In the movie Zeroville, based on the 2007 novel of the same name by Steve Erickson, and directed by James Franco, a newcomer gets off the bus in Hollywood hoping to work in the movies.
James Franco (The Disaster Artist) stars as Ike Jerome, a.k.a. “Vikar,” a runaway seminarian who abandons his
faith after being awestruck by a very different message delivered in blinding light — a screening of 1951’s A Place in the Sun. It’s the first motion picture has ever seen, and the emotional power of director George Stevens’ classic film has imprinted itself on him in both literal and figurative ways.
His shaven head now bears a tattoo of an intimate scene between stars Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Cliff, and he is on a quest to find a place for himself in the art form that can open people up to such intense feelings.
The Hollywood Vikar encounters in 1969 is on the cusp of a creative explosion, with the decadent old studio system in decline and a group of daring young filmmakers seizing control. Vikar first finds work in set construction, then discovers another way to help build movies when he is befriended by Dotty Langer (Jacki Weaver), a wise and kind-hearted film editor who takes him into her care and teaches him the skills of cutting together a story. He also befriends the barbaric screenwriter nicknamed Viking Man (Seth Rogen), a gregarious, gunslinging raconteur with apocalyptic appetites who introduces him to other real-life — and larger-than-life — filmmakers emerging at the dawn of this rebellious era in Hollywood history.
He discovers darkness on the margins of the illuminated screen, and vicious things live there. One of them is crass production executive Mitch Rondell, who successfully enlists Vikar’s help in salvaging one of his studio’s troubled productions only to meddle in his efforts to create something truly visionary. As Vikar becomes immersed in the project, he obsesses over Megan Fox’s Soledad Paladin, an actress cynically cast for her sexual allure who meets a quick, gruesome end in the film. Vikar sees hidden depth in her work and hopes to craft something more meaningful out of her enigmatic performance.
As he tries to save her character on screen, he also attempts to do the same in real life, befriending and protecting a woman who has so often been exploited and discarded. He also forges a bond with her teenage daughter, Zazi (Joey King,) an innocent like Vikar who has witnessed the destructive side of the film industry firsthand but is only beginning to discover the power of movies to bring people together.
In this odyssey through the Hollywood dreamscape, Vikar encounters critics, creators, killers, thieves, parasites, and mystics in a story that walks the balance between the absurd and heartbreaking, the skeptical and romantic, and the real and unreal. The former holy man may not know if eternal life exists, but being immortalized on film is as close as anyone can get.