Three Eras is a goofy indie from Mark and Jay Meyers, who wrote and directed the film with what seems to be a small army of contributing writers and associate producers. The film follows a triptych of tales about evolving forms of justice through the lens of botched real-estate transactions. “The Era of the Cave Man,” “The Era of the Old West” and “The Modern Era (aka The Present Era of Speed, Need and Greed)” intercut for most of the running time before each reaching different types of bleak conclusions. Connecting them is a framing device: Death (or God?) narrates the lessons we should learn from the past, the less-distant past and the horrible now. Everything in Three Eras is low-budget but carried by the energy of a project where everyone involved had fun even if the resulting film doesn’t quite work.
In the “Cave Man” segment, Buster (Jay Meyers) has trouble selling an expensive cave and finds himself in conflict with another caveman. In the “Old West” segment, a teacher tries to make a real-estate deal to give himself a leg up in society. During our “Modern Era,” a group of heinously wealthy young men spend money and live freely, coasting to the top despite treating others with utter indifference. The way in which the stories cut together feels fairly slapdash, with a few notable exceptions where they seem to feed off one another. The ending of the film lets them play out a little bit more and is stronger for it. I’m not sure whether allowing each movie a little more room to breathe would’ve worked because the team clearly filmed what it could from each story and nothing more. In fact, there is even a scene missing from the “Old West” segment described via placeholder text. Three Eras is that low-budget.
So it’s hard to fault the filmmakers when portions of the film don’t quite succeed. The audio mix in particular is deeply distracting. The voice used for Death / God, for instance, is meant to be booming but frequently carries an echo that renders it difficult to understand. At times, the score by Christian Carpenter Fields drowns out dialogue, particularly toward the end. Makeup effects are functional but not exactly immersive. This is an ambitious amateur effort, and the level of commitment involved is impressive, but watching the movie feels more like sitting through a group of friends having the time of their lives making something rather than experiencing something they made.
Governance “is the changing axis on which the world evolves,” claims the narrator. As a theme so frequently stated, the idea of actual governance is not particularly well explored in the stories shown here. Each boils down, in part, to “self-governance” and then even that broad idea is pared down to a singular emphasis on death as an equalizer: “The greatest governance is the knowledge of death … the only thing that is just is that no matter the life, there is a death, and there’s no escaping it.” I appreciate what they were trying even if it does not end up feeling substantial. My main takeaway from Three Eras is that it looked like a blast to film and create. There’s something to be said for that.