22 September 2003 | philipdavies
This fine French psycho-drama is an infinitely better experience than surrendering to Hollywood's empty amusement-park.
As in 'The Shining' this film is a journey into the dangerous interior of one man's soul. There is an overt reference to Kubrick's cerebral shocker from the outset, as we float above the tiny car and its occupants as it threads its way through thickly wooded, and oppressive, hills.
The hell of writer's block into which Kubrick's writer, and the failed writer of this film, both descend is an inner space of deeply disturbing psychic distortion. After the introduction to the French family, unhappily travelling through life (as you might well say) in their paradigmatically clapped-out banger of a car, there are no more reality checks in this film. Hence our profound and growing unease at Harry's pat and superficial wish-fulfillment: He is the very incarnation of the irresponsible hedonism which lurks in the heart of a long-suffering family man, who can take no more. Even more inescapably than in 'The Shining' - which offers us the relief and the 'reality' markers of other points-of-view - we are trapped as viewers in the solipsisitic nightmare of one man's mental breakdown.
'The Egg' is the un-decodable hermetic prison - insisted upon in a macro-shot of an egg -- an excluding reduction of reality that rebuffs interpretation --- the germ of madness and the surreal --- -- in the French kitchen - whose place in the American movie is taken by pages and pages of neatly typed and stacked verbiage that is as repetitively devoid of meaning as a mantra. The search for meaning becomes a dangerous delusion. The deep-pink womb-like retreat of the parentally-bequeathed bathroom is much like the interior of such an egg in its hard ceramic insecurity. The red dream-arrogance of the off-roader similarly. And the red life-blood of all who come distractingly near is the sacrificial ink necessary to the reductive needs of the self-obsessed ego, for whom primitivism seems ultimately the only authenticity. This is a father who has become impatient of his responsibilities. This is a murderer in the making. This is authenticity as delusion. This is self-discovery as the heart of darkness.
The name of 'Harry' is one of the familiar names for the Devil. He is the original false friend. He is each person's lurking counsellor of the simplest, most brutal existence. He represents the self-destruction wrought by self-obsession. He is Alienation, the partner of Despair.
This magnificent and troubling film finally straps us into our seats and takes us on a voyage into the void where we had supposed the human soul to reside. I cannot think of anything more horrifying than the ad-man's dream of an ending, with the typical family borne - it seems - aloft on insubstantial and unlikely - unsustainable - dreams of the perfect transformation of life's unendurable imperfections. The difference between the first and the last passages of this family's life, as glimpsed in transit, is measured by the mental journey provided by the film; it is the stark difference between our suffering lives and the imagined perfection which is no more than Death's delusive seduction: The gorgeous Plum - the 'Devil''s wife - is barren. Her kiss in the embarassing bathroom - as is the case with the kiss of the re-animated corpse in the hotel bathroom of 'The Shining' - is the kiss of Death.
This is Cinema. This is the force of Creation at work, as in any art worth bothering with. Anything else is just waste-products. And I don't care who knows it. French cinema reveals here its continuing intellectual vitality, capable of engaging resourcefully with the problem of living - instead of merely making a commercial machine to take us for a ride outside ourselves. Being beside ourselves, as in this fine French psycho-drama,is an infinitely better experience than surrendering to Hollywood's empty amusement-park.