The Revolution Beneath Our Feet
Published on September 2nd, 2011 | by Halim Cillov0
“Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles” opens September 2
Showing at IFC Center
Running Time: 85 Minutes. Unrated.
Everyday we trudge on over the ugly pavements of the metropolis without noticing anything below us, as our eyes are longingly locked on the limitless sky above us. These concrete roads of the city hold no gripping mysteries or illuminating revelations for us. They are mundane, dirty, maybe appalling, and definitely the opposite of exciting; they are just a means of transportation for us. However, for some iconoclastic souls that were pushed to the underground, these very same pavements can hold the long-sought keys to self-expression and unrestrained freedom. “Resurrect Dead” is the touching and spooky true story of one of the most intriguing modern urban mysteries of our time: a series of tiles featuring a cryptic message that is embedded in pavements all over America and one ordinary man’s years long, relentless investigation to demystify this enigma.
In 1994, Justin Duerr is an artist/musician living in Philadelphia, working as a foot courier. Spending most of his waking hours on the pavements, he starts to notice colorful tiles all over the city with an obscure message written on them: “Toynbee Idea/ In Kubrick’s 2001 / Resurrect Dead / On Planet Jupiter.” Right away, he takes up a new hobby, photographing these tiles and recording their locations. In good time, through the internet, Duerr discovers that these so-called Toynbee tiles are not appearing only in Philadelphia, but they are all over North America and South America, in metropolitan cities like Boston, New York, Baltimore, Buenos Aires and even Santiago. For years, Duerr passionately continues his investigation of the tiles and their possible meaning as a side-project. Until one day in 2000, he misses the infamous tiler by minutes when he discovers a freshly made tile right outside of the convenience store that he got in less than five minutes ago. That chance encounter confirms his belief that it’s one man responsible for these tiles and with the right resources it would be possible to solve this surreal mystery.
Duerr’s borderline obsession with the Tiles brings him into the company of two other Toynbee Tiles aficionados: Steve Weinik and Colin Smith. As this eccentric trio band together to solve what they believe is the biggest urban mystery of the contemporary world, they find clues that are even more bizarre than the mystery itself; some key clues of this braintwister are: Stanley Kubrick’s trippy classic “2001: A Space Odyssey,” an article written by the historian Arnold J. Toynbee, a Jupiter colonization organization, a gonzo message from a TV news hijacker, and a David Mamet play titled “4 am.” What follows is one of the most unique and engaging documentaries about a revolutionary mystery that has been silently sitting right beneath our feet for many years. Besides all of these, this is also a heart-felt documentary about Justin Duerr, a loner and a struggling artist who dedicated his life to the mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. Undoubtedly, the most touching and thought-provoking parts of this documentary are the parts where we witness the uncanny similarities between the infamous Tiler and Justin Duerr; both are gifted, introverted, artistic people who were severely bullied by their surroundings that forced them to choose a life away from the so-called society. Justin is not only our guide to the Toynbee Tiles Mystery, but he is also the key to succinctly understanding the psyche of the anonymous Tiler and the revolution he wanted to create with his tiles.
In the end, we don’t get clear-cut answers to all of the mysteries of the Toynbee Tiles. However, we still get a solid interpretation of what the cryptic message of the Toynbee Tiles means and how the tiles were spread over the world. Still, there are enough questions left out about the Toynbee Tiles that are going to occupy the mystery junkies for many years to come. All and all, this is a brilliant documentary with a topic and execution like no other. The director Jon Foy masterfully mixes found-footage, animation, interviews and some film-like detective work to craft a deep work of art that has a soul. It is simply impossible not to be inspired and touched by this documentary about the persistence and the fragility of the human soul, and not wonder what kind of other mysteries might be embedded in our mundane everyday surroundings that we fail to see. The real reference behind the movie’s title, “Resurrect Dead,” might be residing in the realm of science-fiction, but the message of the movie is an universal one: this is a wake-up call for us, the zombies of the world’s metropolises. It’s time to stop antagonizing our outsiders and pay kind attention to our surroundings, only then we can truly ‘resurrect dead.’