Human Echoes Rundown: The Best Offer

Geoffrey Rush in the secret portrait room.The Best Offer is a story about the truth. Not truth in the logical sense, but rather in the artistic. It asks “What is the difference between a forgery and an original? Is is possible to create something beautiful, even a forgery, without leaving a piece of yourself in the the work?”

Virgil Oldman is a man who knows something about what is real and what is fake in the world of art. He’s the manager of an auction house, known and respected for his immense knowledge of art history and his skill at determining the veracity of a work. But for all of his knowledge of art, people confound him. He’s brusque in his dealings with his clients and he has no friends to speak of save one man, Billy Whistler, his accomplice in the theft of a great many works of art.

Virgil does not steal for monetary gain; he’s already incredibly well-to-do. Rather he’s obsessed with the art itself. He meditates for hours in a secret room full of paintings of women, framed visions of beauty that demand nothing from him.

But his life becomes complicated when a strange woman named Claire calls him to make a valuation of the antiques and works of art in her family’s ancestral home. At first Oldman despises Clair; she cancels several meetings with him, coming up with ever more outlandish excuses each time. But as he takes on the job Oldman realizes that there is something more to this woman than he first realized and he is gradually drawn into a relationship unlike any he has experienced before.

Clair in the hidden room.Much like a very different movie, Ex Machina, The Best Offer revolves around a man falling love with a woman in a box, partly because she is in a box. And much like Ex Machina, it pivots on the truth that the woman in the box is not all she seems, and on the question of how much of her is real and how much is illusion and fakery.

The Best Offer is a masterful accomplishment, a work of art as true and meaningful as any of those that appear on screen. Geoffrey Rush plays Oldman with a perfect humanity, giving the cantankerous character a soul while not sugar-coating his bitter affect or dulling his prickly personality. The beautiful score haunts the film like a ghost, never making its presence obvious, but always bolstering the stunning visuals on screen and the inner image of Oldman himself.

The Best Offer asks questions without giving the answers. How deep does beauty go? What is the difference between an original and a copy, between a feeling and a performance? Can we tell a lie without the truth infecting it somehow? And all of this leads to the ultimate question, the question with a thousand incomplete answers: what is art?

The power of The Best Offer is in how it makes you think, about what is genuine in art, in life, and in love.

Albert lives in Florida where the humidity has driven him halfway to madness, and his children have finished the job. He is the author of The Mulch Pile and A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw.

To hear more of our thoughts on The Best Offer check out Episode 178 of the Human Echoes Podcast.

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