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Two diabolical redheads: Part Two of Two

posted by Mickey on 7/25/02

Two diabolical redheads, part 2. Nicole Kidman as Grace in "The Others".

Before I begin the second part of this two part article, I will give the same warning I made at the beginning of Part 1, for the benefit of anyone who might be joining the proceedings late (hey- glad you could make it) ie. while I don't intend to relate the plots of these movies as such, I will assume my readers have either seen the movies I am talking about or have definitely decided not to see them. Once again, anyone who wants to experience for themselves the various turns of the screw these films offer is forewarned not to come crying to me saying that I spoiled it for them.


Are you sitting comfortably, children? Then we'll begin.

In fact, the movie that the spotlight falls on this post has already been the subject of an appreciation at Whatever-Dude.. It would be fair to say that B., the talented author of this post, didn't like "The Others" as much as me, but I like to think W-D is a broad church, and one capable of taking a crusading stance in advocating mutually contradictory points of view. I think, here, I can put my finger on the very sentences that make it inevitable that I was going to disagree with B.'s assessment of this movie. To wit:

Remember when you and your friends would stay up till three in the morning cheering along as Jason snuck outta the bushes and cut the stupid handicapped kid's head in two with a lawnmower blade, and you cheered and it was awesome? "The Others" is the OPPOSITE of the feeling you remember.

This is obviously a tender moment from his childhood that B. is recalling here, and I almost don't want to touch the bloom of this particular evocation of lost time, by saying that in relation to my own memories, if watching "The Others," or basically, any other experience I have in my life, offers an alternative to the feelings I experienced watching Jason et al., then that is something for which I am willing to offer up a little silent prayer of thanks. One of the things I liked most about "The Others" is just precisely that there is no screened violence in it. I can tell you the feeling, though, that "The Others" inspired in me. It scared the living bejesus out of me. The first time I went to see it (I ended up seeing it about 3 times) I couldn't sleep a wink afterwards. I had no trouble sleeping like a log after "Blade 2," but that didn't have anything in it a fraction as macabre as that damned Book of the Dead.

Now, there is no point in trying to deny that when "The Others" was being pitched to whatever studio made it, Tom Cruise and Amenabar probably had "Let's Twist Again (Like We Did Last Summer)" belting out of their ghetto blasters, because, just like "The Sixth Sense," this is a movie with a surprise (or two) in the tail. However, when I went to see it for a second time with my friend, Christine, I was even more frightened out of my wits, and instead of reassuring her with a quick smile when a crazy looking old bag lady chose to brush by us during the scene where the children first communicate with that creepy little Victor boy, I was right on the point of letting loose a high pitched scream. I should say, I am a fan of movies with a twist. If they're good, they not only stand multiple viewing, they almost demand it, so you can work out how it was you were fooled the first time around. But when the movie is even more effective on an encore viewing, you know you really have something good on your hands.

B. is not the only person I have come across who didn't think much of "The Others". My friend, Jake, the same person who had to persuade me to go to "Point Break" when it first came out, no less, told me he found it disappointing. "One of the problems, apart from not seeing Nicole's breasts was the audience was stuck inside a dark house for so long. It was such a relief whenever they briefly cut outside."

I say, well, naturally the audience was stuck inside a dark house. If they let in more light, it would have been much harder to see the images on the screen. Try projecting a film onto a sheet in your back garden at midday and you will see what I mean. Seriously, though, it is a dark movie, in more ways than one, and while ALL movies are better to watch projected onto a cinema screen than on a television set, it is particularly the case for "The Others". I can not think of another movie made in colour that uses more shadow. It is not just an aesthetic decision. It is a plot point. The children in the film suffer from photosensitivity, a rare condition that means they can die from exposure to direct sunlight. (As it turns out, they are dead already, and the happy ending to the film is that they will be able to spend the rest of eternity working on their tan, if they so choose). I have no idea if there is a scientific basis to the children's purported condition. (Naturally I mean photosensitivity, not death). If someone out there knows the answer to this, email me. Regardless of the scientific basis or otherwise of the photosensitivity lark, it is used to advance the plot in a very clever way. It also gives Amenabar the chance to park his camera for longish periods of time on some gorgeous arrangements of light, and when he does move out of the house, in one of the most memorable sequences in the cinema of this new century, it is into what turns out to be the deeper obscurity of fog. That scene just made me go brrr-rr-rr-rr. Now, admittedly, if the arrangements of light I have been talking about hadn't been mostly been falling on Nicole Kidman, these shots may have outstayed their welcome, but the gloom-enshrouded visuals, combined with my lengthy compatriot, worked a treat. In a film as full of shadowplay as this one, Nicole Kidman's red hair actually ends up being important in the visual composition of the shots. I agree it wouldn't work for all films.

NICOLE KIDMAN. Really? For instance, what about "Eyes Wide Shut."

VON HANGMAN. My view of that movie is that it would have been better if they hadn't bothered with shadows, as such, but had just left the lens cap on the camera. And rented a piano that was in tune for the soundtrack. Say. Do. You. Want. To. Hear. My. Eyes. Wide. Shut. Impersonation.

NICOLE KIDMAN. Go on.

VON HANGMAN. That was it.

NICOLE KIDMAN. I don't think that is very funny. No seriously, give me an example of a film that wouldn't work if it was given the shadows and fog treatment.

VON HANGMAN. "Blame it on Rio," for instance, would have been diminished as a work of cinematic art by a chiaroscuro approach.

NICOLE KIDMAN. You know, Mickey, Stanley Donen always intended "Blame it on Rio" to be a gothic noir classic set in Venice and absolutely chokkas with chiaroscuro. Imagine, if you will, Michael Caine's paunch sculptured by shadow, his leer barely visible but for a string of drool, his heavy Italian accent with cockney cadence, his mascara running as he slumps dying in a deck chair. Unfortunately they had to cheapen it by going to Rio.

VON HANGMAN. Bonza norks though.

As for Nicole Kidman, she is wonderful. She is as beautiful as she is talented. I am aware that phrase can be used as a backhanded compliment, but in relation to la Kidman, no slur is intended. Before "The Others" she had been in a lot of films, including some pretty good ones, but she had never really impressed me as an actress to the extent that I thought it would make much difference if someone else had been cast in whatever part it was she happened to play. I would have to say that, like her then-husband, Tom Cruise, she gave an outstanding performance in "Eyes Wide Shut." Regrettably, I would also have to say the performance she gave, as brave as it was, was outstandingly awful. Clearly, the two of them were doing exactly what the director asked of them, because it is inconceivable that actors as professional as those two would have come up with such ridiculous performances otherwise. I know the film has its admirers (including ones here at Whatever-Dude), but for my money it is the absolute nadir of the Cruise-Kidman collaborations. In "Moulin Rogue," she returned to form as much as any actress could playing a role that would have featured Ann-Margaret if they had only gotten around to making the film 40 years earlier; and this was the film for which she bagged an Oscar nomination. In "The Others," however, she delivers a really eerily good performance that is far and way (ha ha) the best of her career, so far. It costs me something to say so, because, frankly, the woman is obsessed with me. Either that, or her judgement of what is an appropriate level of personal space to observe during a social luncheon date is seriously flawed. The problem may arise from her flirtation with Scientology when still married to Tom Cruise. You may have noticed that students of Dianetics like to get into what are basically staring competitions on the basis that it proves the strength of their personality to peer intently into someone else's eyes until the other person feels uncomfortable and has to look away. Not many women can look into the von Hangman eyes for extended periods without falling under the old spell, and I fear this may have occurred to la Kid. However, in "The Others", she is simply magnificent. Indeed, by suggesting you can wander in out of the fog looking like nothing on earth and have sex with Nicole Kidman, the film presents a good case for being dead.


To Die For!

The supporting players are also all very fine, in particular Fionula Flanagan.

I mentioned I thought there are similarities between "Carrie" and "The Others" (apart from them both being horror movies that are not just well-scripted, but are genuine works of cinematic art, with great casts and great music and great cinematography). Well, to begin with, in Kidman's performance there are distinct echoes, not of Sissy Spacek, but of Piper Laurie's portrayal of Margaret White. Secondly, and relevantly to the first point, both films import a religious sensibility. The secular nature of most modern society presents a problem for makers of horror films. The solution is to bring in religiously obsessed characters. While the religiosity of both Margaret White and Grace is absurdly unbalanced, the fact it is there at all imbues both films with an atmosphere where the fate of a human soul is important, as opposed to most horror films, where dozens of ciphers are impaled, or beheaded, or diced and sliced and introduced into the spaghetti sauce without the least feeling of loss.

Thirdly, both films portray a world in which men are either absent (Carrie's father abandoned his family, Grace's husband disappeared in the war) or relegated to the periphery as awkward headmasters or ineffectual servants manipulated by the women. By the way, anyone who bothered to click on the link in part one will be able to tell straight away I plagiarised that last sentence from whatshisname, but he is right enough about "Carrie", and I am correct in applying exactly the same observation to "The Others". If I wanted to stretch it a little further, I could say that, just as "Carrie" is about menstruation, so is "The Others" largely about domestic duties, or housewife's work, or (female) servants' work, where the effort of Grace and the others to keep light out of the house is comparable with the housewife's constant battle against dirt. The ritual of purification involved in fighting grime is not necessarily a specifically female rite, although anyone who saw my room could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Finally, both are movies about homicidal maniacs that end up showing substantial sympathy for them. I have talked about this a lot in my look at "Carrie," but whereas that was a film with several irremediable villains, there isn't a single one in "The Others." At the end, you even get the feeling that Grace, now she realises she is dead, is going to mellow out a bit, and even start to have some fun with it. In a couple of decades, she may even stop treating the servants like shit. So, if you haven't seen it yet, make sure you do, but even at the risk of attracting a few moths onto the screen, for goodness' sake, when you watch it, turn the lights off.

Mickey
mickey@whatever-dude.com

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