PG for thematic elements and some
Drama and Science Fiction/Fantasy
Ryan Kelley, Armin Mueller-Stahl,
Hayden Panettiere, Michael Angarano, Peter Horton
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The Dust Factory
By Cliff Vaughn
Culture Editor for EthicsDaily.com
- The Dust Factory is like a cross between Cirque
du Soleil and “The X-Files.” Or maybe it’s a
cross between “Holes” and “What Dreams May Come.”
Or maybe it’s between “Alice in Wonderland”
and “The Wizard of Oz.” And all of that with a slight
David Lynch flair.
But the above is really a convoluted way of saying The Dust
Factory is a unique vision belonging to its writer and director,
Eric Small. There can be no doubt that this film belongs to Small’s
searching mind—even though the filmmaker is quick to share
credit with his collaborators.
The Dust Factory is a coming-of-age story, albeit one
told with surrealistic strokes. A young boy (Ryan Kelley) already
struggling with the death of his father and grandmother—not
to mention his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s—grapples
with his own mortality after a fall from a bridge.
But his fall from the bridge into the river below is singular:
Once submerged, Ryan crosses into another realm—a liminal
place between this life and the next. The only person he knows
there is his grandfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who suffers no
effects from Alzheimer’s and mentors Ryan as the boy has
Ryan also encounters a free-spirited friend, Melany (Hayden Panettiere),
who takes him to a circus big-top, which she refers to as the
dust factory. There he sees people attempt to make a successful
trapeze jump, and Melany informs him that the act is more than
a stunt: It’s actually how people exit the current realm,
or “home away from home.”
For most of the movie, Ryan, Melany and Grandpa wander through
this liminal land, talking about their uneasiness, dreams, doubts,
hopes, faith. Many of life’s most meaningful themes surface
at some point in the movie.
The Dust Factory doesn’t offend (through language
or otherwise), but most mainstream audiences will find the picture
an odd piece of work. That’s not to say bad, but certainly
The picture sometimes feels a bit slow, and at 1 hour 39 minutes,
it could have been trimmed about 20 minutes.
Small embraces life’s significant themes head-on, and he
doesn’t shy away from issues of death and dying. Ten minutes
into the film, Ryan and his best friend are discussing God and
death. And this is after we’ve just seen Ryan bury his grandmother
(with a shot of her corpse in the casket).
One of the most enduring themes of the film, however, is the
notion that one must believe in something before he or she can
see it. For example, Ryan remembers his father telling him about
the man in the moon, but he just can’t see it. He must believe
Small assembled a veteran crew to shoot this movie in Oregon,
and it shows. The scenery is beautiful, and the music and sound
design are also apt and impressive.
At first thought, it seems that kids might not care for The
Dust Factory because it’s such an unusual movie. However,
children are oftentimes better at appreciating life’s oddities
and challenges than many adults are, and we should perhaps be
careful about projecting our rigid definitions onto the younger
The Dust Factory bends time and space, and for this
reason it lands itself in a betwixt and between place of moviemaking.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and some scary images.
Reviewer’s Note: There’s nothing offensive in the
film, but it will strike most adults as very, very odd.
More movie reviews
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Copyright 2005 by EthicsDaily.com.
Used with permission.
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