The State of Things (1982) - Plot Summary Poster


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The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • A film crew is stranded in a melancholy seaside hotel somewhere outside of Lisbon when the production runs out of money mid-shoot. The director, Friedrich, is a gentle philosophical leader of intellect and heart who enjoys a paternal relationship with everyone in the cast and crew. He is a rock of calm in the midst of this crisis, keeping his charges fed and sheltered not only physically, but emotionally. He accomplishes this through maintaining the company's focus on their art and humanity during the boring days they spend waiting for an infusion of cash to resume work.

    His steadfast ally in this is the grizzled old cameraman Joe, whose vast experience in the business steadies him as a father can a son. As days stretch out with no word from their producer back in the USA, the people occupy themselves in the minutiae of forestalling the crushing boredom. They are becoming a family of sorts, forced to empathize and interact with each other more intimately than film crews normally do. It is the silver lining in this cloud of doubt enveloping them.

    But as days become weeks, foreboding begins to overtake them. Joe must return home to bury his terminally-ill wife, reluctantly leaving Friedrich to manage the worsening situation alone. Dennis, the high-strung line producer/writer, begins to snap, despairing in what he calls the "suicide" of making films. When Friedrich attempts to assuage Dennis' panic, pleading, "We're in the same boat", he replies, "No, YOU'RE in the boat --- I'm on the ship." Dennis, like many paranoids, is privy to knowledge others miss. He knows many important facts that he's withholding from Friedrich: like the elaborate data base he's assembled which tabulates and illustrates every aspect of their project from storyboards and budget to biographies of all players ... and most important, the fact that their producer has deserted them and there will be no more money. Friedrich can sense the unspoken betrayal though he cannot believe it. He realizes with alarm that drastic measures are necessary.

    He desperately flies to Hollywood to talk to his producer and old friend Gordon if only to obtain a reason for his abandonment. Now the interminably sluggish pace of Portugal is accelerated to the frenetic pace of L.A. He soon discovers after a convoluted search that Gordon isn't just hiding from him, but everybody. And there is something very spooky going on: he's being shadowed as he tries to find Gordon. He eventually locates Gordon hunkered down in a borrowed mobile home parked beside LA's last drive-in burger joint on a seedy part of the Sunset Strip. They greet each other warmly and immediately renew their familiar camaraderie. In the RV, Gordon finally reveals to his friend what has happened. He loved the dailies he saw coming from Portugal. He proudly showed the rushes to the investors, who didn't understand what was wrong with the picture, wanting to know what had happened to the color. When Gordon explained to them that it was shot in black-and-white, they were very disappointed. Unfortunately, these investors' displeasure is keener than normal: they're the Mob. They put out a contract on Gordon. As their night of sad/comic ruminations on the nature of art, stories, Hollywood and reality turns to dawn, the friends step outside the RV for a last hug as Gordon prepares to go back underground and Friedrich back to Portugal to somehow reconcile his crew to the state of things. Then the hit goes down, efficiently, anonymously and finally.

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