A version of this review was originally written for, and published at the Reel Spirituality blog for their Sundance 2014 coverage.
The Lock Charmer is set in Buenos Aires, Argentina during a period of time when the city was covered in smoke (this actually happened). In the movie the smoke is so thick and oppressive that it reduces people to shells of themselves, only able to concentrate on eating and sleeping. Trying to find his way in this haze is Sebastian, a locksmith, whose sort-of-kind-of girlfriend, Monica tells him she is pregnant at the beginning of the movie. Monica is uncertain of who the father is, and uncertain about whether she wants to keep the child or not.
In his spare time Sebastian cuts down and tunes lock-plates to make music boxes. Most of his energy is put into recreating a large music box he found, but can’t afford, in an antique shop. The old music box is rusted and out of tune. Sebastian’s re-creation plays in tune, but some of the notes don’t ring true and the tune is muddled. His attempt to get his music box to play clearly parallels his attempt to achieve clarity in his life.
Sebastian’s life is marked with uncertainty; he doesn’t know why his father left when he was a child, he is unsure of whether or not Monica’s child is his, unsure of their relationship, and unsure of how they should proceed.
Though he cannot see his own life with clarity, Sebastian is given a gift (or maybe a curse) to see the lives of others clearly. When he unlock’s a customer’s door he sees, and speaks, hidden secrets about their lives. Unable to control this gift, Sebastian initially sees this as a curse, and is assaulted by one of his locksmith customers as a result of his prophetic words.
Eventually he uses his prophetic gift to gain clarity about his own life and learns that Monica’s child is his, and that his father left because he was unable to think of anyone else’s needs. As the smoke lifts from the city Sebastian and Monica reconcile their relationship and admit their love for each other. As the film ends we hear the tune of Sebastian’s music box playing clearly for the first time.
The Lock Charmer suggests that though the world may often seem to lack meaning, meaning can be found, or created, as we share life with the people we love. Certain notes on Sebastian’s music box are dulled, and the tune incomplete until he lets Monica into his life. The tune on his music box shows us the way Sebastian, through his relationship with Monica, is able, not only to find meaning in a meaningless world, but also to see the beauty that life has to offer.