Stoker (2013)

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Park Chan-Wook needs more than a tweet. His latest is yet another tour de force of cinematography featuring beautiful images and imagery, including an uncanny spider, an expressive piano, and of course more than a little blood. The film is pitch perfect and phenomenally edited, effortlessly weaving present reality with psychological perspective and flashback.

The film, perhaps needless to say, is more than little unsettling. In fact, it’s downright creepy, yet in pure independent fashion this has mostly to do with character. Touching on a popular theme from recent years, mental illness, the film draws on all its elements to create what I would call an insular world. The sound design is often muted, characters enter and leave the main house with impunity, expected causality and consequences seem absent, and overall the film feels detached from a recognizable world. This psychological setting becomes the perfect playground for Park’s (and producer Ridley Scott’s) favorite theme of late: nihilism.

It is rare that a Hegelian battle of the wills feels so, well, natural. No sooner do India and uncle Charlie meet than Charlie informs: “Do you know why you feel at a disadvantage? Because you are standing lower than me?” The rest of the film follows their strategic interactions, dragging other weaker characters into the mix when appropriate. All power in the film, in Nietzschean fashion, goes to the strong, who seem to rise above morality. By the film’s end, India has learned how to wield her power and marries blood to pure nature, painting a battle rose on a pure white flower.

For a filmmaker who began by declaring the bankruptcy of the inter-Korean war, then deconstructing revenge time and time and one more time, Park Chan-Wook has come a long way toward nihilistic violence. At the same time, however, this is nothing new, given the similar themes of I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK and particularly the nihilistic streak of Tae-Ju in Thirst, which I always suspected was rewarded by the ending. It has been an interesting thematic journey and I wonder where the next stop will be. In my experience, lightning doesn’t strike twice, and I suspect that Stoker’s lack of compassion can’t be duplicated with such grace. And so I raise the same question that has haunted me since Von Trier’s Melancholia and Scott’s Prometheus: what kind of story can follow the end of the world? What shot can open after credits run upside down?

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