Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Cast: Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Elias Koteas, Tom Bower
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Runtime: 109 min.
Verdict: The movie merely explains the title for its running time. That is tedious.
Genre: Thriller, Drama
The Killer Inside Me seems to provide us with a rather interesting predicament. Trouble is I suspect it might be significant only as an experiment in understanding an audience’s reaction, and it really might not hold any merit whatsoever if we expect it to explore any aspect of human nature. What the film is about is suggested in the title. And not for a moment does one feel even a shred of compelling evidence that the film is in anyway alluding to that nihilistic bastard who resides somewhere in every one of us, or that dormant killer who might explode when circumstances tip him over the edge. I would of course explore that option the first thing, but nothing suggests to me that this is a movie about a regular guy (The Reader). Rather one feels the narrator, the me, might be in the same hall of fame as such literary fabrications as Anton Chigurh or Hannibal Lecter or his nearest cousin Patrick Bateman, guys who felt compelled to kill just for the heck of it, or for the psychologically impenetrable reason of eating them. The movie suggests, through Lou Ford (Mr. Affleck), the narrator at our service here, that punching and kicking and killing is merely an impulse, or maybe even a sickness he cannot simply prevent. I think that with the number of serial killer movies we’ve seen, and books we’ve read, and cases we’ve learnt about, such a psychological scenario is fodder only for a short film, and everything that exceeds the prescribed running time is merely stating rhetoric. Rhetoric, you see, no matter how repetitive, and how violent, and how sadistic, and how keen on proving a point through that repetition, is essentially boring and a waste of time. And I want to understand if there’s a deeper method at work here, and nature and essence of that method.
Now, the title suggests The Killer Inside Me is declaring itself as a perspective film, a subjective film, much like Fight Club, or Memento. A standard practice of cinematic narration is often to open the film with the central figure in the film. Often he is the first to appear on the frame (Fight Club) or it is his voice that we first hear (No Country for Old Men). This practice, subconsciously, sends a message to us and we immediately feel who the central figure in the film is. Look at Shutter Island, a film that is pretty secretive about its subjective nature. Of course, there’re many examples to the contrary. I suggest Mr. Polanski’s The Ghost Writer because he is one of the great subjective filmmakers, yet it is the narrative of his films that I realized this practice from. Strangely, neither the first voice we hear in The Killer Inside Me is that of the narrator, nor is he the first to appear on the screen. We meet Bob Maples (Mr. Bower), the town sheriff, and he is the first to speak as he asks Lou to ask Joyce Lakeland (Ms. Alba), a local prostitute, to vacate the town in lieu of the concerns raised by local priests. Lou visits, narrating to us on the way about the conservative traditions of the town, and demonstrates some of it when Joyce’s absurdly ugly behavior puts his politeness under fire. And when I say absurd, that is because we just do not feel any reason for her to behave that way, other than to imagine about information about motivation that might have been supplied in the source. Within that frame though, it just feels, well, a written line of action that needs to be executed so as to cause the protagonist’s reaction, which happens to be undressing her on the bed and whipping her butt cheeks with his belt. It is a pretty prolonged scene, she cries and he whips, and then he stops and apologizes and she asks him there’s no reason to, and they indulge in passionate love. Within my capacity of a 28 year old man, I would have to admit I’ve no idea what sort of human behavior that was, except for an obscure idea that it represents two people who get turned when the going gets violent. Normal stuff doesn’t do it for them. Sort of like those folks in David Cronenberg’s Crash, or the fascination for vampires. Point be noted that in that film I felt that idea, and here I sort of hit upon that idea because of my knowledge of such behavior from other sources. The Killer Inside Me, I believe, uses that behavior as a setup and I do not necessarily have any problems.
So, Lou and Joyce make passionate love, and by what seems quite contrived, they fall in passionate love too. Joyce especially, who’s already planning for growing old with him. I do not quite get that, just as I do not get the fascination for vampires. Has it merely been a literary cliché, or does there exist anything that psychologically explains women and vampires? The same patriarchal psychology is at work here, where Lou beats two women mercilessly, Joyce and Amy Stanton (Ms. Hudson) his girlfriend, and yet they deeply love him. I do not quite get that. I suspect it’s a cliché. Roger Ebert writes in his review here, and I want to agree with him -
Ford pays the visit, has some words and soon the two of them are urgently having rough sex. Why? Because this is the pulp universe, where a woman may be a prostitute with other men but she finds you irresistible. Female psychology is not the strong point with many pulp writers. Psychology in general is sketchy, based on simplified and half-understood Freudian notions.
Later, Lou lands so many punches on her that her face is literally reduced to pulp. It is an exercise in relentless violence, much like the opening face-smash of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, the point being actual violence is not fun but absolutely bleak and sick and repellent. My instinctive reaction is that such a practice only grows banal with age. I mean, what was shocking forty years ago, in Bonnie and Clyde and A Clockwork Orange, scarcely manages to evoke a meh. So, Lou punches her, and kills somebody else. We think he has a plan, but he doesn’t, because he’s killing merely on impulse. That is his bend. Those thought occur to him and he succumbs to them, and later regrets in his own way. I think the character is mostly an imbecile. But that is just me.
So, my first question was to understand if this movie, in any way, is our reflection on the screen. I mean, that killer within us. Despite that being the film and book’s central motivation, I’m not entirely sure. There aren’t too many frames that are directed outwards. As we noted in Shutter Island, and The Ghost Writer, films that edit and frame its protagonists in such a way that we automatically trust him and in turn he becomes our proxy. We learnt how through careful editing the focus could be driven away from the protagonist onto everything around him, and through carefully places reaction shots we could see everything just like him, in the process becoming one. I don’t think that is the method here, and even if that is the objective, I do not believe that is way to make a philosophical statement about humanity. Most of the frames and most of the scenes observe Lou. He walks into a room, and the suggested practice is first an establishing shot of it, followed by the person inside, and then a medium-to-closeup reactionary shot of him. Here, it is a medium shot of him entering the room, and the shots of the guy inside the room are just to service the narrative. I think we could assume fairly confidently that The Killer Inside Me considers Lou as the subject, and keeps looking at him, and keeps mistaking for subjectivity. Which reminds me of Politist, Adjectiv, a great film I hope to write about the method in the not distant future. Now if you direct too many shots at him, then he becomes the subject,
At a cursory glance that the film considers Lou its subject and frames and edits him thus seems quite obvious. And I guess that assumption, or that maxim of filmmaking is what confirms the superficiality, of the filmmaking in question and the morality behind it. But then, shouldn’t it be titled The Killer Inside Him? I mean, this is supposedly a character study, not an exercise in audience identification. We keep looking at him, and his actions take him farther and farther away from us, and he reaches a point where it all becomes the obligatory finger- wagging we all indulge in when we talk about the “shocking” and “barbaric” Nazis, or “the failure of civilization”, and feel good about ourselves. It is called moral kitsch-land.
You see, at that moment, anybody could punch a loved one, and I once again invoke Session 9. We’re all equally capable, and although that being the film’s central motivation, the way it goes about it causes exactly the opposite reaction. We’re judging Lou when we shouldn’t be. That Lou is an empty vessel hardly helps Mr. Winterbottom. Patrick Bateman at least had a film that was commenting about the greed of a whole generation. Here, there’s just no escape for the filmmaker. That I kill people as an impulse is a statement. What I fail to understand is the need to keep repeating that statement over and over for 109 min. Why I kill requires introspection and would’ve reflected upon human nature. You see, dear reader, a successful character study or a discovery is often one that positions us in the protagonist’s shoes, makes us feel what he feels, and then gradually makes us realize the nature of those feelings. The key to everything is realization.
But what do I gather from here? IMDb states through the plot summary that the film’s protagonist is slowly unmasked as a serial killer. We already know that from the title. We already know the driver, but walking into the film, we hope to learn the nature of his drive. Beyond the very obvious, I don’t think so we do. The film curiously even shies away from a potential shocker set inside the prison. It works against the film, since the film is about a man and his violence, and to edit out any instance of such an act is probably taking a decision against the narrative. In such a film which so obviously intends to condemn violence, leaving one act solely to the imagination of the viewer only leaves room for fascination, and which I believe is wrong. We still wonder how Anton Chigurh killed Moss’s wife, or how Lecter managed to convince his neighbor to swallow his own tongue, and you would see how that runs counter to our objective here. Who is this guy and why does he do it? What makes him tick? The answers are blanks, and I suspect that having this kind of motive-less man trying to reflect the beast inside all of us is pretty darn ineffective. We can identify with revenge (Memento), and we can identify with mass murder (The Reader) provided we are shown a flesh and blood human being we can identify with. There are brief glimpses of his naked mother asking him to beat her, and I consider such half-baked psychoanalysis downright immoral. You either go full monty and explain what you think is the cause or you just shut up. Showing such material is a cause to suspect sensationalist behavior, and judging by Mr. Winterbottom’s career and his usage of unimaginative practices (pornography in 9 Songs) and violence here, I would want to stick to my earlier judgment that this filmmaker here has a bit for sensationalism. As for Lou Ford, he is merely a monster, albeit an imbecile monster but a monster nonetheless, and he seems to be so far away from us he probably exists in the realm of literature. And as for the film, after it ends, you merely want to ask – Ah the killer within him? What about him?
Posted by Satish Naidu at 8:38 PM