Thursday, 9 March 2006

It's got to dry up soon

The run of great movies in local cinemas, I mean. Can't remember the last time, outside of festival season, such a diverse bunch of mainstream movies of similarly solid quality were released so close together instead of spaced out at miserly intervals.

I spent the earlier part of the evening braving the local Legionnaire's Disease-infested multiplex in order to see A History of Violence, which is terrific - even better than I expected. What is it, though, with parents who bring two children under six to a film with a name like that, rated MA, featuring thirteen extremely violent deaths? Disturbing.

A History of Violence reminded me of Cache: they both involve a glibly successful bourgeois family which is torn to bits by the delayed backblast from a piece of past brutality, one that was not so much repressed as swallowed whole by willed amnesia. And in both movies I felt myself suddenly disoriented, more than once, by the feeling that I'd been imperceptibly drawn into reading events in a completely wrong register: am I watching a global-political allegory, or a claustrophobic family drama? Both movies are impossible to pin down to either mode; A History of Violence uses that instability to establish a continuum between domestic and national terror, suspicion, and revenge (something also attempted by Munich but with far less success.)

This is a David Cronenberg movie and thus the force that pummels the amnesiac nuclear family into full schizoid consciousness is not plain vanilla violence, ie men shooting and garrotting and knifing each other in the ordinary way, but sex/violence : the pair of random, terroristic murderers who initiate the torrent of killings have an obscurely sexual intimacy with each other, and whatever it is they are about to demand from the protagonist, it's clearly not money. Think Deliverance, think Death Wish. The high school bully employs the body language of a rapist. Brothers embrace and kiss and lean their foreheads tenderly together, five minutes later one shoots the other in the left temple. At the core of the movie is a mercilessly brutal coupling between the protagonist & his wife, who's just realised her husband is an impostor & their lives together have been founded on exactly nothing: it seemed to be an event that abruptly levelled the smoking ruins; it replaced the memory of an earlier sexual encounter, tenderly and genuinely erotic, but in retrospect so psychologically disconnected as to be unreal, masturbatory. It's not the dramatic high point of the film (feels wrong to say 'climax') but it seemed like the most important moment, to me. After it, the protagonist goes away, and ties up some loose ends pertaining to his murky past. When he returns to the family home, it feels like they should now be able to go on with their lives, only better, because they're free now of the illusions they laboured under before. That feeling fades really quickly. Without those illusions there's nothing, just four people sitting frozen around a dinner table.


It feels strange to say you had a good time at a film where people are always getting shot in the face, but enjoy it I did. Aside from the interest of the story, there is the consummate skill of the performances, camera work, and the score. There's also a very nice subliminal hum of byplay going on back & forth between this film and Psycho, which I have some embryonic ideas about, I don't fully grasp its purpose yet, but it certainly contributed to my pleasure in this movie.

10 comments:

ThirdCat said...

the dry season is coming - school holidays will soon be here, and then those of us who want to introduce our quite young children to the joy of the pictures will be able to choose between over-sentimental schmaltz (something starring winnie the pooh); a movie that begins with the violent death of a mother or father (nemo, lion king etc etc); or something with no sensible plot that does nothing more than scare the pants off any sensible child (chicken little)

elsewhere said...

Oh, I'm glad it's just a fad. I was seriously thinking after my jaunt to Adelaide that I must move to a big city again so I don't miss out on all these good movies.

LadyCracker said...

Being an movie biz insider and I can tell you why Feb and March are such good movie times. OSCARS. Even if the film isn't nominated it gets a run as rubbing shoulders with Oscar buzz films is good for business.

Ampersand Duck said...

I'm sure some people think that kids under 6 have no awareness of the world around them.

fnltf. They'll learn.

ThirdCat said...

erm...whoops...left off the last sentence of my comment which was kind of the whole point of the comment and made the comment relevant to your post.

please add 'but all infinitely preferable to this movie'. It sounds like a very strange movie to take children to.

Jellyfish said...

Erk, thridcat, don't remind me. I forsee two weeks of holidays spent watching that fucking Shaggy Dog film or something with Dakota Fanning.

I liked the film too, LucyT. I am not a fan of Cronenberg. I still have nightmares about 'Crash ' - that's some wrongtown sex RIGHT THERE, people - and I generally don't like the studied artificiality of his films. However, this one was definitely interesting and although not exactly my 'bag, baby,' I have thought about it a lot since I saw it.

I enjoyed the William Hurt scene a lot. I also enjoyed Viggo a lot, particularly Viggo's tight t-shirt, Viggo's cute short hair, Viggo's madass fighting skills (*garottes*) and Viggo splashing around at the lake's edge in the quasi-baptismal scene.

Viggo was good, also. Did I say that already?

I couldn't help thinking, during the ole soixante-neuf scene - how do they do that without, you know, DOING THAT?

I think I've sufficiantly lowered the tone, my work here is done.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Great post -- and obviously a movie not to miss.

(Apart from anything else, it has Viggo in it, as jellyfish points out once or twice.)

Lucy Tartan said...

Elsewhere, soon enough all these movies will be downloadable for a few bucks with a fast enough connection. And Oscars notwithstanding, the movies this year are much, much, much better than the usual awards season crop - it's not worth the trouble of moving to another town, by the time you got settled I'm sure we'd be back to the usual crud. Thirdcat, it's ok, I understood that was your point, and you're quite right. It is something I'm seeing a lot lately - very young kids at utterly inappropriate movies like this or King Kong or Jarhead. I had nightmares from Doctor Who so god knows what a David Cronenberg flick does to a kid's head.

Yes, it's quite true that Viggo Mortensen is in this movie, he's also in 28 Days..... He's very good here. William Hurt is not one of my favourite actors but he was great also.

What exactly is the DOING THAT of which Mlle Jelly speaks? At first I thought you meant the perennial movie mystery "how do they have sex without taking off their pants" (anyone seen Match Point?) but on reflection I think you might be alluding to issues raised by the uncontainable hotness of the viral-perversion movie.....

Kate said...

Viggo you say? But he sounds like a morally ambiguous character and I'm not sure I can handle that.
*has little daydream about Aragorn and his sword*
Nontheless, I'll give it a go.

(What about Match Point? Yea or nay? Should I spend my $14 now or wait for the DVD?)

I haven't had time to go and see all the good movies that have come out lately. It really is happy days for film buffs.

Jellyfish said...

I meant, there wasn't a whole lot of clothing being worn when they were, uh, vigorously going down on each other (she in the cheerleader uniform, nice). And they were, as I said, rather vigorous. I just always wonder, how the bejeezus do you make that... professional?

Nobody's needs to answer. I just wondered. ;)