“It all started with the hippos.” Sitting in a yellow jumpsuit, somewhere in a Colombian jail, American Chris Kirk begins to tell his story — the story that I Touched All Your Stuff, examines and re-examines with no easy answers.
The story focuses on Chris, who after feeling restless and bored with his life in Olympia, Washington, decided to seek adventure — and drug lord Pablo Escobar’s hippos — in Colombia. While abroad Chris meets and falls for the mysterious V (the film’s somewhat forced femme fatale), and from that point on our story gets kind of convoluted. The film focuses on this relationship for a good amount of screen time, but the conclusions about it feel fruitless in relation to Chris and how he even ended up in prison in the first place. We don’t even get to hear from V, just about her and even then it’s not contributing much to the story. There’s also a bit of time spent on a practical joke involving Chris’s apartment being completely covered in aluminum foil that garnered national attention (and gave the film its english title), but it also feels pointless — except for finding out that Chris has had an interest in books on con men. Stuff can sometimes feel like it’s trying too hard to find or assign meaning to all of this — but when this happens it mostly feels like grasping at potential significance instead of discovering something actually significant.
There’s no clear-cut path or answers in Stuff, but what is clear are the questions the film raises about believability and artifice — specifically in how it frames its main subject. Thanks to the 80GB hard drive Chris gave to filmmakers Maíra Bühler and Matias Mariani, we are given a mixed-media portrait of Chris, along with the usual doc techniques (some interviews with friends from Washington and Michigan, his home state). Chris is not only the film’s subject but its unreliable narrator helming most of the narrative with his voiceover, his computer files, and his side of the story. Despite all this access and the fact that Chris is also used for narration, there’s something that feels insincere about him.
Early on in the film one of his friends describes Chris as a Pinocchio-type character, saying, “he wanted to be real.” This line resonates increasingly as the film plays on. Chris tries his hardest to sell this story — at times you can see him trying to will the words into something believable — but it still feels hollow, the tip of the iceberg. The film never finds the massive, intricate structure below the waves, but instead focuses on the surface, with little payoff.
Instead of reaching a moment of clarity, Stuff leaves us with unanswered questions, sometimes about its often incoherent narrative, but mainly about its subject. Chris never reveals anything below the surface of his story, and what we’re left with is something that feels abrupt and incomplete. Maybe that’s the point — that some stories and some people are simply unknowable.
Author’s note: This review was originally going to be published on http://www.austinvida.com/ in August 2015, but has been self-published here.