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Killing for art’s sake


“The Killer Inside Me” suggests there are two characters: “Me”, and the “Killer” that lives inside of that character. But there is only one character here. And I’m not sure you could call someone who murders people a fully realized character. These are the sorts of folks that need to be institutionalized, rather than turned into pieces of art.

I suspect there might have been more going on in the novel this was based on, but I’ve never read Jim Thompson. My roommate was an avid fan, and within months he was collecting his books like baseball cards. Are they all different? Or is there something similar in all of his novels that makes them fun to read? Thompson wrote pulpy crime novels. What does every pulpy crime novel have? My guess would be lots of killing.

I don’t see the fascination. Philosophically, I’m aligned with Clint Eastwood on this one:

It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.

Director Michael Winterbottom said he wanted the killing scenes to feel realistic, because killing someone shouldn’t be treated lightly the way it’s portrayed in films.

I would agree with that, but I wouldn’t make a movie to illustrate the point. I know it’s real because I see it on the news all the time. I don’t need a lesson from the director of “24 Hour Party People”.

But if there is a lesson, it better entertain. I don’t think the film sets out to teach much, or to entertain much. It’s obsessed with violence and that’s where it returns when the director feels he’s losing your attention.

It is well crafted, that much I can say. A lot of attention is paid to the details, such as the cinematography, and the music, which try very hard to make us believe we’re in the more innocent days of America and the sheriff we meet (Casey Affleck) would never have violent sex with a girl and eventually kill her for being a whore.

Affleck plays the role with a southern accent, and a small town affectation in which he’s only concerned with the present, and not so much with what happened in the past, or what happens in the future. Both are important for the audience, because the past might explain his current behavior, and his future will bring us a sense of closure and justice to all the atrocities he’s inflicted on innocent people. But here’s a guy that isn’t so interested in all that. If whatever happens to him under the court of law or elsewhere gives him no pause for thought, it would never be satisfying for us to see it anyway.

We get flashes of his past – molesting his sister for starters – that probably offer some answers for why he has a “killer” inside him. These are the kind of answers that you would expect from a filmmaker like Rob Zombie, who showed us why Michael Myers became a murderer. His parents were cruel to him! He grew up po’ white trash. 2 plus 2 equals 4.

In storytelling, these are reductive explanations that don’t bend or move the story one way or the other. It’s actually just like throwing water on ice. Like in Zombie’s Halloween remake, we’re shown explanations that really aren’t explanations. The same goes here.

What I can’t figure out is where the actors came into the process. Jessica Alba read the script and must have responded to the character only because she was wildly sexual and adventurous during a time in American history where women couldn’t do those things. That was compelling to her as an actor? Just change the time period, and then ask if the character is still interesting. More importantly, ask if her character would realistically behave the way she does, getting beaten to death by someone who’s apologizing while he does it. Here’s a guy, ramming his fist into your head, and all you can do is look up at him and ask, “What are you doing?”

If we’re going for realism here, Winterbottom gets it very wrong. And because he gets it wrong, and does it deliberately, what he’s made is sensationalistic, and exploitative. I’ve seen it called “art house torture porn”. Personally I’m ready to retire the terms “torture porn” and “art house” and just leave one word.

Let’s just call this one “torture”.


One response to “Killing for art’s sake

  1. Sara ⋅

    Seriously one of the most disgustingly violent and disgustingly sexual movies I’ve seen ever. That scene of Jessica Alba being beaten to death for like 5 minutes makes me want to throw up every time I think about it. Aahh!!!! I hate it!!!

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