Characteristically, the road movie is a catharsis played out on the big screen. Mounting frustrations of quotidian, pedestrian existences crescendo into a need to break away from all that is familiar. At the same time, the road movie is a contradiction as characters escape the familiar by utilizing the uber-familiar and search for the unknown by means of the known: the sprawling infrastructure that is the capillary-like interstate system of freeways, highways, thruways, dirt roads, streets, and beaten paths.

Set in the American West, Welcome to Nowhere (Bullet Hole Road) is the fractured, disjointed narrative of five strangers intermingling and interloping in a handful of hotel rooms, bars and rest stops. True to its genre, Welcome to Nowhere (Bullet Hole Road) contains some of the classic tropes: violence, sex, frustration, emasculation, and revelation. But as an experiment unto itself, this film deconstructs the familiar, focusing on the both the stagnancy of its characters and the futility of the drive into the American Dream.

Director and writer William Cusick and co-writer Kenneth Collins depart from exposition-driven dialog, instead preferring to imagine this desolate landscape of intertwining fantasies and frustrations primarily via the visual and aural. The score is powerful, and, from the very beginning, reminiscent of Deliverance’s “Dueling Banjos” with an eerier (if possible) synthetic feel. The dialog that exists is sparse and unnecessary, something that should be seen as a testament to the storyteller’s ability to depict a complicated metacommentary in a medium that often elides subtle symbols in favor of pseudo-pithy dialog. Truthfully, the inclusion of some philosophical tidbits like “there’s always someone else who won’t let us forget our own flesh,” are clever, but feel more like crash handles for the audience to grasp in case they’ve found themselves sliding off the winding asphalt highway of metaphors.

While a tribute to the iconoclasm of visual storytelling, the sporadic dialog also limns the overarching theme of isolation. As a note, “dialog” is a bit inaccurate; rather, each line is a monologue delivered for the air into which it is spoken. Two characters exist on screen, but like a post-modern Of Mice and Men, each line simply fills space, providing each character with the illusion of purpose. Take for example the poet’s conversation with the hitchhiker in a bar as he recalls a nameless girl he knew who tried to kill herself but failed on account of her ignorance about birdshot. The story itself is an allegory for invisible pain (depression, etc.) contained in an ostensibly secure boundary (the body) without the benefit of an outlet (failed suicide), but the profundity of this exchange is that it fails to connect the men or perpetuate a conversation. The audience should understand the importance of the tale, but the hitchhiker (Brian Greer) doesn’t seem to, and I’m not so sure the poet (Nick Bixby) does either. He seems to be confounded and fascinated, but dazedly befuddled. Both men remain nameless in a bar – as does the story’s victim — staring toward the audience, but simultaneously keeping us at a distance, much like the men in proximity to one another.

Such isolation is also embodied by the waitress who is visually and physically separated from her customers by the pastel diner counter. The gas station prostitute props herself against the wall farthest away and most obscured from the road, her body more akin to an emotionless blowup doll than a woman: the perfunctory throes of passion are merely a means to divulge various parcels of personal information that are devalued and met with payment for services rendered. The crack head (Tina Balthazar) exists in a vacillatingly manic and somnambulant state, sleeping when her hook up is awake, jittery and smoking when he’s asleep. Like the poet and the hitchhiker, the supporting cast of three doesn’t move on screen. They gesticulate a bit, but they hardly walk from A to B. The sense of stagnation writhing within renders them immobile.

In part, this leads to a commentary on futility. Each passage of time is marked by an action – some required, others habit — and each is accompanied by a sense of worthlessness. The diner waitress passes most of her day waiting for customers, but the most active moments are when she sets out identical quartets of salt, pepper, sugar, and ketchup in mechanical accuracy conjuring images of the bolt-tightening Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times. As similarly separated from her customers as the poet is from the hitchhiker, our waitress is a widget set to keep the passengers on America’s highway moving. The hooker serves a similar purpose as she lethargically slides along the rest stop’s siding into the bathroom door frame before dropping to her knees and providing her John with the illusion of physical connection. Both the hitchhiker and the poet are running to or from something, but their journeys along the highway go nowhere – literally and figuratively. The setting hardly changes; the bars look similar; and the motel rooms are pretty interchangeable. As each man drives, his mobility figuratively ceases. Dull eyes stare straight ahead with the occasional glimpse at a side mirror. Hands steady the wheel but hardly grip. The landscape through the rear window retreats as quickly as the upcoming road reflected at the base of the windshield. This is one of the more visually stunning scenes in the movie inasmuch as our driver is trapped in the center, simultaneously caught in the divergence of past and future, setting him in the crux of a veritable fork in the road, unable to go forward or back but always trying to maintain place as if running a dozen consecutive marathons on a treadmill.

The hotel rooms provide respite from the road, but are reminiscent (intentional or not) to Hitchcock’s Psycho, and, on a more sociological level, its look at the illusion of permanence. Each room is set up like a home: ready-made facades replete with dressers and closets, but these are never filled. To fill would be to reside, and hotels are venues of transience and temporality, stocked with various events, trysts, and moments, all whitewashed by clean sheets and a spritz of lemon-scented Lysol that create a feeling of comfort on a discomforting journey. This feeling of permanence in a temporal space fits nicely together with the irony of the title. Welcome to Nowhere (Bullet Hole Road) simultaneously invites the audience to a location, but one that it asserts does not exist, thus fostering a concurrent sense of awareness and agoraphobia.

Amidst the futility and the stagnancy of each character, Lacan’s notion that “it is the world of words that creates the world of things” echoes throughout Welcome to Nowhere (Bullet Hole Road) and the exploration of boundaries constructed by the self and the familiarity of labels and characterizations that we allow to be affixed. The most basic example of this is the hooker’s tale of a squirrel she calls “bunny” because he lost his tail. The missing tale creates the image, but the squirrel’s actions as a bunny result from its verbal designation as another animal. A more subtle conflict within the hooker is her function as prostitute and her apparent desire to be a lover, but her endearing stories and sweet demeanor fail to deter men from ending the conversation by dropping money on the dresser. Regardless of how she speaks or acts, she is a hooker. The same trap has been set for the waitress, the uniformed cog set to take orders like a clown’s mouth with a heartbeat, or the poet whose written assertion “I am a man” is descripted as we meet him but stubbornly reappears a bit later.

Within this construction of boundaries, the most notable inclusion is the yellow highway-dividing line. Simultaneously, this line is a symbol of safety and danger. Like the labels with which we are often prescribed, the line is a contradiction. It both serves to separate oncoming forces and prevent them from colliding and evokes the feeling of death and inevitable destruction. This is where our hitchhiker resides, perpetually living in the center, wishing for something new and hinting at his urge to die, but playing it safe by existing in the neutral, waiting for someone to defy the invisible barrier, hoping for someone else’s courage to break the rules.

Until then, there’s nowhere but the familiar.