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June 17, 2014

Movie Review: Circle the Wagen (2014)

Directed by Ryan Steven Green

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Dave Torstenson is a cheerful, optimistic and admitted “ne’er do well” who suddenly plots a nifty social experiment. Buying a broken down, rusted 1972 Volkswagen bus off the Internet auction site eBay for less than $800, he pledges to take the vehicle – dubbed “The Croc” on Route 66 road trip all the way to California. In the meantime, he will meet up with a merry band of Volkswagen enthusiasts who will help him make his voyage. Enlisting the help of his longtime slacker friend Charlie Pecoraro, Torstenson will have his exploits filmed as part of a documentary intended to show the resilience of the human spirit.

As expected, “the Croc” breaks down repeatedly on the road, Charlie and Dave have to rely on the kindness of strangers, both try to remain smiling in the face of adversity, the damn VW bus breaks down again and again and again – finally, they find a kind soul in Tucumcari, New Mexico to stow the bus for a while – and Dave leaves his friends, support group and fellow VW fans in the lurch as he undertakes a worldwide globe-trotting trip – over the NEXT FOUR YEARS! All sympathy for our protagonist flying out the window, Torstenson DOES return to New Mexico do get the VW bus up and running again – but by this point, few will care.

Circle the Wagen is a happy, upbeat little project that ultimately sinks due to the irresponsibility of Torstenson. At one time in our nation’s past a popular slogan went “Don’t Trust Anyone over the Age of 30,” when in fact, a truer proclamation would have been “Don’t Trust Anyone UNDER the age of 30!” Youth is not only wasted on the young, the young in turn largely waste everyone else’s time as a result. While the documentary – which utilizes stop-motion animation and other eye candy tricks to keep the project motoring along, there’s no getting around the fact that Torstenson is a world class flake. The world is full of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed idealists who begin fun projects who then leave innocent bystanders footing the bill. It’s amazing that a motel owner lets the young men park the shabby, rusting bus, freshly decorated with a hippie mural on his property. Any lesser being would have pushed the rusting hulk off a cliff after a year, let alone four years!

Circle the Wagen does also point out a certain fetishized commodity among men and their cars. A VW bus is supposed to represent youthful freedom and tooling down the open road. As the documentary ably points out, an old, rusting hulk remains an old, rusting hulk – be it a sports car, sedan or station wagon. There are lots of men, young and old, who dare not part with their high school heaps as they symbolize their useful idealism. The rationale behind this line of thinking is “If I scrap my Chevy van that hasn’t run in 20 years, will all my youthful dreams die with it?” No, it will not.

To its credit, Circle the Wagen does highlight that many projects that Torstenson has begun rarely bear fruit. This, in this reviewer’s opinion, reveals a certain psychological weakness. “If I finish this – WHAT THEN?”

No surprise, Torstenson DOES resurrect the VW bus and gets it to California – where, it is revealed in the ending credits, is repurposed for something else entirely – but overall Circle the Wagen glorifies flakiness. Above all else, the film calls to mind a certain Internet meme that’s been making the rounds as of late. “If your dreams come true – will you stop dreaming?”

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