Taking in Stoker

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Throughout Stoker, moment after moment, viewers watch light flicker across a character’s eyes. Depending on the character, the irises of these eyes are often a hazy, unnatural color—we learn quickly that these people enjoy a degree of difference from the rest of the population. But implicit in each flicker is also the request that we pay attention. Heightened senses are a motif in Stoker, something India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) makes explicit during her introductory narration. India can touch, taste, smell, see, and hear in abundance, a gift director Park Chan-wook extends to his audience for a couple of hours. His film is perverse and generous. 

A girl in all white, her clothes caked with dirt, shudders in the middle of an all-white tile bathroom. Red shavings crinkle off of a No. 2 pencil as it turns inside a sharpener. Wind blows through the grass, a spider creeps down a stocking…Scenes in Stoker frequently play as though Park is working to approximate a full sensory experience with only the tools of sight and sound. Continue reading

Lars von Trier’s Slippery, Sloppy Antichrist

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Lars has made some very good movies in his time. Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville are all examples of exciting, provocative cinema. And now comes this–thing.

I’m very mixed about this motion picture. Not torn up, not oozing, like after Eyes Wide Shut. There are some beautiful images in this film, the black and white prologue showing an erect penis going into a vagina has to be one of the most gorgeous shots of the sex act I’ve ever seen. The unnamed couple, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, then spend the next hour of the movie talking out their grief (mainly hers) after their young son fell out a window and died while they were in the throes of sex during the prologue. The film goes to color and it becomes a weird incarnation of therapist and patient (Dafoe plays an actual therapist). This interplay continues even as the couple goes to a cabin in the woods, their “Eden.” After a few days there, Gainsbourg says she is cured, but Dafoe does not believe her and continues trying to help her breathe, “Five, four, three…”

At times a David Lynchesque soundtrack comes on signaling something weird is going to happen. (Having just seen Inland Empire and being a fan of Blue Velvet, this touch seemed off-putting, as did Gainsbourg’s request to have Dafoe hit her during sex–another obvious borrowing from Blue Velvet.) The weird happenings are somewhat interesting–a deer running with a dead foetus stuck to its behind, a fox that is eating itself and then speaks English to a seemingly reserved Dafoe. He is the only one having these visions (if they are visions). Then, in the attic of the cabin, Dafoe finds Gainsbourg’s notes for a thesis (called Gynocide) she had been writing that doesn’t come to fruition, (film is fuzzy concerning whether it is finished). Arcane pictures, woodcuts in the manner of Dürer, and three never before heard of constellations in the sky called the Three Beggars–a deer, a fox and a crow (don’t worry the crow is coming).

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