When Kodak ceased production of the process to develop its classic Kodachrome film, there was a sense of loss that was experienced by generations of photographers. It wasn't just the end of a film emulsion but an end to a particular way of seeing and capturing the world. It was a way made famous by countless magazine photographers, especially those photographing for National Geographic magazine.
Though many films have come and gone, few were seen as a cultural lynchpin. And no other film had or has been immortalized in the social consciousness as Kodachrome was in the popular song written and performed by Simon and Garfunkel. The death of Kodachrome was as much an end of a part of Americana as it was the end of a product's life.
Kodachrome directed by Mark Rosa uses the final days of the film to tell the story of a world-famous photographer (Ed Harris) who is dying from cancer and his estranged relationship with his son ( Jason Sudeikis). Sudeikis is convinced to join Harris and his nurse (Elizabeth Olsen) to travel to a Dwayne's Photo Service in Parsons, Kansas where the last rolls of Kodachrome were processed both in the film and in reality. Harris's photographer has several exposed film rolls that he wants to be processed before he dies. He also sees it as an opportunity to possibly reconcile with a son he hasn't spoken to in a decade.
The movie's narrative is built on a lot of familiar tropes that border on cliche: the road trip, a character dying of cancer and estranged familial relationship. And while there are moments that evoke the feeling of having seen these things before, it is Ed Harris's performance that elevates it far beyond the familiarity of its initial set-up. Harris brings to his role a nuanced exploration of a man who has left behind countless damaged relationships in the wake of his pursuit of art and legacy. While he was able to capture the beauty of the world through his camera, he succeeded in only creating heartbreak and resentment in his personal life. As idealized as he is as the legendary photographer, the man does not possess the qualities that most would consider admirable. Yet, Harris manages to create a character that you understand and empathize with despite his numerous faults
Sudeikis and Olsen are able to hold on their own while on the screen, but it is their moments with Harris that truly bring the film to life.
It is ironic that a movie that takes its narrative spark from the end of a revered film emulsion and that was itself shot on Kodak motion picture film is being shown not in a movie theater but is being streamed over Netflix. Nevertheless, the movie demonstrates that despite how things change, there are certain things in life that are immutable and precious.