Before Christopher Nolan was regarded as the saviour of the blockbuster he proved himself to be a master of the subtle thriller in the relatively low budget films, Memento and Insomnia. These films not only keep you in eager anticipation of their revelatory conclusions, but they also delve deep into their protagonists’ consciousness in an effort to expose uncomfortable truths about the human psyche. While Memento literally illustrates the complex nature of the fractured mind by showing all the scenes that would have naturally followed one another in reverse order, Insomnia utilises the Alaskan sun as a tool to instigate the downfall of Los Angeles Homicide Detective, Will Dormer, played by Al Pacino. Dormer has been sent to Alaska to investigate the murder of a local teen, but as he gradually gets closer to apprehending the murderer, Alaska’s extreme climate and his own insecurities soon ensure that he accidently commits a violent crime for which he must be redeemed. It soon becomes clear whom the murderer is, but knowing the culprit of the crime, like in any good noir-thriller, is not the point. In Insomnia the murderer is in effect Pacino’s mirror image; a man who is similarly victim to insomnia and is also attempting to overcome mental anguish. By setting the film in a permanent twilight that prevents Dormer from sleeping and subsequently causes him to lose a grip on reality, Insomnia effectively establishes the Alaskan landscape as a psychological limbo through which he is forced to stumble in order to find salvation.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Wes Anderson has recently been criticised for making ‘pretentious’ films, which are purposely catered away from a mainstream audience. His Fantastic Mr. Fox, for example, was virulently attacked due to the fact it seemed to be a kid’s film that wasn’t interested in entertaining children at all. The Life Aquatic, like his masterpiece Rushmore (which mocks snobbery rather than being snobbish in of itself), is thankfully unaffected by Anderson’s usual quirky intellectualism. The Life Aquatic essentially retells the story of Moby Dick with Bill Murray as Steve Zissou, who is searching for the mythical shark that he claims killed his partner. This tale of revenge has been twisted and tweaked to be both surreal and humorous, incorporating a pleasantly funny script with some beautiful stop-motion animation, which is used for the marine life seen within the film. The cast is also fantastic. Jeff Goldblum, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe and Bill Murray are as good as you would expect them to be; all of them naturally bring off Anderson’s unique brand of humour. Even Owen Wilson, who has often been marred by playing generic and infuriating characters in the past, manages to instil a touching sentimentality as Steve Zissou’s illegitimate son. The Life Aquatic is a light-hearted, but also surprisingly moving, surrealist adventure, and is well worth a watch.
A History of Violence
More4, Friday 10pm
In his most recent pictures David Cronenberg has moved away from his focus on the body, and the strange psychological effects changes made to the body can have on the individual, and has instead been more interested on the mind in of itself. Films like Cosmopolis and A Dangerous Method have had varying reviews but the consensus seems to be that these newer films have lacked the cinematic punch of his previous works. A History of Violence is perhaps unique in the Cronenberg canon because it seems to occupy a tantalising middle ground between his body and mind periods of filmmaking, and is all the better because of it. Viggo Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a seemingly normal man living with his family in mid-America, who commits an extreme act of violence in order to protect himself and his colleagues from a robbery, ensuring his stature as a local celebrity. The violence in this film is bloody and unflinchingly explicit, but also absolutely necessary. As Tom Stall is forced to commit more and more brutal acts we gradually see the more terrifying figure hidden behind the mask of middle-class white suburbia. In this way the bodily violence is used to undermine or at least question the psychology or sentimentality of the American middle-classes by depicting their hidden desire for violence as a means to protect their family. Despite maintaining Croneberg’s graphic visual style, A History of Violence is perhaps one of his most subtle and understated films.