2011: David Fincher’s “Dragon Tattoo”
I was having an hour-long conversation with a critic who will choose to name himself if he wants to. I choose for his anonymity because my few disagreements with some of his arguments will make me look like the kind of douche who uses the internet to talk back. I have to write about the movie we talked about weeks after I saw it, I guess. Meant no harm.
Our conversation got to his dislike of rape revenges, leading to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He dislikes the book – yay! – Oplev’s adaptation – hated that too! – and Fincher’s version. Wait, what? That movie is gunning for a place in my list top movies of 2011! People who apparently watch this polished turd – my words – wouldn’t be caught dead in an equally schlock-y Saw series.
I agree that Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is a false and misguided conception of the left-wing’s more extreme version of himself, stemming from white male guilt that does more harm than good. Speaking of fetishizations it also relies on the concept that rich people makes Charles Manson’s childhood seem normal. I explained to him that as a fifth-generation nobody that the riches are more like the Kings in The Descendants with some of “Revenge’s” Amanda Clarke.
I’m a 90’s kid but that’s exactly the problem, lumping him with other movies I outgrew. Most of what governs my taste as a film viewer is my re-education when I was in college, shoving away the shock violent quirk of 90’s American indie movies. Fincher always has ‘something missing’ anyway. Se7en is elegant yet chooses one form of elitism over another. Fight Club is boy stuff. Zodiac and The Social Network seem cold. TSN specifically feels like a missed opportunity as Sorkin’s one liners feel stunted through an emotionally distant lens. Ben Button is fine.
I was sceptical of Dragon Tattoo because of the bad reviews Alien 3 and Panic Room and if you add TSN‘s yucky gender politics I’d even conclude that Fincher doesn’t know women. But Dragon Tattoo pumped my adrenaline from the opening credits and as the movie continues, I exclaimed yeah! he’s back to form and these people are hitting each other! But why do I like that he’s back to form now even though I stopped liking his form for half a decade now? And why am I responding to this movie that’s supposedly more vulgar than his earlier work?
It’s the mood, isn’t it? Jeff Cornenweth’s cinematography of the snow and the cozy interiors. Lisbeth’s techno-gothic iFetish. Techno-gothic also applies to the howls escaping Martin Vanger’s (Stellan Skarsgard) Frank Lloyd Wright-esque house built on top of a ‘laundry room’ on top of a priest’s house. I can almost hear Trent Reznor pressing down harder on his keyboard. A push and pull from the aesthetic making the subject simmer down.
The performances are also great, Fincher fleshing out scenes while screenwriter Steve Zaillian economizing the characters’ words. Mara is indisputably great under Fincher’s direction, screaming during the right times and deadpan in others. She can be as sexual aggressor as she is a victim, telling her elder cohort investigator/boyfriend Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig) to keep his hand under her shirt, coldly demanding affection like Garbo in Ninotchka. The ending also feels relaxed, Martin’s words ‘immigrant whore’ a slightly suitable alternative to the elongated caricature of the book and Oplev’s movie.
This refining of schlock reminds me of Miss Bala, a festival favourite, Oscar-shortlisted version of a drug cartel movie. Same thing with how my family would turn their nose up on jeep gangster movies while Brilliante Mendoza’s Kinatay, gets recognized as the gritty film-making for which Filipino film gets recognized. But whole ‘nother parameters, making me wonder what kind of room cinema has for the needlessly sadistic.
The second part of this conversation is bat shit, which is why I ask you if I should post it.
Performances I learned about
What I actually found in common with the ‘best’ performances I’ve seen in movies since my earlier, iffier list in July is that these actors who play their characters as either scary or scared. I thought that was gonna make my list repetitive but it’s a pretty general conflict within a character anyway. Also, as much I loved a few performances released this year, this list mainly focus on my self-education (Although I didn’t major nor specialize, I took film classes in college, I’m not one of those) about films from the beginning of ever (but really 1947) up to the past year, for which I make a space to include an FYC or two for performances this year. again, I also wanna be a contrarian and ‘instructive’ – the more obscure and diverse a performance is, the better.
Stellan Skarsgard, Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier, 1996)
The film complements Emily Watson’s well-praised debut performance as Bess McNeil with Skarsgard, who makes the pest performance of a ‘crippld’ man since Jimmy Stewart. He finds the balance of sincerity and good intention despite the manipulative nature of what he says, and this the centre of the misogyny that other bloggers have accused von Trier about in this film. Thing is, he airs his requests to Bess with neither overt meanness nor longing. His disability is also reflected before and after it literally sets him in the film’s plot. Let me explain. Skarsgard’s performance makes his character, Jan Nyman, very jaded and justly so. He treats the Bess’ Calvinist enclave with disgust but as an outsider, is aware that he cannot change it, letting everyone else do the moralizing. He tries to give Bess the redemption he deserves and doesn’t oversell it, showing us his awareness of the reality of his loss.
Liv Ullman, Autumn Sonata (Ingmar Bergman, 1978)
It’s a hard task stealing the show from Ingrid Bergman, and we almost think it wouldn’t happen with the woman’s piano skills. Eventually this film becomes Ullman’s, playing Bergman’s daughter. I thought she was in her twenties when she took on this role, and her braids and glasses might have had something to do with that. But Ullmann in her forties captures the youthful vulnerability of someone well, half her age. A character who hasn’t learned how to be an adult because of her mother’s tampering and image of superiority. What follows is an unforgettable primal scream, revealing that anything a mother can do to love her child might be engendering the opposite message. The film ends with her trying to get her mother back, but in just as repetitive as she’s learned. Never had a peace-offering been so poisonous, as Ullmann carefully hides a rage that we can still see.
Ryan Reynolds, Buried (Rodrigo Cortes, 2010)
The success of this film has been partly attributed to Reynolds’ comic timing, which yes, adds a flexibility to the role in a horror/thriller film. Other critics have also talked about how he conveys Paul Conroy’s lack of intelligence, but lack of sunlight and mobility, I can assume, with take away 1 or 61 of anyone’s IQ points. However, he also exhibits a physicality, a difficult attribute to convey in a claustrophobic film.We follow his every little move, like trying to get a signal from a Blackberry set in Arabic or working flashlights. He also bring is the emotional heft the film needs, outstandingly connecting with the offscreen characters. And yes, I admit, a reason Reynolds is on this list is because he renders the best reading of the sentence ‘You stupid fucking cunt!’ in the history of cinema.
Any Ryan, Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, 2007)
Supporting actress schmupporting actress – Amy Ryan takes the reins in this movie. Ryan’s character is faced by many hurdles, the missing daughter who probably hasn’t been fed by her captors (really the latter is fine), the good cops and the bad cops who are convinced she’s involved in the crime despite her unbreakable shell. She’s also intelligent enough to add levels of moral judgment about her character, saying things that she believes is right but making the words clear enough to question her. She gets the ending she wants and becomes a scary form of human being impervious to change even in times of almost complete disaster. I try my best not to be one of those bloggers who have grievances when it comes to the choices the Academy makes, and who am I to judge Tilda Swinton’s performance that I’ve yet to see. Nonetheless, Team Amy.
Catherine Deneuve, Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)
Blankness hasn’t been this scary in a woman or in any character until this film arrived. We might also wanna thank Polanski in this aspect of her performance, but she looks capably fashionable even as she’s as we say mentally breaking through the seams. That and the raving beauty is humble enough to look plain in comparison the her sister (Yvonne Furneaux). Not only do we see the rabbit head inside her purse and the unkept conditions of her and her sister’s apartment after the latter’s vacation do the vacuous stares make sense. Her bravery’s also commendable as she takes on the dream rape scenes, as she approaches them not with tears but with defenselessness and startled reactions, conveying how her character struggles against her body. She portrays a young woman with grievances against societal pressures about her sister’s boyfriend and her own oblivious boyfriend, but sadly didn’t learn how to scream out.
Deborah Kerr, Black Narcissus (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1947)
I considered it a personal achievement to have finished watching the film the past year, since Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh puts heart in what could be a cold, detached and stern female protagonist in Black Narcissus. Powell and Pressburger are known for their magical Technicolor visuals in their films, but the most delightful image it has is watching Kerr light up when she reminisces, romanticizing the decaying past that she was happy and content with. There’s also a bit of pain in her eyes as the film transforms her from context a to b, with the knowledge that her life in the British Isles won’t be the same. She’s not, however, necessarily a helpless young female, as she considers herself a mother and leader to the other nuns in the Indian mission, specifically looking out for Sister Ruth, sincerely caring about hers and everyone else’s health. And she’s got a little sense of humour as well, brought on by Mr. Dean.
Tatsuya Nakadai, Kagemusha (Akira Kurosawa, 1980)
Hey look, another double role! But really the titular Kagemusha gets invaded by his alter ego, Shingen Takeda, the medieval Japanese war lord whose life is surprisingly more precarious than the lower class man who’s supposed to impersonate him. Nakadai evinces the haunted feeling of being followed by the ghost – only appearing once in a dream – of a supposedly great man, who’s also chagrined by the warlord’s son. He somehow convinces us of a closer connection between the two disparate characters, of the integrity that has to be preserved in the old ways that oppress Kagemusha. When the thief becomes the warlord, he doesn’t put a dumb show. He even shows warmth while bonding with the warlord’s grandson. The actor perfectly captures the composed, arrogant ways of a noble man and the dishevelled thief who he was in the film’s beginning and end.
Joan Allen, The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997)
Ang Lee’s more subtle than other directors who have made films about the suburbs. It is then a gift to have Joan Allen’s as Elena in his film to keep the trajectory from quietness to histrionics more interesting, like the different movements of mood within a real person within two days’ time. To a pastor, she talks about her daughter Wendy’s (Christina Ricci) freedom with such adult control. Her performance has many great moments, like the what-the-eff moment when she smells a different ‘aftershave’ from Elena’s husband Ben (Kevin Kline) as she tries hard to calm herself and the absolute fury as she throws her husband’s car keys to Allison Janney, vindictively including themselves to a ‘key party’ – look it up, kids. This movie reintroduced and made me love someone revered as ‘the greatest American actress after Meryl.’
Johnny Depp, Before Night Falls (Julian Schnabel, 2000)
When you start talking about a film, writing ‘Remember when Johnny Depp was still good?’ It’s totally ok to do that. Anyway, Depp, obviously a superstar by the early 90’s, in this film is given not one but two supporting roles as Bon Bon and Lieutenant Victor, and arguably Victor is two roles in itself, the compassionate stud of Reinaldo Arenas’ (Javier Bardem) fantasy and the homophobic oppressor in the film’s reality. The two bit parts are symbolic of the opinion of homosexuality in Cuba – either as a counter-revolutionary sore or an underground movement to be preserved. Depp uses subservience and camp, and embracing his characters as mirror images of the conflict within Arenas himself as well as the latter’s conflicts against authority. I also couldn’t recognize who Bon Bon was until I took a good look at her for 13 seconds, a feat in itself for an actor who’s in costume for more than half his career.
Christian Bale , Laurel Canyon (Lisa Cholodenko, 2002)
I’m probably the only monstrous human beings who see flaws within Christian Bale’s acting, the way he gets angry and yells like a hound and all. He does that here in this movie too, mind you. It’s refreshing nonetheless, that he spends 99% of the film being his most ordinary. That, however, doesn’t mean he’s not interesting as we watch him effortlessly confess his desires to make love to his coworker/extramarital love interest with sadness and other emotions and nuances I can’t put into words. He approaches lust and therefore sin with such gentleness and no violence, creating a character contemplating the sorrow of limitations. One of the film’s plots cover his character temporarily staying with his music producer of a mother (Frances McDormand) and her rocker boyfriend-of-the-year (Alessandro Nivola), giving us the impression that he’s always had to be the adult in whatever household he’s in, and it consistently shows.
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Micthell, 2010)
I’ve already talked about how Nicole Kidman as Becca Corbett does everything in this film except dance and stab. I also remember about her performance is that she could have brought down her character’s meanness, and in a way she does. What she offers is a defence mechanism and even a wry intelligence to the conventional ways of sorrow, and instead her Becca is looking for an alternative, learning how to suffer and cope on her own, allowing herself to feel other emotions to heal. Like when she goes back to Manhattan and try to get her job back at Sotheby’s, even if we just see her we sense how big she feels with the city and with the happiness she’s had and missed. Or allowing herself to be close to Jason Willette (Miles Teller), treating him so close like a son or nephew, letting us feel the waters she’s treading.
100: Breaking the Waves
Bess McNeill (Emily Watson) petitions to an all-male Christian council to be married to an outsider, Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgard). She tells them that the outsiders are good because of their music, her eyes telling the camera that she isn’t talking about music at all. It’s already been established that her community’s very patriarchal, that even in the beginning, a beloved member of a community and her family will be addressed with the words ‘Hold your tongue, woman.’ Or that women in her community are not allowed to discuss questions during church like men. Or that this society relegates women to waiting for their men for long periods of time as they go to work on the rigs. These first scenes already denote the film’s themes – a young woman’s blossoming sexuality clashing with patriarchal suffocation. In no way do these scenes prepare us for the film’s second half, putting Bess in an emotional roller coaster on earth previously unimaginable.
Women are forbidden to go to funerals. Antony Dod Mantle (not pictured, not that I know) will rise again to win an Oscar.
Bess has put a heart on November 26 on her calendar, marking Jan’s scheduled return. She lets out a childlike outburst when she finds out that her sister Dodo has ripped and hidden the calendar. She wrestles with God (Watson in a deeper voice, don’t ask) for her husband to return ten days before he’s supposed to come. God tells her that she’s changed but nonetheless grants her wish. I watched the movie on November 27, thirty something years and a day after Jan’s supposed to come back.
I’ve had at least a week to think about the film’s ending. Sure she didn’t plan for her husband’s debilitating injury. Nonetheless, Bess got the best possible escape to her situation. I wish I can have someone to politely argue against this film with me. I’m usually good to subscribe to feminist, politically correct readings that speak out against auteur’s misogyny. Yes, showing a woman being oppressed isn’t enough to be the equivalent of a statement that women shouldn’t be oppressed, as many aueturs and apologist critics and film writers have lazily tried to argue. von Trier, from the only other movie I’ve seen of his, gives his women 150 seconds of victory to erase 150 minutes of degradation. It’s up to you the audience to buy that, which I do. Yes, change is the only way to combat a patriarchal society. Yes, Bess is still dead. However, it’s not as if Bess can move to New York City and burn her bra. Yet her sacrifices ensured her husband’s convalescence who in turn can defend her right for a proper burial. Dodo eviscerating the men at Bess’ funeral seems satisfying. Lastly, von Trier successfully makes his audience believe that Bess did go to heaven. I know I should have a problem with the material, but I don’t.
- Take Three: Emily Watson (filmexperience.blogspot.com)