Birth from Death
Why do you do what you do, the way you do it? Think how you think, believe what you believe. Was it how your parents brought you up, or the influences of peers? Our minds are all as individuals comprised of intricate, delicate webs of memories and influences throughout our lives.
Some of us learn to become aware of and control said influences that form us, creating beautiful functional foundations to capturing positive lives. And some of us create webs like spiders on caffeine (google it). The structure in essence is comprised of the same materials, and in some ways passes without notice, but it is deeply flawed.
In Chan-wook Park’s new, first ‘American’ (English speaking) movie ‘Stoker’, such flawed webs dance and glide before our eyes, in the visual equivalent of what (appears to be) a gentle summer breeze. If you’ve seen one of Park’s previous cinematic ventures in the stunning ‘Oldboy’, you will know he isn’t afraid to deal with anything, no matter how abstract and dark the lace work.
So though it appears to be a beautiful summer’s day, it makes you nervous. And this is very good, there’s far too many run of the mill production line films being churned out, but thankfully not on Chan-wook’s Gothic night watch, set in glowing daylight.
For a large part of the beginning of the movie I was really uncomfortable/uneasy (in a good way), despite the film looking like it was lavishly styled by Tom Ford. Even though most scenes looked like they sprung to life straight from a spread in Wallpaper* magazine and the beautiful soundtrack by Clint Mansell washed over us to soothe our spider senses, we’re definitely not in Kansas any more, and there’s something REALLY wrong. Beautiful, but very wrong.
Hyper-real leaps in sound and vision spurned on by the vivid mind and abilities of India Stoker (brilliantly played by Mia Wasikowska), who’s childhood innocence is taking it’s first tentative steps, then surging into the darkness of adulthood. Like a teenagers breaking voice, moments screech into a high pitch, only to immediately disappear, leaving only the reaction, awkwardness and discomfort.
This catapult into confused emerging adulthood has been triggered by the death of her father (Dermot Mulroney) and the immediate arrival of an Uncle Charles (mesmerisingly played by Matthew Goode) she never knew existed. The only connection she has to what was her life, is in the non/distant relationship she has with her Stepford/catalogue mum Evelyn (Nicole Kidman really relishing this character), so she’s effectively on her own in the emotional quagmire, with only primal instincts to survive on.
That’s pretty much all I prepared to say. Anything else will detract from the experience of this movie. And experience it you most definitely should. After seeing it, I’ve thought about it for a few weeks. There are elements of David Lynch via South Korea in what is entombed beneath the beguiling veneer of a bespoke kitchen in a Hamptonsesque world.
The desire and emotional/irrational grasp at surface when everything is rotten to the core, and the hindsight moments where we realised why we became the person we are today. The forks we chanced upon, or were forced to take. Whether we listen to our true calling/nature, or live a life of facade.
That may all sound a bit obtuse and abstract, but for the greater part, so is the movie. But in the most rewarding way possible, if you stick with it, attune your eyes and ears to the environment you’re placed in, discover the clues, the prize is deeply satisfying. A movie that makes you work for it, but actually returns the effort.
To briefly return to Matthew Goode fantastically brilliant portrayal of Uncle Charles, I’m in no rush to see him ever smile again. Not since Heath Ledgers Joker has a smile been so disconcerting nor pestilent.
Stoker is released in UK cinemas on March 1st.