Filmmaker Jim Finley intends his next project to feature “just a man against a wall.” That man is Richard Elster, a retired post-Iraq war advisor who has sequestered himself to the deserts of the Southwest, and whose enigmatic wisdom, gruff isolationism, and minimalistic theory of war prove to be as impenetrable as they are enticing. Finley’s desire to capture an unrehearsed and unrestrained monologue by Elster on film is further complicated by the arrival of Jessie, Elster’s daughter, who forces both men to reconsider their motives.
Meanwhile, an exhibition of “24 Hour Psycho” – in which Hitchcock’s classic is slowed down to a twenty-four hour running time – bridges the worlds and blurs the lines of art, war, solitude, and loss.
DeLillo has written an incredibly spare novel here, which manages to confront major ideas about art and war without being moralistic, judgmental, or for that matter, controversial. This is not a book about ideas so much as it is about people who embody ideas and how, removed from their context or suddenly exposed to real personal tragedy, they can be as misunderstood as mental illness.
Readers interested in plotting or character development, especially the fast-paced sort, are advised to look elsewhere. That being said, I found the characters to be nearly unforgettable. Film lovers and war policy wonks should find this to be an intriguing tale, perhaps even a modern-day parable of sorts.