Saturday, March 16, 2013

Stoker: A Review

Stoker is a film written by Wentworth Miller and directed by Park Chan-Wook. The film tells the story of  India Stoker and her devastating family.

India mourns the death of her father, Richard Stoker (played by Dermot Mulroney.) At the funeral her mother, Evelyn Stoker (played by Nicole Kidman) introduces India to her uncle Charlie (played by Matthew Goode.) A fourth major character within the film is the house in which they reside. This may or may not occur to the audience but in retrospect there is a reason as to why the house serves as such an important piece.

Stoker Trailer

It seems that the scene is set in the 1950s; but that is never established. The film smacks us in the face with tension from the get-go. Some of that tension is very much sexual, but for some time, we are unsure as to why.

India comes across as a modern Wednesday Adams: a young girl who is beautifully quirky, and doesn't know it. She is intriguing as much as she is intrigued. Introverted no doubt, and I find that marvelous. She doesn't have a carefree intrigue with the world: a childlike view. She does however, notice everything. She's not so pleased with her environment but it is curious how her personality might have differed before her father died. I don't think we are meant to invest in that idea too much, if at all.

Evelyn is a woman who is very concerned with appearances. Immediately I saw her as a woman who was depressed and lacking identity. She is also resentful and angry, and covers it well (or not so well) with a mask that is very Stepford wife-esque (and yes, she played one in the film Stepford Wives.) She is certainly thrown off kilter with the death of her husband, but you never get the sense that she truly misses him. She is left with a daughter whom she doesn't know what to do with.

Charlie is a devilishly handsome stranger. It is unclear as to why he is staying with them after the funeral had come to an end. India is unclear as well. She had not met him until now. We see life through her eyes, and her confusion is our confusion.

It is debatable as to who is the star of the show. I've teeter-tottered between Goode and Wasikowska. I think it is Wasikowska's character that is meant to be the focus, but my focus was on Goode. I believe I would feel this way even if I wasn't attracted to him.

In fact;  it took me quite a while to realize how attracted to him I was. This may be in part because his character is so cryptic that his persona kept me at bay. He is mysterious but certainly with the promise of impending doom. He has naturally large eyes; he leers and stares at his Stoker family, and speaks lowly and slowly. When he speaks it is as if he is rounding a corner and revealing himself into your vision with an intensity that you did not ask for and you may not welcome.

As pretty as his bright eyes are; I have a thing with eyes. Wide eyes -- which are often utilized when adding definition to a villain -- often frighten me. I still have squeamish memories of the wide eyes of every Disney villain I ever saw as a child.

Even so -- it is difficult to avoid how powerful Charlie's eyes are -- especially being that they add to the strong air of sociopathy. He is a person who immediately strikes as someone with an agenda, and someone who is incapable of empathy. As the film progresses you wonder if he truly has any authentic affinity for either of the women whom he temporarily shares a home with.

For a while it is uncertain as to where to place our emotions. Soon enough we see that the tension does not rest in benign territory. As mentioned earlier the tension is remarkably sexual. This is unsettling for the obvious reason: Charlie is family.

One aspect that drew me to Goode's character was his voice. I felt slightly deflated when I learned via online footage, that it was unauthentic, as he is an English actor. This feeling dissipated within seconds as I saw that not only does he have a handsome voice as an Englishman, but he has developed quite the talent. I am frequently impressed by actors not born in the states, who can create such bold and impressive American accents. Two more examples of this within the film, is the skill of Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska; both born in Australia. Lucky ducks, they are.

In comparison, the American accent is not that keen. I imagine; to imitate an American accent is to produce a nasal effect. The tone and structure of American accents aren't always so impressive.

Stoker Featurette: Staircase Advantage

In most films there is someone whom we are rooting for. In this case it may be India, but there is a question that hovers. Charlie may be the devil but what exactly is inside of India?

India however, does have her defenses up: she has to. At times; watching her is like watching a whimsical fairy or curious girl who is smart beyond her young years. There were moments that were reminiscent of Frances Hodgon  Burnett's book, The Secret Garden. Ultimately, she's a tough cookie.

There are never any comfortable moments in the film. We don't rest; we don't have any moments of, "ah okay, I understand this." This is not a criticism of the film. This is what makes it great.

The film speaks to a larger issue, in my opinion. Death and the sexualization of it. I think many of us are guilty of appreciating this. Many of us accept this, and move on. I wrestle with it, and ultimately move on. I will repeat.

In some films, the sexualization of death is not so obvious. One could argue that the death that occurs within this film is not what attracts us; but speaking for myself, I am attracted to a character that wreaks of it: screams it. Is it so terrible that I'm attracted to the bad guy? Probably.

I've never been attracted to the bad boys in my personal life. Ever. I'm not drawn to loud men on Harleys; the hard-to-gets; unstable jocks; the emotionally unavailable, or aloof personalities that are vacant of substance.

Charlie Stoker is not a tough guy. At least not in the traditional sense. He certainly doesn't look the part. He's got the sinister thing down and that is powerful; but he doesn't have brawn or the sense that he could stand up to someone who does. He picks on those who aren't his own size and he is clever: that is his advantage. He is not courageous as there is no frightening obstacle to overcome or conquer. He has goals but his inner struggle is selfish and ridden with insecurities that he could never cop to. He doesn't have the insight to do so. He is fearless and is so, because sociopathy steams from his pours.

 Although he doesn't harbor the stereotypical version of a bad boy, he is certainly bad. Bad news, ten-fold.

What certainly adds to his intimidation factor is that he is older than our young India. Being that we are meant to be most connected to India as we see things through her eyes; we feel younger than Charlie, because she is younger than Charlie. I am a woman in my early 30s. Matthew Goode is only 2 years older than I, but when watching the film, I felt like a young girl, stretching to be as tall as he, embarrassed that I am not on the same level. Unevenness does not sit well with most people and this is inflicted upon the audience. Charlie is man who is taller, mysterious, and one that promotes conflicting feelings of resistance and relish. He makes India -- the audience -- and myself -- feel dwarfed. It's not a good feeling. Yep, you're probably paging Dr. Freud by now.

The scene I most lavish is what I consider to be the best part of the film. It's interesting to unfold its layers.

"To be friends" is executed with intensity that is strategically sexual. Most people do not propose friendship in a way that is crafted with the intent to make the other feel uncomfortable, yet intrigued.

Stoker Featurette: What Do You Want From Me?

India seems to feel vulnerable but gains her confidence when she assures herself and Charlie, that they are family and nothing more. She needn't be intimidated by his charm, nor drawn to it. She can leave it across the dinner table as he is merely her uncle. There is no obligation and she can thus use that comfort as a defense. She is back to being a creature of aloneness: something she suffers from but enjoys as there is no other way to be. Everything else seems superficial. But perhaps Charlie doesn't fit into that category. Hmm? She tinkers with this idea.

If Charlie wasn't pure evil, I'd have to take him home. Good tea and good talk, would be in order.

Stoker Featurette: Director's Vision

In the above featurette we see that it took a melting pot to create the film. Various cultures, languages and accents, boosted the film into its finished product. It is a film done so well, that I almost wish I was a part of it.

In addition to the camaraderie of the production team and the cast; the director captures amazing angles. Some are confining, and some give space, but never much. There is no distinct feeling of being suffocated, but when you are in it, you are in it. When you are involved in the experience, when you are a participant, you are served up an opportunity to assess your own take on family, fear, sensuality, love, loss, danger and whatever else you find tugging at you. It is in front of us on a platter.

It's a film that is probably deserving of a second watching, in order to get the full taste of it. I'm only on the first bite.

I'm a fan and I will certainly purchase the film when it is made available.

For more information on the film visit the film's microsite, Letters to India.

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