main problem is the lack of characters. There are plenty of people in this, but we get zero information about most of them. Main character Ryan says that he feels disconnected from other people most of the time, and that disconnect extends to us as an audience. There’s nothing to Ryan, apart from a vague urge to study writing and a crappy TV. He’s so bland and blank and ineffectual in his own story that he might as well be replaced by a glass of tap water. There’d be more life in it.
There are just constant fleeting glimpses of possible storylines and characters which might be interesting – but then they’re snatched away so we can sit through another flashback to scenes from half an hour ago, just in case we’ve forgotten what happened. Why is Ryan’s mum alcoholic? What’s up with Amanda? What pushes that other Center member to try to quit? Who knows? It’s frustrating that these interesting bits are there, but never quite reached.
Again, maybe that’s a deliberate choice by director Charlie Griak. Maybe we are supposed to be in the same position as Ryan's sister. Perhaps the story is to take the audience on this journey of ignorance - not completely understanding what’s going on and why Ryan would make these choices. But if we’re going to care about the story, we need to care about the characters and understand the choices they make. And that’s something The Center just doesn’t quite manage. Instead, we get a film about unlikeable characters hard to quantify and know. It's hard to justify the character which falters the entire experience.
The biggest shame about this is that it is present by the Silence of the Lambs director Jonathon Demme - so who knows what indoctrination he went to back this film?