As a regular moviegoer, I don’t mind it when films give my brain an exercise of sorts. I enjoy having to put the pieces together, to try to unravel the intention and message of the movie. Then there are the movies that just continue to confound, leaving me to wonder if the artistic license journeyed a bit too far. So while I enjoyed these movies, the mental gymnastics was intense, and I am still unsure if I got the pay-off from all that exercise.
First Reformed may be one of the movies that left me very confused on my first viewing. The movie was well reviewed, so me and my brothers plunged in without watching a trailer or reading any information about it. I assumed it was going to be something like Doubt, and I was right in a sense because that’s mostly what I felt at the end.
Ethan Hawke plays a pastor whom we see trying to coax a young man away from his bleak worldview, a man who wants his wife Mary (Amanda Seyfried), to get an abortion because he doesn’t want to bring a child into a world he believes to be doomed. The great irony is that Hawke’s character is steeped in a sense of loss and hopelessness, while trying to encourage another to move away from it.
When the man takes his own life, suddenly we see Hawke stepping into his shoes, taking an impassioned stand for the environment and being strongly against the politicking going on in the church. Another layer of irony here, since he concerns himself with the pollution and destruction of the earth, only to pollute and destroy his own body with alcohol.
The movie builds to the expected end of him donning the suicide vest to send a message during the ceremony, then changing his mind when he sees Mary entering the church. He takes off the vest and wraps himself in barbed wire, some kind of atonement, and moves to drink the Drano. But suddenly, Mary appears, and he doesn’t drink it, rushing to her, proceeding to have the strangest make-out session I have ever seen. Then the scene abruptly cuts off. At that moment I was like “What?!” Hours later I still couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The ending didn’t seem … real. How did she get in when the other pastor couldn’t? The only conclusion I could come to was that he did die, and that feverish make-out fest was just imaginings of his dying mind. He does wonder earlier on in the movie about what a man sees during his last moments, so the ending could be a response to that.
A Cure for Wellness
A Cure for Wellness has such a good build-up, the mystery of what drove the CEO to the wellness center and what keeps him there, a strange location with a mythos surrounding it. There is definite investment from me as a moviegoer, because I am eager to know what on earth this place is a front for. The motif of water is well used and ties the movie together. It is even present in the main character’s (Dane DeHaan) backstory, with his father falling to his death into a body of water.
Then the second act kicks in and all the good work the first act did immediately unravels. We learn that the stories and the legends are true, that the head physician of the center, Volmer, (Jason Isaacs) has figured out a way to stall mortality. And why has he gone to so much trouble to achieve this? Because he needs to maintain the purity of his bloodline, and the only way is to rape his daughter, begotten through incest with his sister (what?!), whom he has kept young and vibrant by feeding her the cure. Somehow, it is only DeHaan’s presence that kickstarts her movement into womanhood, when she gets her first period after her rebellious dalliance with him at a bar.
All I could do is stare open-mouthed at the screen, as Volmer tries to rape his sister, while the place is burning down around him. The absurdity of the ending is, until now, something I cannot stomach or fathom.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Barry Keoghan (Martin) really has such a knack for playing young characters, like George in Dunkirk and Martin in The Killing of a Sacred Deer. It surprised me when I found out his real age of 26, and the obvious difference in the way he carries himself in interviews. The Killing of a Sacred Deer has a whole host of heavy hitters, with the likes of Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman in the leading roles. While I enjoyed it, it is a fairly strange movie.
Firstly, Colin Farrell’s character keeps having meetings with this strange young man. He isn’t very upfront with this relationship initially, so I assumed Martin was a result of an affair. But then Farrell invites him to his home. Martin seems perfectly polite, though a bit strange, and Farrell’s daughter appears to be quite taken with him. Martin then invites Farrell over to his house, trying to match-make his mom and Farrell. It was uncomfortable to watch Alicia Silverstone practically throwing herself at Farrell. At this point I had no idea where the movie was headed.
Suddenly Farrell’s children get sick, and it is a sickness that no one can make sense of. I have to say the scene where Farrell tries to force his son to walk because he thinks he is bluffing really made me laugh. I know it’s weird to laugh at that, since it is quite tragic, but the way he was flopping around was so absurd.
We discover that Farrell was kind to Martin because he might have caused his father’s death through possible negligence, due to his drinking issues at the time. The entire premise of the movie is based on the allusion to the story of Agamemnon and his daughter Iphigenia. Because Agamemnon accidentally kills a deer that is sacred to Artemis, she demands the sacrifice of his daughter in exchange for the life that he took. An eye for an eye. It would appear that the same thing is happening in the movie, and Farrell would need to make a choice as to whom he would sacrifice to make up for the life he took. Martin takes on this strange, almost god-like presence, as if triggering the events that unfold but also separate from it.
The ending is an asinine version of Russian roulette, where we see Farrell spinning around with a rifle and taking random shots at his wife and children, needing to kill one but not able to make a choice. This doesn’t seem like such a smart thing. I mean, he blindfolds himself, what if he accidentally kills more than one in the process of this lunacy? In the end, the son dies, his life taken from him through no fault of his own, much like Iphigenia. For the most part, it seems like a pretty straightforward revenge plot, but at the same time, it is so unsettling. It is such an unconventional movie, and I felt disturbed while watching it, yet strangely mesmerized.
Mr. Nobody is such an underrated gem. It is a beautiful movie and Jared Leto steers the ship quite marvelously in the leading role. I do think the movie could have used a bit of a snip, creating a tighter and more coherent narrative, instead of some parts end up feeling excessive.
Initially, I thought the movie was dealing with parallel universes, essentially the divergence of choice to different paths, and for Leto those paths revolve around three different women. It is also non-linear, so we get jumps between timelines, and while I appreciate the unconventional way to structure the narrative, at times I would find myself confused and lost.
At the end, the presentation does seem to suggest that all these timelines are just the imaginings of his nine-year-old self, blessed with the gift of prescience, faced with an impossible choice. The ending shot of the movie is of him and Anna (Diane Kruger), who of all the women was definitely his version of a perfect love. This does make it a bit confusing, since the twist was that all these paths are just in his head, so what does this ending mean? My best reading of this is that we get one chance at life, so we should be bold and daring, and make choices that lead to the possibility of our happiest self.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Because I am a scaredy cat, I tend to avoid horror when I can, only attempting to watch said genre in the brightest of afternoons. The setting of the movie is at a girl’s boarding school, which is enough reason for me to never send any of my future children to one. It all begins with Kat’s (Kiernan Shipka) parents being in a car wreck, though whether this is a dream or reality I am not quite sure. I guess it could be a dream, but Kat interprets it as reality, and somehow knows they won’t be able to turn up for her recital. This why she kept questioning the priest on his travel plans, hoping somehow that he would be able to attend. He can’t, so she is left staring at three empty seats at her recital. Her parents’ no show and the priest’s seeming rejection of her leaves her in a void with no parental figure to guide or be with her. This leads to the path of her turning away from God to seek out another, that of Satan, because naturally that’s just how things would work.
I understand that the film deals with loneliness, grief and loss, and I applaud Oz Perkins’ creation of the appropriate atmosphere, using snow and winter as a backdrop for all these events to unfold. But it was too much of a slow-burn for me, because at times I am just staring at long lingering images of snowfall, wondering where on earth this is going. All that prettiness of the cinematography needed just a bit more meat in the narrative for things to come together.
I felt it was a bit misleading to cast two actresses in the same role, for the younger and older versions of Kat. Emma Roberts and Kiernan Shipka look nothing alike, and yes, I know there is a difference of nine years, and the argument that people can look very different in that span of time, but I just don’t buy it. It was done for there to be a twist, when we realize that Roberts isn’t really Joan, and that Joan is a nurse in the psych ward whom she killed and took the identity of.
In a strange full circle of sorts, Roberts is picked up by the parents of the girl whom she killed nine years ago, when she was possessed. She kills them and cuts their heads off (this is gruesome), going back to the school where everything started, offering them as a sacrifice in order to regain her formerly possessed state so she wouldn’t have to be alone. It doesn’t work, and the film ends with her sobbing tears into the cold, winter night.
Thanks for reading! Do you have any movies that made you feel the same way? Comment down below!
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