#ThrowbackThursday review: ‘Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles’ (2011)

The captiviating — even intoxicating — aspect of “Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles” is the utter mystery of it all. As three intrepid investigators delve into the puzzle of the Toynbee tiles, they discover secrets and conspiracy theories around every corner.

And though the quarry eventually reeks of paranoia and prejudice, it’s the thrill of the hunt — Just who created these tiles? — that keeps “Resurrect Dead” compelling.

“Resurrect Dead” was selected for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary category, where Director Jon Foy won the category’s Directing Award. Foy follows the trail of three men on the trail of the creator of the Toynbee tiles: 130 or so tiles emblazoned with puzzling messages and implanted in asphalt on streets from Buenos Aires to Kansas City, Kan.

All the tiles bear the same message:
TOYNBEE IDEA
IN Kubrick’s 2001
RESURRECT DEAD
ON PLANET JUPITER.

The tiles, in their peculiar font, refer to the historian Arnold J. Toynbee and his theories of molecular regeneration as a means of bringing back the dead, mentioned in the Stanley Kubrick film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

The men — Justin Duerr, Steve Weinik and Colin Smith — obsessively sift through the few clues they possess to understand the message and the tiler. The tiles, often with sidebars dripping with anti-Semetic, anti-government or anti-media language, lead to more clues, which the group works to decipher.

Their studies take them to a Jupiter-colonization group, a David Mamet play and a shortwave radio convention, with Foy’s dark score and able editing enhancing the experience.

Foy, who bankrolled the movie as a house cleaner, came across Duerr in 2000, and decided he wanted to create a documentary regarding the tiles, though it took until 2005 before he began working on the project.

“Resurrect Dead,” though, was well worth the wait. With its sci-fi aura, numerous comedic moments, comic-like graphics and reenacted scenes, you are continuously drawn into the subject matter. Foy, a first-time director, shines in his debut.

Even when the film reaches its conclusion — you’ll need to watch it to find out if they solve the mystery — you can’t help but want to further investigate the tiles yourself. And that’s the stamp of a great documentary.

Four tiled stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.

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Justin Duerr is shown in a scene from “Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles.” (Photo credit: Focus World)

Justin Duerr is shown in a scene from “Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles.” (Photo credit: Focus World)

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