Insignificance (1985): Nicolas Roeg’s Ambitious, Frustrating Satire, Starring Theresa Russell (as Marilyn Monroe), Tony Curtis, Gary Busey

Directed by Nicolas Roeg, and produced by Jeremy Thomas and Alexander Stuart, Insignificance is a bold satire, which aims higher than it can ever deliver of fulfill expectations–judging by the ultimate results.

Set in 1954, this claustrophobic film unfolds within the confines of a hotel room in New York City. While original, Insignificance tries so hard to be significant that it comes across as artsy, conceptual, and pretentious.

Adapted by Terry Johnson from his play of the same name, the tale centers, or rather tries to deconstruct, four iconic characters of American pop culture of that era, referred to by their occupation or field of enterprise: The Actress (Marilyn Monroe), the Senator (Joseph McCarthy), The Ballplayer (Joe DiMaggio), and The Professor (Albert Einstein).

Some casting choices are better than others. The story begins with the blond Theresa Russell, miscast as a sex-goddess actress (Monroe) working on a scene over a subway grate, with her white dress billowing out in the updraft.

A famous Professor from Princeton with white hair opens his door to the actress, who takes out a few props and goes through her rendition of the theory of relativity.

Enter the ballplayer who is the actress’ husband (Gary Busey as Dimaggio), purporting to love and even admire, but lacking true understanding of his wife’s troubled personality and dark inner demons.

Thrown into the mix is the right-wing senator from Wisconsin (Tony Curtis, miscast as McCarthy), who investigates  the professor for the House on Unamerican Activities the.

Using four famous but unnamed individuals to symbolize a crucial era in American politics and culture, Insignificance aims to explore the nature of  anxiety 9both personal and collective) and alienation (both self and from others).

The movie never really succeeds in illustrating the impact of witch-hunting on the four central institutions, Hollywood industry, sports, politics, and science, or the uniquely American interface among them.

In relying too heavily on the four chief performances, it’s hard not to notice that at least two of them (by Russell and Curtis) are severely flawed.

World premiering at the 1985 Cannes Film Fest (in competition), the film was dismissed by most critics and was a commercial flop upon theatrical release.

Running time: 110 Minutes.