Brief Film Thoughts: The Parallax View and The Skin I Live In

The second half of The Parallax View deserves its high reputation; it merits sharing a name with a not-inconsiderable book. But the film’s first half is just aggressively stupid. There’s a rough-but-paternalistic boss, a loner hero, doggedly committed to the truth, who just can’t even, a bar fight between our hero and a hick cop, and a car chase scored to bluegrass. Stupid.

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Here’s how to read the first half, and, I guess, spoilers: someone’s been killing witnesses to a political assassination, and Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) is on it. He discovers that The Parallax Corporation has been recruiting angry, murderous, self-righteous loners, either as assassins or as patsies. He manages to infiltrate the corporation, not by sneaking in, but, more straightforwardly, just by filling out their questionnaire:

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Joe Frady is himself a classic American antihero: he doesn’t get along with his father/boss, but desperately wants his approval; he can’t get along with the law, because he knows it better than anyone else (in fact, the film’s first scene features him laughing at the stupidity of the cops who’ve just arrested him); he’s able to beat anyone in a fight; and he, alone, knows who’s out to get him, which is just about everyone.

In short, Joe Fredy’s a perfect candidate for The Parallax Corporation. Maybe he didn’t have to lie on the questionnaire to be identified as a potential assassin. And anyone who identifies with the stupidity of the film’s first half—the barfights, the snarky quips, the car chase and escape, the attempted murders, eluded—is himself (and it’s probably a he) being tested by the same corporation. The film indicts the American action film as such and its fans as a whole (see also Starship Troopers). If you know how the film ends, you should know you’re being set up to the degree that you think cars jumping over stuff is cool. You poor patsy.

Pretty sophisticated stuff.

The Skin I Live In

Briefly, because I haven’t finished watching the one yet.

Spoiler, I guess. There’s a rape (maybe more: I’ll edit the post accordingly when I finish the movie). Here’s a picture to help you guess who rapes whom.

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Almodóvar’s problem is how to keep men from admiring the rapist. He needs to make it violent, because it is, but he also needs to keep men from getting off on it.

When Zeca (Roberto Álamo) breaks into Vera Cruz’s (Elena Anaya’s) room to rape her, we follow him up the stairs, and we see the violence, and we see Zeca’s cruelty and pleasure. So far, it’s a normal film rape scene, with nothing to interrupt male power fantasies. Almodóvar could have switched the POV to give us Vera’s anger and suffering, but this too would have done nothing to break with the typical filmic rape. Given that rape is an act of violence, to make it appear violent would be perfectly fine, at least for men who might get off on a rape scene.

Almodóvar instead cuts back to the kitchen and its security cameras. He’s doing this for good narrative reasons: Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) has just come home. But it also gives Almodóvar a chance to show the rape from another viewpoint. Through the cameras, we see Zeca on top of Vera, tiny on the screen, in flickering black and white, with his ass quivering as he rapes her. It’s horrifying, but it’s also…ridiculous. Pathetic. Like a bowl of jello. Because sex as such just looks silly, at least when stripped of proper lighting, makeup, and choreography.

And, as I was just reminded, Zeca’s mother, whom he’s tied up in the kitchen, is watching the rape on the security cameras, which certainly changes the normal arrangements of a filmic rape.

A parallax view, in other words, the rape seen from the other side.

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