If one extracted a considerable amount of melancholia from “Donnie Darko” and supplemented “Safety Not Guaranteed” with it, chances are the outcome will be something like Colin West’s soul-stirring sci-fi drama “Linoleum.” For a narrative this non-linear, Jim Gaffigan starrer “Linoleum” is remarkably reticent with its labyrinthine storytelling. The film’s faithfulness in staying insistently true to life is at its most appreciable glory when our lead’s self-love and self-loathing juxtapose organically. And that is a treat you’re only to relish by the time the communicative climax is knocking on the door. Not very much unlike 2022’s “Aftersun,” where you are hit with a crushing wave of emotions by the time the film ends, “Linoleum” strings you along to the quasi-spiritual culmination of memories and experiences and leaves you with as much hope as it does gloom. But it’s a journey worth taking, so let’s get on with it.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Linoleum’?
Astronomer Cameron Edwin nudges us, or at least the very few who do watch his little science show “Above And Beyond,” to discover our very unique universe in the darkness of our closed eyes. “It’s like a fingerprint,” distinct for each one of us. We don’t know whether to believe Cam or not. He certainly seems to have plenty of moments overcome by self-doubt in his sullen life as a failed astronaut whose mailbox is hit with rejection letters from NASA time and again. Did Cam have the potential to be a Copley Award winner that, somewhere down the line, got lost in the abyss? We don’t know.
We can’t even comprehend Cam’s 50-something-year-old raggedy figure’s effervescent enthusiasm when he’s talking about the universal elements: gravity, electricity, and a whole array of things on “Above And Beyond,” for which the network has allotted an awful late-night slot. But at least his daughter Nora and his son Sam have awe written all over their faces whenever they watch the show with their dad. That is validation enough for Cam, at least for the time being. If it were up to him, he would hold on to his wife for as long as he possibly could. But the bitter taste of an unremarkable life has gotten to be too much for Erin, who, in her office at the Air & Space Museum, is quite taken aback to learn that the new employee has found her dream job, whereas Erin’s plan of doing something fantastic when she grows up has remained only a dream.
Erin and Cam used to be co-hosts on “Above And Beyond” back when Cam didn’t seem irrational to her, and she was head-over-heels in love. A life of mediocrity has taken quite a toll on Erin’s vision of how her life was supposed to turn out. She wants a divorce. And it seems to be perfectly timed with the big promotion heading her way.
What Changes Occur In Cam’s Life?
It’s not an apple that falls for Cam. It’s a whole red sports car that drops out of the sky right beside him as he is riding his bicycle through the suburban streets of the Fairview community. To Cam’s shock and ours, the person that falls with the car, through some strange design of the universe, survives. Erin’s dismissal that it might have just been a car flung over that Cam perceived as a car dropped from the sky does nothing to stop him from being drawn to the bizarre event. What’s even more strange is that the man in the car looks like a younger, better-looking version of Cam himself. Unlike his dad and this man, who, as it turns out, is a man of science, Cam has never won a Copley. It comes as an even more jarring and wretched shock to Cam that this man, Kent Armstrong, will soon replace him as the host of the science show Cam loves with his whole heart. PBS is showing a lot of interest in “Above And Beyond,” and well-to-do Kent will be a better face for the show. Cam has learned to live with disappointment. He doesn’t even take it to heart when Kent denies being in the sky and calls Cam “Samuel.”
Kent is a bit of a bully whose red Corvette nearly runs over Cam and his bicycle in Fairview. Cam is fallen over the curb the first time he sees an old, strange woman in his vicinity. Peculiar objects dropping from the sky in Cam’s surrounding don’t just stop with the car. A massive chunk of a rocket that the authorities deem Russian has crashed in Cam’s backyard and has made his house inaccessible. Cam’s curiosity about the rocket doesn’t outweigh the rule-abiding unease that keeps him from crossing the yellow tape and taking a look at the rocket. He only faces scorn and disdain while staying over at Erin’s beach-obsessed sister Lin’s house. Cam has more to worry about in life than his catty sister-in-law, who doesn’t miss an opportunity to talk down to him. His dementia-afflicted father, Mac, has been under the supervision of a doctor Cam has faith in—so much so that he asks the doctor questions of the mind only to be reminded that he’s not a therapist.
Copley winner Mac is stuck in repetition, describing the single-surfaced strange phenomenon of the Mobius strip to his son, who sometimes looks to be a stranger to him. Death may be nearer for Mac than Cam would think. The only thing that does make sense to Cam about his father’s late-stage acute dementia is that Mac’s brain is covered in plaque, and sadly, there’s no “brain brush.” Forlorn Cam spends a lot of dejected days in the seclusion of his science room, which displays a rather intriguing space suit with a broken helmet and a tiny red toy car upside down under the table, resembling the car that he watched fall from the unknown.
What Is Marc’s Significance In Nora And Cam’s Life?
Marc’s appearance in Nora’s world is as unanticipated as his arrival in the town. As a consequence of his father, Kent Armstrong, taking on Cam’s job as the host of the science show, Marc comes to live in Fairview with no hopes of making a friend. But that changes when his first step into the classroom makes his eyes meet Nora, the misfit he shared his birthday with. Nora is cutthroat with her matter-of-fact statements and a warrior with her unabashed acceptance of who she is—something that most people prefer to steer clear of. But the moment Nora appears out of the blue and clarifies that she’s not into him because she likes girls, Marc sees the possibility of a wonderful friendship in the girl who breaks the rules and wears trousers to school. Kent may put up the face of a pseudo-ally in front of Nora, but behind her back, he is a vile homophobe who fears the friendship that she has come to form with his son.
The closer Nora gets to Marc and recognizes the beautiful heart he hides lest his father lashes at him for being too soft, the easier Nora finds it to be her confused, label-hating teen self with the boy. It is through her feelings for Marc that Nora even gets to explore her layered predisposition and identity and comes to accept that she likes both men and women. Nora’s parents have never been keen on making a big deal of her birthday, which coincides with Halloween. But now that she has found someone who shares her birthday, Nora is inclined to throw a “fantastic Halloween party” and invites all of her mates, including the girl who bullies them. Nora doesn’t really see the party becoming all the rage, but when it does, and when she’s done settling into her housewife costume, she has her picture taken with the boy she has come to love. Photobombing the picture is a little boy in a ghost costume.
It’s through Marc that Cam can even begin to convince himself that things are sometimes simpler than he thinks. The otherwise goody-two-shoes man crosses the threshold of his own property and breaks the law to show Marc the remains of the rocket that nosedived into his backyard. Marc seems to be just as nerdy as Cam about rockets, and the two quickly determine that it’s not Russian after all. Inspiration comes from the strangest of sources. With a push from Marc, Cam digs up the rocket remains and appreciates it as his second chance, albeit pretty late, at proving to the world that he’s not just an astronomer. But Cam really isn’t as good a scientist as he would like to believe. His hitting a dead end with the rocket and Mac’s physician urging him to take his father home so as to help him access his memories occur in synchronicity for Cam.
With a little bit of guidance from Mac, Cam does end up putting together a rocket, only to see the trial launch fail and burn his garage down. But he isn’t ready to give up on his second chance yet, even though Erin is losing her mind over the mess he’s just made. Feeling like a no-good dud comes easily for Cam. Yet the parts of him that he often overlooks are why Marc wishes that his father was more like Cam. Marc, Nora, and Cam are three volatile catalysts, bringing tremendous changes into each other’s lives and what they put up with. Kent is a rather abusive father from whom Marc’s only escape is Nora and Cam’s company. For Nora, Marc is the very stimulant that even makes her look forward to a better life; however, she is terrified she may be looking into all the questions she doesn’t have an answer to. And for Cam, Marc is the symbol of every brave step he takes. It is also when these two are together that Marc sees the old woman getting closer and closer with a wordless smile on her face.
‘Linoleum’ Ending Explained – Who Is The Old Lady? Are Cameron, Marc, And Mac The Same Person?
The true treat of ‘Linoleum’ awaits the complete ripening of the stakes to be reaped. There are multiple clues and questions peppered around compulsively throughout the narrative, which wears the facade of normalcy. Although science fiction, ‘Linoleum’ is more of the heart and the beautiful duality of the human mind than anything else. It is also the truth that lives close to home yet eludes the unfortunate. West’s film counts heavily on the bewildering unpredictability of interpersonal relationships and the effects of those on the courses of action people may or may not take. When comforting a frantic Nora who is overwhelmed at the thought of choosing the wrong path and messing up her chance at doing something fantastic, Erin is the very paradigm of a good mother who assures her that no matter the door Nora chooses to open, she will evidently be an incredible person she should be proud of. Through this passage of comforting her daughter, Erin discovers the truth about her own path.
The big promotion that Lin pushes her to lunge on may be a dream come true, but it isn’t her dream. If anything, the job will only drag her further away from ever fulfilling the one wish she’s always had. So she nicks a module of a rocket from the museum and surprises her husband with a finished piece in the garage. Working alongside his wife to finish the rest of the rocket is the closest Cam has ever come to the feeling of happiness, and it is also the closest Erin comes to doing “something fantastic.” Yet when it’s time for Cam to push the button, get ready to launch the rocket, and make his dream of being an astronomer come true, Cam freezes up and stares blankly into nothing. The strange old woman appears in front of Cam as his guide through all the memories he’s struggling to access. She asks him if he remembers her, and Cam, who is now Mac in the suit with a shattered helmet, recognizes her to be his wife, Erin, only of his own age now.
Cam has been the wanderer that Mac’s blocked-up mind has formed out of his own younger self to walk through the bits and pieces of his memories and try to make sense of it all. Cam hasn’t let go of Mac in his own mind. Instead, he remembers his real self as his father, who has dementia. When old Erin shows the real old Cam the picture from the Halloween party, Cam quickly recognizes the people in the picture to be Erin and him. But he sees the little boy in the ghost outfit, even though Erin doesn’t see him, and points him out as Sammy. But Sammy, whom we’ve seen being played by five different children who never speak, was stillborn. He’s someone that Cam’s dementia-ridden mind has thought up for comfort. In fact, Erin and Cam never had any children. Nora and Marc are Erin and Cam.
Cam’s mind imagined a part of his consciousness as Marc and the memory of meeting his wife for the first time as an imaginary daughter, Nora. It is through these two that Cam made sense of the road that his life took and processed the trauma of all that he’d been through. Kent Armstrong, Marc’s abusive father who also stole Cam’s job as a host, was, in reality, Cam’s dad. And the red Corvette that Cam saw fall from the sky was the car that Kent was driving when he intentionally tried to hit his own son for not following the rules laid out by him. The car bounced over, and Cam was saved. But the scars of his father trying to kill him are something Cam’s old mind is still trying to process through the scattered memories he’s fighting to even access. In his mazelike passage of the mind palace, Cam has also found himself to be proud of the person he has become.
Through Marc’s approving words of wanting him as a father, Cam accepts that despite all the failures and regrets in life, he’s lived as a good man, something his Copley winner father could never be. Erin knows that the time has come for Cam. All she wants is to make it as easy as possible for Cam in his last moments. So, she breaks the rules like Nora would and gets into the ambulance with her husband. The last few seconds alive are practically heaven for Cam. He imagines boarding the rocket with his wife and aiming for the vast unknown with the love of his life.
“Linoleum” is a 2022 sci-fi comedy drama film directed by Colin West.