Archive for the close analysis Category

Mister Lonely: Or why Harmony Korine is a cut above his contemporaries, ala Asia Argento, Chloe Sevigny, Michael Pitt and Gus Van Sant, although its important to note that since starting this article Van Sant made Milk, which is probably his finest picture, although he did try to remake Psycho, which cancels out anything good he will ever achieve.

Posted in close analysis with tags , on March 9, 2009 by babydylan


It is easy to question the intent behind art films if the filmmakers involved are young – I am not saying it is right, I am just saying it is easy – because if they are then we are quick to assume that they are just being pretentious. Harmony Korine is only 32, yet it has been said by Bernado Bertolucci that “he has created a revolution in the language of cinema” and when he saw Gummo (Korine’s first film) for the first time, Werner Herzog said that Korine has a “very clear voice in a generation of filmmakers that are taking a new position”. Yet when I asked a lady in JB if she had Mister Lonely on DVD, she told me that she “hated” Harmony Korine, I asked her why, and she didn’t answer, she just said again that she “hated” him (perhaps she is jealous of the respect he has at such a young age, that is an easy thing to give into, my respect for Michael Pitt is a combination of both love, and jealously at how effortlessly cool he is for someone whose 27…it is mostly love though).

Korine’s artistry as a filmmaker has been a gradual process, from having been a screenwriter for other filmmakers, to directing his own, fairly unconventional debut feature, to directing a vivid and compelling second feature that suited its subject matter, to creating a third film that is poignant, symbolic, and arresting, whilst being genuinely entertaining. It is not just me who thinks this (although I’m sure I love it more than others). It was greeted with applause at the Melbourne International Film Festival, and one IMDb user described it as being similar “to the time Dylan went electric”. Love it or hate it, it remains compelling.

Sometimes I’ll see a David Lynch film, and I’ll be thinking after it, and I’ll be thinking and thinking and thinking and then I’ll wonder, is there a meaning in this film? Am I looking for something that isn’t there? Does David Lynch have his tongue planted firmly in check, and are some people to afraid to admit that they think his pictures are pointless and overrated ala The Emperor’s New Clothes (he has said that he understands his films, but I have heard also that he writes each page of dialogue the day he shoots it). It was great to see that people in a class I had last year were not afraid to admit their contempt for Lost Highway, but that’s just one class, and that’s just one of his films. Despite not liking his work, I do find that his pictures have that element that keeps the audience transfixed, that makes them leave the cinema discussing his work, an element similar to a Mister Lonely (Obviously the lady in JB disagrees with me).

As mentioned before his filmmaking has been a gradual process. Kids (which Korine wrote) takes place over one day in New York City where Jennie (Chloe Sevigny) is trying to find Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), so as he can be told that she has contracted AIDS from him. Gummo concerns strange, offbeat characters living and working in the town of Xenia, Ohio, a place that never fully recovered after being completely destroyed by a tornado. Julien Donkey-Boy – visually, Korine’s most original and arresting film – concerns the schizophrenic Julien and his relationships with his war obsessed, abusive father, his wrestling obsessed brother, and his pregnant (possibly with Julien‘s child) sister.

Mister Lonely is the latest in a series of films that have all had a preoccupation with identity, despite how differently they have all explored this idea. His previous work has portrayed various levels of deranged characters living and acting in a sad environment, Korine has never took a moral standpoint on their actions, nor has he question their motives. It could be said therefore that he has made – perhaps unintentionally – a subtle comment on the influence of our surroundings on our identity. Mister Lonely does not make the same kind of literal comment, rather it asks a deeper question about ourselves and who we are by including characters who lack any identity, and who have latched onto another persona.

Shortly after the film begins a quiet, soft-spoken voice asks the audience if we know what its like to truly dislike ourselves, and to wish that we were another person. We are shown scenes of Nuns, living and working in a secluded Mission. Some are walking, some are playing sport, some are smoking, and one is baptising a newly born baby. A Michael Jackson impersonator – who narrated the start of the film – wonders the streets of Paris, busking and performing for the public (who we suspect think ‘Michael’ is a real busker). He meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator whilst performing at a nursing home. They chat and he learns about a Castle in Scotland, or a commune, which is occupied only by other impersonators, who help work the land together and perform for each other. Marilyn lives there, as well as her husband Charlie Chaplin, their daughter Shirley Temple, and an assortment of friends including James Dean, Madonna, The Pope, The Queen, The Three Stooges, Abraham Lincoln and Sammy Davis Jr: In short, some of the most iconic entertainers and historical figures ever. Marilyn begs for Michael to go to the Castle with her (“We need a Michael, we don’t have a Michael”), shortly thereafter he agrees to go.

Once Michael is at the Castle it becomes apparent to the audience just how ‘completely’ the characters embody the celebrities they are impersonating. They introduce themselves as that person – “Hi, I’m Shirley Temple. Hi, I’m Sammy Davis Jr, etc”, and they always wear the costume, or some form of it, that is synonymous with the character, i.e. James Dean always wears the red jacket and white t-shirt combo, Madonna always wears that weird pointy bra.

As the film progresses it becomes apparent that the impersonators are not as happy as Marilyn had made them appear to Michael, despite how perfectly they embody the celebrity they are impersonating. We can assume that Michael’s monologue at the beginning of the film is applicable to all the impersonators, therefore their efforts to become another person stems from both a dislike for themselves, and a desire to be someone else. By highlighting Marilyn and Charlie’s unhappy marriage, and by gradually increasing the friction between all the characters – especially as they gather together to rehearse their final show – Korine suggests that issues are commonplace, despite whether you are being yourself or someone else. This is highlighted by the three main celebrities all having being embroiled in their own real life disasters. Charlie Chaplin – along with William Randolph Hearst, the inspiration for Citizen Kane – was involved in a murder upon a yacht (it was portrayed in the excellent Peter Bogdanovich film, The Cat’s Meow). Marilyn Monroe was found dead after an overdose of sleeping tablets (rumoured by some to have been orchestrated by the CIA because of her affair with JFK), and Michael Jackson……say no more.

Cut in with this main storyline is a subplot involving the nuns at the beginning of the film, who are working in a mission overseen by an eccentric erratic priest, played by the equally eccentric, erratic filmmaker Werner Herzog. While flying across a secluded village – the nuns are throwing the villagers bags of grain – the aircraft does a sharp turn and one of the nuns falls from the plane. Whilst falling through the air, her voice is heard praying, asking that God save her from death. She falls to the ground, yet stands up and walks away, completely unharmed. The mission has become witness to some genuine real life miracles. After this happens for the first time, the nuns begin to take advantage of the ‘miracles’ by repeatedly jumping out of the aeroplane because their faith in God will guarantee them a safe landing each time. Juxtaposed next to the impersonators foolish attempts to leave their old selves behind, is the real, genuine intervention of God on the lives of those who have devoted themselves to him. Their faith in God is as passionate as the Michael’s efforts to be Michael, and Marilyn’s efforts to be Marilyn.

As well as the points mentioned before, the picture is also suggesting that we are only ever familiar with the surface of the person – despite how well we think we know them – much like image of the celebrities in Mister Lonely (Recently I read a speech made by Abraham Lincoln that was so much more racist and dogmatic than anyone would expect from him. I was shocked). Marilyn – and all the characters – has occupied only the body of one of the most famous actresses ever, not the mind, and her mind remains a mystery until the harrowing finale when she commits suicide. After this happens, Michael leaves the Castle and returns to Paris, where he day dreams a conversation between him and the deceased Marilyn. He asks why she left, to which she responds that she didn’t leave, she succeeded at being an impersonator. This could mean that her suicide was an attempt to completely become Marilyn (who some believe committed suicide), it could be that she thought that suicide was the final step in being an impersonator (because they were completely leaving behind their real selves) or finally, she may have felt melancholy because her personal problems had not escaped her, despite her efforts to be someone else. The choice of title would support this, although the conversation between her and Michael would imply otherwise. Is she in denial? The ideas explored in the picture would suggest so.

The film ends with Michael no longer being Michael, the same character wonders the streets of Paris once more, this time without make-up and in casual dress, looking and commenting on the banality of being normal. Of being like the hooligans who are surrounding Michael in the final frames, those who work, go home, and on the weekends, ply themselves with alcohol and run around like crazy singing the French National Anthem with the vague hope of getting laid being permanently fixed in the back of their minds (this is not just a weekend thing). Michael is angry and frustrated at the thought of being normal (he wants us to be angry to) and when he ‘gives up’ it is as though he is resigning himself to an unhappy life, a boring life. While at the Castle, the impersonators pet sheep fell ill and died. Sheep graze together, and ‘sheep’ is a term used to describe those who band together and follow one another. To Michael the thought of dying is as threatening as the thought of being a ‘sheep’, of being like those who surround him in the final scenes. Whoever these people are they are happier than Michael has ever been.

The final, harrowing frames of the picture shows the flaming wreckage of a plane that the nuns and the priest have used to fly to another country, a plane which has crashed and killed all on board. The nuns lie dead on a beach, a startling image to accompany Michael’s final speech on normality. Have the nuns payed the ultimate price for taking advantage of the generosity of God? The film concerns those who are hoping for a miracle, and those who have seen miracles. The deaths can only be a statement on the value of human life and the need for both the audience and the impersonators to appreciate it.  


The films of Todd Solondz – Part One

Posted in close analysis with tags , , on December 2, 2008 by babydylan

New Hollywood, the period defined by cutting edge cinema filled with character driven storylines lasted from the late sixties to late seventies, just under a decade, was chronicled in Peter Biskund’s critically acclaimed Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, a text which delved exclusively into the films, and their filmmakers of that pivotal era. Down and Dirty Pictures, a text which Peter Biskund wrote soon after, dealt with the modern equivalent of New Hollywood, the last American New Wave, which was a period of low budget, controversial, bizarre, poignant, cutting edge films filled with memorable characters – films similar to the New Hollywood pictures – that were made from the late eighties to mid nineties. Filmmakers involved in this period would include John Sayles, with City Of Hope, Passion Fish and Lone Star, Kevin Smith with Clerks, Todd Haynes with Superstar and Poison, Jim Jarmusch with Down By Law, Night on Earth and Mystery Train, and Quentin Tarantino with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Of all these filmmakers, Solondz stood apart as being “the real deal”. Not only was he a genuine eccentric – he dislikes interviews and having his photo taken – but his 1996 feature Welcome to the Dollhouse was incredibly dark. It had no optimism or any sense of hope, it didn’t feature any characters who were likable, it didn’t end with any possibility of a happy ending, and the main character, the protagonist who carried the film, was inherently dislikeable. She brings many of the situations on herself. Despite all this, the film works more as a comedy than it does a drama, and like any comedy, the audience is subconsciously interested in the fate of protagonist. This is not because she has formed a connection with the audience, but rather because Solondz’s writing is filled with humanity and unpredictability. We cannot help but be interested in what is going to happen next.  This unpredictability would subsequently be a trademark of all Solondz’s work.


Recently a patron at work asked me to describe the Coen brothers’ latest film, Burn After Reading. I described it as being a black comedy, something which they hadn’t heard of. I told them that a black comedy was a film full of moments which you find funny, but which you quickly regret having laughed at. In saying that, black comedy is also used too easily to describe pictures that cannot be described, pictures that aren’t full of those ‘I shouldn’t find that as funny as I do’ moments. His films are indescribable because they fall between two categories, the Suburban Gothic – films that offer a supposedly ‘honest’ and ‘shocking’ portrayal of human lives, ie. American Beauty, Blue Velvet – and films which deliberately overplay the banality of Surburbia, ie. The Stepford Wives, The Truman Show, The Chumbscrubber, Donnie Darko, for comedic effect. As well as occupying the middle ground between two sub-genres, his films are hard to watch because they perfectly capture Solondz’s unique vision as a director, something which the audience cannot see in any other film. They are scathing, razor sharp indictments of the “everyman’s” attempts at normality. They are sad comedies, in which the audience is not laughing at the expense of the characters. They are their own genre.


I have see Welcome to the Dollhouse so many times that I cannot remember my initial reaction, however on first viewing, Peter Biskund remarked that the picture expressed an “uncompromising…personal version” with a protagonist who was “eminently un-likable”, whilst Geoff Andrew wrote it was an “honest, effective, and disturbing” look at the “anguish, cruelty, and loneliness of puberty”. All of Solondz’s films are pictures you have to watch more than once. For first time viewers, Welcome to the Dollhouse would seem to have failed as an “expose”, because the darkness of the subject matter is overdone. Yet on second viewing it becomes obvious that the darkness of the story is deliberately overt, because his films are mocking both the “unflinching” and “honest” films, and the teen comedies which include mundane teen problems, ie. dating, bullies etc. Solondz includes normal happy scenes so as the banality of Suburbia is understood, stressing the darkness of the characters and their world. This runs beneath the supposedly happy images, with Solondz mocking the characters fruitless attempts at normality.


Children of Men – Our Dark Future

Posted in close analysis with tags , , , on November 30, 2008 by babydylan

Children of Men is one of Eugene and Alex’s favourite films. Together they have watched it many times and conversation always seems to stem back to this film is one way or another. It even inspired the name of this blog. Eugene had a few thoughts which wouldn’t leave him alone and thus he had to get it out. Alex, while editing, managed to slip in a couple of her points as well. This piece will probably be only one of many but for now, here are some of the ideas Children of Men inspires…

Even now, after having scene this film for the umpteenth time I can still watch any scene of Children of Men over and over again. You could take any scene within the film and still find that each segment has its own almost hypnotic effect. Its so real its almost therapeutic, seeing a glimpse of a future that is free from flying cars, space ships and robot minions yet is instead occupied with people struggling for normality in view of their hopeless situation. It is apparent from the opening scene, of our protagonist Theo Faron forcing his way through a crowd of stunned café patrons over the death of the youngest boy in the world, that the world the characters inhabit is bleak and visibly crumbling. Theo’s blatant lack of compassion at Baby Diego’s death is at once jarring and expository as the other patrons are so overwrought with grief they cannot continue with their daily routine, yet Theo continues unperturbed getting his daily coffee, black and bitter.

Every scene within the film is orchestrated to portray the corrupt world that is common in Noir storylines yet this film, set in 2027, takes place in a damaged future that mirrors our own yet with subtle differences. Every time I describe the picture to someone – to those poor souls who have been unfortunate enough to not have seen it – I’ll tell them that it’s the most plausible vision of the future I have ever seen in a film. In fact, the verisimilitude of this film is so plausible that I more at home in Theo’s world than in those of other more recent portrayals of past events such as Australia or Brideshead Revisited, films that are based on documented and factual events unlike the wholey fictional world of Children of Men. It has no alien babies or anything else typically science fictiony. At best it’ll have full length moving adds adorning the side of a bus, yet these subtle science fiction elements anchor you to the world instead of being there purely for flashy money-shots. Heavily clad guards patrol every setting, filling the screen with their menacing battle gear, ready to deal out capital punishment in the most mundane settings. Like black clad funeral directors at the end of the world wake. They are an ever unsettling presence as are the numerous modes of transport that seem wildly out of place in the centre of London, including a cyclo that can be seen in the opening scene, police on horseback and cars from another time. Wild animals can be seen in open spaces, illegal immigrants are consistently presented as being a threat to Mother England, the only intact sanctuary left from hate. A hatred that is constantly trying to infest the apparently ‘safe’ Britian forcing, or perhaps excusing, excessive brutality.

Theo and Kee flee with a certain baby called Dylan

Theo and Kee flee with a certain baby called Dylan

And of course there are no children, an element which we know about from the opening scene and is undoubtedly the crux of the film, yet it is curious that we accept this anomaly almost immediately buying into the constructed world and fully formed characters wholeheartedly.

“Strange isn’t it, what happens to a world without children’s voices”

Like any good film, the audience is quick to fall into the rabbit hole, such as is true with Children of Men. However the absence of children annoyingly takes its toll in an almost imperceptible way, making the world a grimmer and meaner place for it. Theo – the films broken moral compass – is accepting of this horror and it isn’t until he is forced to realise what can be gained from his engagement in life that he is jolted from his apathy. In turn the audience come to the realisation that Theo’s world, full of unflinching violence and death, yet a desperate love of life, is not so dissimilar to our own.

The films power lies partly in the fact that the future is given no back-story, in that the current bout of infertility and the third world state of every other country except Britain is not explained. Similarly, Theo’s back-story and motivations are never fleshed out. The only story of Theo’s past we receive is second hand through ex-wives or close friends, anecdotal evidence recalled in a moment of conversation or emotion. The audience, being curious to find out about Theo’s past at the commencement of the film, find the facts when they eventually come, to be insignificant being completely invested in the world of the film.

The film works on different levels because there are plot threads planted at every stage, threads which grab us on different viewings. On one level, we might be stunned by the films technical achievements, on another we might be interested in the films subtle critiquing of the current war in Iraq. Sometimes we can draw parallels between the treatment of the films fugees, and our own treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and at other times, we can be surprised by the films multilayered references to the infertility that is plaguing their world – is it because of pollution, is it God’s wrath, is it natural selection? Theories are raised but never answered allowing the audience to form their own opinions and hypothesis. And even another viewing, we might become interested solely in the character of Theo, his back-story, his embittered personality, and his fate. Such is the detail that has been given to every element of the picture.

Originally I wanted to describe the world as being amoral, yet that would imply that the people within it are corrupt because they want to be. In this world desperation is second nature, the suicide drug Quietus, which is manufactured and as easily available as any headache tablet is marketed as being a quick solution to everyone’s problems. In fact it is even doled out in weekly rations, a ‘suave’ way to meet the end of the world. The problem of course being an overwhelming unhappiness that permeates everything, to the extent that the people are no longer free thinking. Coupled with the distant protagonist, the world is similar to the settings of early film noir, a style of film I have only just come to really know. Jules Dassin’s Night and the City – one of the key film noirs – went to great lengths to portray a corrupt cityscape populated by greedy characters all wanting to gain their fix and the sense of having made it. Similarly Children of Men has the corrupt city, but characters all united by the one common foe, unhappiness and desperation.

The Wackness

Posted in close analysis, Reviews with tags , , , on November 17, 2008 by babydylan

Recently Alex and Eugene saw The Wackness at Nova. Alex really liked it. Eugene didn’t so much. They both went away and tried to write their thoughts on the picture. Here is what they came up with.

The Wackness: A Review – by Eugene Ford.

Personally I find the early nineties to have been the best time for both music and film, with Nirvana, Sonic Youth, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols all being amongst my favourite bands, whilst pictures such as Heavy, Poison, Kids, Clerks, Welcome to the Dollhouse and of course, Pulp Fiction can all be praised for their original, hard and cutting edge vision. The Wackness, a feature from writer/director Jonathan Levine, won the audience award at this years Sundance Film Festival, which is due somewhat to its perfect capture of a New York in the early nineteen nineties, a period characterised by flannel, ‘lost youth’, Rudolph Giuliani and the ‘weird‘ music and films mentioned before.

Seventeen year old Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), is a hip-hop obsessed white kid, dealing weed out of his ‘ice-cream’ cart to an assortment of clients, including the hugely underrated Jane Adams, a surprisingly good Mary-Kate Olsen and Luke’s shrink Dr Squires (Ben Kingsley) who is payed for his sessions with pot. When Luke begins a relationship with Stephanie (Juno’s Olivia Thirlby) another client who happens to be Dr Squires step daughter, Dr Squires moves past his doctor/patient relationship to begin a friendship with Luke.

The film is hard to characterise because it uneasily blends the drama and the comedy. The relationship with Stephanie, who seems both genuine and insincere, is handled in a way that is honest and real. They begin a friendship that is natural and spontaneous, they go to her parents beach house for some fun in the sun, he tells her he loves her, and they arrive home and break up soon after, a chain of events that is significant for some young people. This dramatic part of the story is done well.

Yet it’s blended in with the relationship between Luke and Dr Squires, an element that is meant to be both funny and poignant. They get drunk together, they try and pick up, they graffiti a wall, they get arrested, they take drugs, and then one feigns suicide whilst the other tries to talk him out of it. In the midst of this are ‘jokes’ which are there to lighten the mood, although they work better at stopping the film being what it should and could have been, an honest, unflinching, and effective look at a depressed adult and teen.

Whenever I watch a film from the makers of ‘adult comedy’, i.e. Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and so on, I’m always struck by really good ideas and themes that are lurking just below the surface of the picture, because the ‘jokes‘ are dominating the film. Similarly I think this is what annoys me most about The Wackness, although it has taken me awhile to realise it. It tries to work as both a comedy and a drama, films which do this successfully would include Fargo and No Country for Old Men (in fact anything by the Coens). The really funny elements of the early 90’s are lost because the picture wasn’t a complete comedy, whilst the dramatic elements of the same era are lost because it wasn’t a complete drama.

That is not to say that the film isn’t good on other levels. It’s certainly original, if not purely for the story line alone, the performances are great, especially Ben Kingsley as Dr. Squires, and I love how the relationship between Luke and Stephanie is not ‘cut and dried’ and typically romantic. Yet the film is burdened with being set in a pre-nine eleven New York, an element that – in my mind – overshadowed the whole film, and guaranteed any of the jokes to be followed with my uneasy laughter.

I got mad love for you shorty. That’s on the real.

I got mad love for you shorty. That’s on the real.

The Wackness: a close analysis – by Alex Lagerwey.

New York is arguably the worlds most photographed and documented city, yet filmmaker Jonathan Levine chose not to flood the screen with typical aerial views of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, etc. in his 2008 film ‘The Wackness’. Instead we see it from the ground up; its inhabitants pound the streets speaking of it like a hard-boiled film noir anti-hero. “The city is a lonely place.” – a line that could sound clichéd if it wasn’t so obviously true for the three lead characters, especially the wise-beyond-her-years character Stephanie played by Olivia Thirlby whose popularity and sexual proficiency belie a deep-seeded loneliness and an inability to communicate. The city, we are told, is going through many changes, a fickle mistress who is looking to reform. Ben Kingsley’s pot smoking and jaded psychiatrist Dr. Squires laments this change, longing for the cities heady days of his youth. Yet these days appear to be a fictional nostalgia, his adolescence spent as a confirmed nerd. Thus he sees the films lead Luke Shapiro as his invitation to the missed and oft heard of party. However the roles have changed. Luke makes his living peddling dope out of an ice cream cart, a cover so laughably thin one wonders just how hard Mayor Giuliani – an icon where all hatred is directed – is trying to clean up the city. He wryly labels himself “the most popular of the unpopular” with weed being so common, the ability to deal it has no special status attached. He has been relegated to loser and forever thinks of himself as such. It takes the advice of his unhinged self-medicating psychiatrist and best client to force Luke into action.

“You don’t need medication, you just need to get laid.” Squires delivers with the tone of the world-weary bequeathing a hard-learned truth to an incredulous younger generation. It is a slogan perhaps many within the synthetic drug happy world of 1994 can live by.

The film also evokes a certain nostalgia. Although the world of 1994 seems minutes ago, it is apparent we have changed irreversibly. Luke’s slavish devotion to hip-hop is telling of a scene about to boom right out of its box, still on the cusp of popularity, the phenomenon of rap not saturating the airwaves and televisions until several years later.

The city, like its characters, are in a transitional phase, waiting for something unexpected yet inevitable. Luke waits for his last summer of adolescence until he pushes off to college, Stephanie looking for a distraction before she too decides what to become and perhaps the most potent change of all is Dr. Squires, discovering his marriage is a shambles and his career as a psychiatrist pointless and unfulfilling. As he sits pretending to crush his diplomas with his hands, it is his life personified, his training and hard earned certificates crumbling in on themselves to reveal a shell of a man who uses drug, legal and otherwise, as a crutch.

Being only six years old during the summer of 1994 and having never been to the city of New York, I feel somewhat unqualified to talk about the overall tone of the film and its accurate representation of a city in the midst of a change from old to new, nor is my love of nineties hip-hop profoundly insightful. Nevertheless my enjoyment of the film wasn’t diminished by this lack of understanding and I felt welcomed into this snapshot in time, being able to wholly relate to Luke’s outsider status, wry observations and a general hopelessness in defining what he wants to be. The subtle shift from comedy to tragedy suited my sensibilities with the climax of the film being an attempted suicide by Dr. Squires and an impassioned plea for life by one yet to live his. Luke’s half sobbed-monologue, struggling in the open sea to save his mentor as the picture is sapped of any colour and warmth, the waves a dull grey slapping against his chest, pulling him back to the sand, is genuinely touching. However, as the film looks like it might be heading in a more serious direction, Squires is sloppily reborn from the sea stating matter-of-factly to Luke, “That was really fucking corny what you said.” The fact that Dr. Squires attempts to kill himself three different ways and fails spectacularly each time is perhaps the message the film wishes to leave the audience with, sometimes it’s right to do the wrong thing.

Rosemary’s Baby – Rosemary’s World

Posted in close analysis with tags , , on November 17, 2008 by babydylan

After seeing the film for the first time my initial reaction was to watch it all over again to better understand just how ‘absolute’ Rosemary’s naivety, and The Castavet’s immorality really was. I thought it was remarkable that two couples, who were just on polar opposites of the spectrum, could meet in the one place, and that the ‘good’ couple would eventually have their ‘goodness’ overridden by the ‘bad’ couple and their ‘badness’. Because of this, it would have to be understood how different their two different worlds were, hence Polanski must have stressed the rigidity of their two different worlds at various points in the film. The Bramford is after all, the scene of a showdown between good and evil, hence the good and evil sides must be understood.

Rosemary and Guy’s marriage is completely self-contained, meaning that they are oblivious in the beginning of the film to what is happening around them. In the opening scenes, Rosemary and Guy laugh at the African American usher who is ‘dusted’ by the caretaker, as though a piece of furniture, and a handyman glares at Guy when he thinks he is being ‘checked out’. These attitudes are a stark contrast to what eventually happens in the same building. If you wanted to read this much into it, you could say that The Bramford is Dante’s vision of Hell. One level contains small acts of racism. Another contains full blown devil worship. As I said though, it’s only if you wanted to read this much into it…..

As the film progresses, it becomes apparent just how subservient Rosemary is to Guy. She spends the day cleaning and outfitting their house, and when he arrives home from work, she automatically greats him with a sandwich and a drink (was this normal in the 60’s? I don’t know….I wasn’t alive then). It is her suggestion that they make love when in the new house, and the mechanical way in which he turns off the light and takes off his clothes suggests a lack of intimacy or affection between them, again a contrast to the previous scene. As the film progresses he begins to mistreat her, and is increasingly cruel – a contrast to the beginning scenes – and when he apologises to her later, she welcomes it, as though unable to be honest with him. Near the end of the film, when the camera cuts briefly to her bookshelf, we can see that her collection is comprised of ‘Self-help’ books about being a better wife, and how to better understand your husband, further emphasising her idealised view of married life. As she begins to learn the truth about her neighbours and friends, she becomes increasingly hysterical and frantic, as though only just comprehending what is happening. Guy’s behaviour, and the ease with which he makes the pact with The Castevets, suggests he has a history of being self-involved. Rosemary is naturally trusting and she instinctively puts Guy and others first, as highlighted by scenes of her welcoming her neighbours (even when she is wanting private time). She is completely shut off from reality, innocent and naïve and seemingly impervious to reality. Depressingly, this makes her an easy target. As Rosemary begins to slowly realise the truth, the ‘rigidity’ of the evil is gradually shown. This is accentuated by the final scene, when Rosemary’s maternal instincts begin to emerge. The camera draws back from the window, away from the Bramford, and across town, a juxtaposition to the opening credits (which had the camera pan across the city to rest on the apartment, as though ‘introducing‘ us to the Bramford, and the worlds within it). I love how the audience can be shown in one shot a horrible truth, and then Polanski can pull the camera away from the window, to have it pan across the city on such an idyllic day. This makes the evil so much scarier! It demonstrates to the audience that evil can exist in such a mundane setting lurking within potential domestic bliss. Bob Evans remarks that this is a horror film without horror, and he is right to an extent. It doesn’t have any of the token wam-bam editing that is the prerequisite for the latest batch of horror and torture porn films. Instead it has a much more nuanced approach using the subtly of the camera work and the acting choices to play on the audiences innate fears.

Rosemary’s Baby – The Perfect Horror.

Posted in close analysis with tags , , on November 17, 2008 by babydylan

A lecturer at uni once told me that – according to screenwriting ‘guru’ Robert McKee – the difference between a horror and a thriller was that a ‘horror’ film has to have an element of the supernatural, whilst a thriller always deals with a human threat. At risk of contradicting McKee and his apparent success it is obvious that this statement is not entirely true. Some of the iconic horror films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Psycho, and to a lesser extent, The Hills Have Eyes, Friday the 13th (this is debatable due to that scary-as-a-mother-bitch moment when Jason jumps out of the water) and Last House on the Left, include murderers that are human. However other iconic horrors, such as The Exorcist, The Woman in Black, Carrie, and A Nightmare on Elm Street deal only with the supernatural. The better horror films are ones that can successfully combine threats, the human and the supernatural. The Shining is amazing because Kubrick combines the evil at The Overlook Hotel (something we aren’t ever sure is real until the end of the film) with the fear of isolation and the threat of betrayal by a family member (something which would unnerve even the most hard of audience).

Similarly, Rosemary’s Baby takes betrayal and a corrupt view of relationships (an idea auteur filmmaker Polanski is fastidiously obsessed with) and crosses it with the threat of evil. Perhaps I’m biased because I’ve had a Christian upbringing, but the threat of evil is so much more real and scary than the threat of a knife wielding maniac (I’m looking at you Scream and Saw, you mean nothing to me!). Polanski stated that his approach to directing is to put multiple layers within a film, meaning that one person may find one element more sad, scary, or funny than another because of a preoccupation they already have. “We see far less than we think we see because of past impressions we already stored in our minds” (Polanski 270). Hence evil is scarier to those who believe in its power.

Eugenes wet dream

Eugene's wet dream

Producer Robert Evans lured Polanski to America under the false pretext of directing Downhill Racer (a romantic comedy skiing film!) yet almost straight away Evans presented Polanski with a copy of the novel Rosemary’s Baby, because Evans knew that Polanski’s sensibilities would gravitate to such a unique story, such as it had with everyone else. After agreeing to direct the picture however, Polanski was adamant that he write the screenplay, so he could change the threat of evil, something which had been real and all knowing in the original novel, into something that could be a manifestation of Rosemary’s imagination. As he puts it, he wanted “a thread of deliberate ambiguity to run through the film.”

This was a stroke of genius. To some, the most frightening part of Rosemary’s Baby is when the audience begins to suspect that Rosemary has been betrayed by her husband and her new ‘friends’. To others, it is when they first hear the séance in the next apartment, and when she is impregnated in the dream sequence. Personally, I find the latter to be the scariest thing ever to be committed to screen, in the history of cinema. Ever.