*SPOILER ALERT* In order to discuss the racial implications of this film, it’s necessary to reveal the “twist” ending, although it’s not really that much a twist; not much you haven’t seen before. Sublime follows the adventures of George Grieves (Tom Cavanagh) as he enters a hospital to get a routine colonoscopy, only to discover that nothing is routine when it comes to one’s colon. He wakes up groggy and in pain and begins to suspect that the doctors have performed the wrong surgery. He becomes even more suspicious when he realizes they’ve removed his leg. Oy!
He experiences a series of dreamlike encounters with odd personalities — including a sexy female nurse and an ominous, not-so-sexy black male nurse named…Mandingo (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs of Welcome Back, Kotter fame) — which makes you wonder if he’s actually dreaming or if it’s just the drugs kicking in. Turns out George is in a coma due to the botched colonoscopy, and all he is experiencing is in his comatose mind. Furthermore, we learn that his nightmares are his upper-class, white male Anglo-Saxon Protestant subconscious fears coming to light…including the aforementioned Mandingo. As Mandingo so eloquently (and long-windedly) puts it as he proceeds to snip off George’s fingers with pruning shears:
“I am the dark un-fucking-known. I’m the father of cool and the king of jazz and the porch-sitting, watermelon-sucking brother who fucks up neighborhoods and breeds gangsters and makes your dick feel small. I am mud hut-building, spear-chucking, darkest Africa. I am the king of Egypt, grandpappy of all the sand niggas.”
This is all an intriguing twist on the whole “is it real or is it a dream” theme, but it fails for two reasons:
- We aren’t given much of an indication that George is indeed particularly fearful, so him being tortured relentlessly by his fears doesn’t resonate.
- The “happy” ending, in which George finally escapes his ordeal, doesn’t involve him emerging from his coma — symbolically conquering his fears — but rather has him ALLOWING HIMSELF TO DIE. In other words, allowing his fears to overcome him and shrinking into a perceived comfort zone away from all of the meanies in the real world. Holy crap, IT’S WHITE FLIGHT! Off to the ‘burbs we go!
I give credit to Sublime for being a (semi-)horror movie with a (semi-)brain that attempts to make a (semi-)statement — although it feels like it should’ve been shortened into an hour-long episode of Masters of Horror (granted, that show has already addressed the “right to life” issue of the comatose).
The heavy-handed liberal guilt is woefully mishandled, however — even more so if you listen to director Tony Krantz’s DVD commentary and get a sense of how much symbolism he tried to cram in there, including George Grieves being named after George Bush and embodying a “grieving” USA, with an Iranian doctor symbolizing Iran gettin’ all up in America’s colon.