Thursday, January 15, 2015
(August 2001, U.S.)
It's (practically) a historical fact that during times of national crisis or tragedy, one of the first things (if not the first thing) that Americans do to forget their troubles is to go to the movies. We did it during the Great Depression, we did it during World War II and we did it immediately following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. In fact, one of the first things Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York City at that time, told New Yorkers to do to try and return their lives to normal was to go to a movie, to a show or just out to dinner. I, among many others, heeded our Mayor's words and went to a movie a couple of days later, as I was unable to immediately return to work because my office was below 14th Street, which had been declared closed. Most people went to see comedies to raise their spirits a bit. Hollywood was keen to this and re-released all comedies by all major studios that had been previously released that summer (this was, perhaps, one of the few admirable things Hollywood has done during this entire century, in my opinion!). Now in order to temporarily forget my troubles, I didn't necessarily require a good laugh. I needed my mind and my imagination to be stimulated and taken on some sort of journey, even for just two hours. So I walked down 86th Street to the local quad movie theater and paid my money to see THE OTHERS. I knew from a trailer I'd seen months earlier that this was a horror film, but I didn't know what sort of fears to expect. Hauntings? Ghosts? Intruders? Exorcisms? Monsters? Anything was possible and I was ready, willing and able to open my mind and take anything inside just to forget for a small part of my unexpected day off from work.
THE OTHERS, like any horror story of a haunted house, follows a traditional line of textbook elements that make it so. Mysterious noises, whispers, slamming doors, ominous heavy fog, strange music - you name it, it's likely there. Whether you've seen this sort of stuff repeatedly or not, it's the sort of haunted clichés that one should expect if the genre is going to work at all. Where this film differs from countless others (no pun intended) over the decades is in its stylish acting and intelligent screenplay. These are not silly, mindless characters that we have no intention of caring about or taking an interest in. Nicole Kidman plays a devout Roman Catholic mother who loves her two children, but is overly strict and protective of them. This family - mother, boy, girl and three servants (the father has never returned from the fighting front of World War II) live as shut-ins in a remote British mansion, apparently having survived the entire war in England without a Nazi once setting foot in their house. By all accounts, the house appears to suddenly be haunted by uneasy spirits who have just recently intruded on their home and their lives. The little girl also appears to have had physical contact with a mysterious boy named Victor who may or may not be one of the intruding ghosts. Like I said, all seems to following the traditional cinematic trail of haunted house rules and regulations. And yet, as the story progresses, one can't help but feel that there's something going on that we're not entirely sure off that's not in the haunted house rule book. Surely, the servants appears to know more about the house and what's going on than their employer and her children do. They even claim to have previously worked there years earlier for prior owners. True or not true, it almost doesn't matter. We know they know something that we don't, and that makes the mystery of horror and haunting all the more intriguing.
Now as haunted clichés dictate, we're required to inevitably be provided with clues that will start to unravel things before our eyes. For this film, it's a 19th Century "book of the dead"; a photo album of mourning portraits of recently deceased family members. Morbid, indeed, but not without purpose and history, according to what we're told by the servants. We're also informed that "sometimes the world of the dead gets mixed up with the world of the living". Ah, now things are starting to take shape here and we're at the pivotal point of learning the truth, which is this; the mother, the two children and the three servants are themselves the actual ghosts of this story! The mother is believed to have killed her own children in a fit of psychosis before taking her own life. In a frenzy of denial, the mother insists that they're not dead, actually shaking a séance table seated by the living occupants of the house (the ones we thought were the real ghosts, including the boy Victor)! You get it? And like THE SIXTH SENSE (1999), the big revelation at the end is the almost classic, "Oh, my God, they were really dead the whole time!" Whether you consider that sort of surprise, shock ending an ongoing repetition by now is entirely up to you. The fact that THE OTHERS uses it, but manages to literally switch the living and the dead to their opposite purposes works very well for this film. It's shocking, it's surprising, it's terrifying, and yet it's very simple. Simple works...less is more...and even when the rest of the world felt the need to watch crap like LEGALLY BLONDE for the second time in order to laugh a little following 9/11, this guy chose a few thrills, chills, and pure shock value in order to get his entertainment during a time of national crisis. Hey, to each their own!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Grace Stewart: "At first I couldn't understand...what the pillows where doing in my hands and why you didn't move. But then I knew. It had happened. I killed my children. I got the rifle...I put it to my forehead...and I pulled the trigger. Nothing. Then I heard your laughter in the bedroom. You were playing with the pillows as if nothing had happened, and I thought...the Lord and his great mercy was giving me another chance. Tell them, don't give up, be strong, be a good mother. But now, now...what does this all mean? Where are we?"
Bertha Mills: "Young Lydia said the very same thing when she realized the three of us were dead...and that was the last time she ever spoke, but I couldn't tell you that before now. Shall I make us a nice cup of tea? The intruders are leaving. But others will come, and sometimes we'll sense them. Other times, we won't. But that's the way it's always been."