Movienotes: Jaws, In Bruges & Silent Hill

In my apartment we have what we refer to as The List. It began as something Hanna and I put together to swap book and movie titles one of us hadn't seen and thought the other would like . . . over the past year it has morphed into a list of films and books which Hanna considers an essential part of my cultural literacy. I am industriously (and, I admit, quite pleasurably) making my way through The List -- a little more swiftly and purposefully at the moment, now that I don't have classes and homework with impending deadlines. This past week, I ticked no less than three films off the list: Jaws, In Bruges, and Silent Hill.

To begin with the least serious first, I realize I'm a good three decades late with a review of Jaws and one of a diminishingly small group of Americans who made it passed their twenty-fifth birthday without seeing the film -- but I did, so let me just say it was fun. Since I hate submarines, I'm glad there were no scenes with subs, and I thought Richard Dreyfuss was hilarious. It made me giggle a lot, but this was possibly because I was watching it with a stiff gin & tonic in hand, and also because being bitten in half by a shark has never been a particular fear of mine.

In Bruges was breathtaking: smart, hilarious, incredibly violent, and ferociously acted. When I told Hanna the bit about it being hilarious the next morning, her response was: "Isn't it just. Until it isn't. And then it really isn't." which I thought summed it up quite nicely." I actually think the less said about the actual plot of the film the better, since I went into it with only the vague sense it was about a group of hit men on a job gone horribly wrong. Why it's gone wrong and each individual's response to the situation is best left to unfold without a lot of advance preparation. If I had to pick a moment in which the entire film suddenly switched from violent comedy to comedic tragedy, I'd have to pick the final conversation between Brendon Gleeson's character, Ken, and Ralph Fienne's character, Harry, at the top of the sight-seeing tower, and the events that ensue. You'll know when you get there. In the meantime, enjoy the way Ken and Colin Farrell's character, Ray, bounce off each other. It's priceless.

This afternoon, I watched Silent Hill, a horror film about a stolen child, Sharon, and a haunted coal-mining town with dark secrets, in which her mother, Rose, must struggle against the forces of darkness to recover her. It is based, Hanna tells me, on a video game, and thus bounded by certain parameters -- virtually all of the action takes place in a circumscribed place, cut off from the outside world, and Rose in effect must go on a quest in order to solve the mystery of the town and (hopefully) set her daughter free. As I'm typing this, it actually strikes me that visually and narratively, it bears some resemblance to the exquisite Pan's Labyrinth, also on The List, which I watched with rapt attention shortly after the end of term. Silent Hill doesn't have the poetry of del Toro's film, but it is nevertheless operating on the same fantastical principles.

About three-quarters of the way through the film, I was struck by the absence of central male characters -- Sharon's father, sweetly played by Sean Bean, is stuck on the outside of the town with a officious police officer, also male, but other than that all of the men are unnamed extras. In a horror/action movie this seems striking to me, although I admit limited knowledge of both genres. The fact that it goes unremarked upon internally is also notable: the film doesn't seem to be consciously setting itself up as a film populated by women -- they are simply the characters who happen to populate the script.

At the same time, it is definitely a story about women -- there are gender dimensions to the narrative of horror and redemption that unfold. After all, the story begins with a mother (Rose) attempting to heal, and then rescue, her daughter (Sharon). As the plot unfolds, further pairings of mothers and daughters appear, and overlap, with the original pairings, and the relationships between these parents and their children are key to the drama that plays out. I'll definitely still be thinking about this one in the week ahead. (Though hopefully not dreaming about it tonight!)

In the week ahead? We have the original X-men movie coming, since seeing Wolverine prompted both Hanna and I to say, "oh, it would be fun to see that again!" and now that I've seen In Bruges Hanna has consented to watch The Station Agent (also starring Peter Dinklage). Beyond that, we've also been watching on DVD the television show Bones about a team of forensic anthropologists at the Smithsonian who consult with the FBI on criminal investigations. At one hour a pop, they keep themselves ticking through witty dialog and great interplay between the core of main characters. Oh, and then there's Carnivale to finish . . .


  1. What's particularly interesting about the gender balance of the movie is that the video game followed basically the same story (parent searching for lost child in haunted and twisted town), but the main character was the girl's father.

    The director claims to have switched the characters because he felt that Harry (the father in the video game) was playing a "distinctly feminine" role by....I don't know....caring about his daughter? Because apparently caring about kids is womens' work. Anyway, he felt that he was making the narrative more "true" by occupying Harry's place with a woman.

    Which I don't even know how to untangle. It led to the movie featuring a lot of strong female characters (The police officer, Cybil, is lifted more faithfully from the game), but his reason for doing it is just so heinously sexist.

  2. err. By "the movie" I obviously meant Silent Hill. I somehow forgot that there were three reviews in this entry.

  3. Jordan, that's an interesting new twist to the 'Silent Hill' story -- thanks for commenting! I wasn't aware of the changes from the video game to the movie. It's sad that, given the gender narratives of our culture, each version has problems in terms of depicting the proper roles of parents, male and female. As you say -- being a fiercely protective parent isn't a gendered activity! Weird that the director thought it had to be.