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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

entry arrow5:25 AM | Don't Get Married

The race for the 87th Academy Awards has essentially started with all the online punditry abuzz with each new screening -- and as usual, I want to do my annual unflagging attempt to seeing all possible films in contention, even before the official nominations come on January. This blog series aims to chronicle this effort.

Lately, and without any design, I have been watching recent movies that have been doing a swell job in trying to convince me (and everyone else) that the only way to go about the business of marriage is a warning: don't do it. First, there's Peter Askin's A Good Marriage, based on the short story by Stephen King. And there's David Fincher's Gone Girl, based on the novel by Gillian Flynn. Both are essentially telling the same story, but one is an unfortunate misfire, while the other is a bullet straight to the heart.

I watched these two titles and soon came to some conclusion that the closest film I could think of that resembled the acidic way marriage is regurgitated in these films was Danny DeVito's The War of the Roses, his toxic 1989 film about the perils of divorcing.

True, there are other worthy contenders in this Cinema of Deadly and Dysfunctional Marriages, with the likes of Mike Nichol's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and Closer (2004), Anthony Harvey's The Lion in Winter (1968), Ingmar Bergman's Scenes From a Marriage (1973), John Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Woody Allen's Interiors (1978) and Husbands and Wives (1992), Brian Gibson's What's Love Got to Do With It (1993), Tod Williams' The Door on the Floor (2004), and Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine (2010) -- and here I'm only considering those where the husbands and wives take to war to viciously tear each other apart, physically, emotionally, or mentally -- but DeVito's film seems a shade darker than any of these because it dared to present utter domestic darkness as comedy. I screened the film again and found the increasingly mad retaliations between the warring Michael Douglas' Oliver Rose and Kathleen Turner's Barbara Rose very icy, murderous, and inexplicably delicious. The film sells revenge with such contraband relish, and makes such a game of it. That we are actually capable of unleashing such nefarious torments on people we once truly loved and cared for deeply is the film's ultimate thesis. We may cringe at the idea, but we cannot deny its probability: the film has shown us, step by step, how easily we can traverse the very thin line between loving and loathing.

Joan Allen's character in Askin's A Good Marriage has reasons to loathe her husband played by Anthony LaPaglia. Truly gifted by an adoring family whose love for each other is genuine, the wife soon unravels fast upon the discovery of a terrifying secret: her husband is the serial killer now hogging the news headlines. How does one deal with that? Cheating as a marriage problem seems suddenly so much more desirable.

Lesser scribes would concoct a story where the husband would now terrorize the wife for her discovery, in an attempt to silence her. But this is Stephen King territory, and he knows how to avoid the cliches of horror narratives. Mr. King must have asked himself: What happens if a loving wife does make such gruesome discovery about a loving husband? His answer: The husband confesses, the wife accepts his apology -- and makes him promise to stop from further killing. That is an even better, more disturbing, story: because how do you knowingly live with a monster, who may be a ticking time bomb? And this is where the film -- and the short story -- takes its critical and unique turn.

Askin's film is faithful to the source material, but unfortunately it is a film with an execution problem. It is not terrifying. There is no atmosphere of dread, only a smattering of horror movie cliches. It does not get under our skin. It has not been able to delve deep into the wife's horror of a balancing act of playing devoted wife to evil. The actors seem listless, which is a surprise given the strong cast, but I'd attribute all these from the uninspired direction. When the film was over, I found myself thinking: David Fincher should have made this film.

Alas, Mr. Fincher did make a similar film, and that is Gone Girl.

What else has not been said about this film? I like best Joshua Rothman's take on it as a postmodern murder-mystery in The New Yorker. Gone Girl -- a cold, calculating, and surprisingly funny film -- is without doubt a disturbing and absorbing piece of cinema. If you have studied the genius of Fincher's cinema, it feels like an amalgam of bits and pieces from his entire oeuvre: from the cold woman playing with fire from his "Bad Girl" music video for Madonna, to the man who must be played with from The Game, from the sociopaths of severe cunning from Zodiac, Seven, Panic Room, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, to the generational ennui that defines some zeitgeist from The Social Network and The Fight Club.

But it feels, ultimately, like the unveiling of the maggots that lie within the institution of legal togetherness. Nick and Amy Dunne are our generation's Oliver and Barbara Rose -- but with a sicker twist I cannot divulge. I guess each generation deserves its own Marriage Monsters. I wonder what this new breed says about mine.

#HalloweenMovieMarathon #RoadToOscar

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