One of the most oddly constructed films likely to come along this year, Dummy Jim tells the story of James Duthie, a deaf-mute man who in 1951 cycled alone from his humble Scottish fishing village to the Arctic circle, becoming a legendary figure for the people of his town as a result.
The film is a mix of fact and fiction (or rather, reenactment), swirling together fictionalized footage of an actor (Samuel Dore) portraying James along some of his cycling journey to that of a school play rehearsal where the children act out James’ book I Cycled into the Article, from which this eclectic film is inspired.
Director Matt Hulse makes striking use of images and sounds such as a window-pane like montage of visuals representing James’ memories or wishes (maybe both) which transition segments of the film, surprisingly slick animation, traditional doc-style footage and often assaultive sounds to try and capture a sense of simultaneous awe and emotional relatability. Sounds are heightened almost as if to represent what James thinks it’s like for everyone else or perhaps what he would want his own world to be like.
The accompanying visual flourishes – such as dialogue and song lyrics appearing on the screen in hand-written form whenever said/sung – give the film a unique, singular effect that makes it more than just a typical inspirational story. It’s almost Herzogian at times, though it never gets close to reaching that level of impact.
Unfortunately while visually and aurally interesting to experience, there’s a peculiar lack of emotion in Dummy Jim. Its heart is most definitely in the right place, and you can definitely feel the passion and hard work that went into the project, but the commitment to this often bombastic approach leaves the viewer feeling cold. It’s therefore a film to be admired for its boldness and goodness of intention than it is to be enjoyed, as the style quickly becomes repetitive and emotionally distancing.