'Quantum Cowboys

"Quantum Cowboys," a new take on the Western and subatomic particle physics, mixes animation styles throughout.

“Filmed in 16mm film, 8K digital, Hand Drawn Animation, Paper Cut-Outs, Oil Paintings, Digital Collage, CGI and Computer Painting.”

There it is. That’s the list of ways light and memory were captured in this weird, sometimes vexing but never not-entertaining movie. The brainchild of a former physics researcher at the Naval Research Lab, "Quantum Cowboys" feels like a bit of quantum foam captured on film. Which is exactly what Geoff Marslett wanted to do.

You can sketch out the plot of the film, but that would be taking away all the fun of watching it with friends or family or maybe your literature professor from that class you sometimes fell asleep in during college (you remember the one: there was that weird European movie they screened in class that made your dreams all wonky) and then attempt to break it down and put it back together.

This is a movie predicated on the human ability to change time, to break time, but also the inability to create an objective historical record of what has happened. So how can you actually remember anything? Marslett’s answer to that is given to you in the first minutes of “Quantum Cowboys,” and the answer (drumroll, please) is art.

And that’s why he put Montana’s own Lily Gladstone and her acting chops into eight different styles of animation and live action. Gladstone, also an executive producer of "Quantum Cowboys," has a wonderful gravitas that shines during the movie’s Beckettian moments.

All of the actors do their job of carrying on through their enforced strangeness. It can’t help but be odd to act and then realize that instead of being touched up with CGI or lighting or maybe some Vaseline on the camera lens that you’re going to be transformed into an oil painting, collage or digital cut between the twain. Much of it reads more like a play, which then in turn is another reflection on the art-making process and the act of make-believe, too.

That’s not to say the animation isn’t stellar! It is. The constant switching is worth the effort, especially in a movie about timelines and time travel and the destruction of universes like bubbles on the ocean surf. But there is something more elemental about the acting that caught my eye, and that again is the fact that there’s the awareness of the act of creating going on the entire time.

There is also an omniscient (or close enough to it) narrator with a ginger cat who is watching over everything. And a crew of modern filmmakers following the main characters around in Arizona in 1876. Like I said before, it gets weird. But again, worth it. While I watched this movie solo, it’s a perfect group watch where you can bat theories about what’s going on, what’s real and maybe even have a realization about how memory becomes a piece of art, too.