The Wheel of Heaven (2023) Review
There’s meta and then there’s The Wheel of Heaven. It opens with a faux Zoom interview between the film’s director Joe Badon (Sister Tempest, The God Inside My Ear) and Jo Light from No Film School that contains pieces of the actual interview she did with him on the same call. The Fourth Wall is broken before the film really starts, and it never gets rebuilt.
From there the film moves to an episode of a cable access kids program The Uncle Bobbo Show, which will be familiar to those who’ve seen Badon’s short The Blood of Dinosaurs a prelude to The Wheel of Heaven that was released last year and repeated here. The unblinking and seemingly heavily sedated Uncle Bobo (Vincent Stalba, I Saw the Light, Central Valley) and his assistant Purity, the first of several roles played by Kali Russell (Dvrker: Infinity Room, A Touch of Magic) tell us about rubber, oil and dinosaurs just as the prophets of the almighty oil companies intended.
Composed of odd vignettes and what seem to be montages of semi-random footage, The Wheel of Heaven may be a collection of Public Access shows. Or it may be the imaginations of a mechanic named Marge (Kali Russell again) as she reads a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. And to further confuse matters there’s behinds the scenes footage and an ongoing dialogue between Badon and Russell as themselves discussing the script, particularly a date rape scene involving Purity and Mr. Universe (Jeff Pearson, The Demonologist, Big Shark).
The dispute between the two over that scene is a recurring theme in The Wheel of Heaven, with Badon making himself the bad guy refusing to change the scene and complaining that she read the script and knew that scene was there. Except he isn’t the villain. The time for these objections, be it to nudity, religious or political content, etc. is before you accept the role, and if you can’t work the issue out and get the changes in writing, don’t take the part. Once it will cost money to recast and reshoot it’s not “reclaiming your agency”, it’s extortion.
Granted that might be a total nonissue in a film that really isn’t about anything and is designed to be the ultimate triumph of style over substance as it bounces from one episode to another. One minute it’s a bizarre version of Star Trek: Voyager, the next the killer from Alice, Sweet, Alice is stalking a victim in a black and white film, or popping up in the delivery room.
Editor Joseph Estrade (The Blood of the Dinosaurs, Making Curry) deserves a lot of credit for The Wheel of Heaven’s success. He arranges all these diverse segments into a smoothly flowing and visually interesting film rather than the chaotic mess the combination of cinematographer Daniel Waghorne’s (Fck’n Nuts, Murderous Affairs) work and found snippets of animation, computer graphics and other footage easily could have been.
Just what it all means though is anybody’s guess. The Wheel of Heaven is deliberately opaque and open to all manner of interpretations from something as obvious as finding the strength to make your own choices to something so obscure that Bradon and Kruppa are the only ones who know. Maybe it means nothing at all and is simply meant to look cool and give them a laugh at our interpretations.
In the end just as Marge had to pick her own adventure, the viewer is left to pick their own interpretation and see where it leads them. Hopefully it’s not to a date with Mr. Universe.
The Wheel of Heaven is currently making the rounds of the festivals. You can check for upcoming screenings on the film’s Facebook page.