Tuesday 28 May 2013


India: My ears hear what others cannot hear; small faraway things people cannot normally see are visible to me. These senses are the fruits of a lifetime of longing, longing to be rescued, to be completed. Just as the skirt needs the wind to billow, I'm not formed by things that are of myself alone. I wear my father's belt tied around my mother's blouse, and shoes which are from my uncle. This is me. Just as a flower does not choose its color, we are not responsible for what we have come to be. Only once you realize this do you become free, and to become adult is to become free.
O no no, save me from my misery

There's no such, thing as living comfortably
There's no such, thing as going home
I'm not formed of myself alone
All the other others they'll just fade to black
When you think you have me's when I don't look back
Keep on laughing, callin' after me
Keep on laughin', I'm just free 
Emily Wells: Becomes the Color
Park Chan-wook's Stoker, based on a script by Wentworth Miller, starts at the end, and then slowly and confusingly reveals how India (Mia Wasikowska) gets to the point where she delivers that poignant monologue. India's father dies tragically in a car fire on her eighteenth birthday, and more than the grief of it, more than the loss, it creates a disturbance in both her and her mother's uniform life. So far, India's life has been tracked by a new pair of shoes - similar, each of them, not recognizing the actual progress she is making, the actual growing-up bit of getting older - and she and her mother were trapped in their big luxurious house, seemingly caught in an era long past, Evelyne (Nicole Kidman) with all the formal education a woman of her standing should have, but no chance to use it out in the world, India entirely out of place in a high school that just from its aesthetics is so clearly not of the world that she hails from that, when we follow her there, it's almost like going through a time warp. Once her father is dead, things change. Her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), of whose existence she did not know previously, moves in. Evelyne takes to him immediately, like someone grasping for a life raft, but she is as suspicious of him as he is fascinated and focused on her - and the beautiful thing about this film is that it takes forever to reveal itself, that for the better part of its first half, it could go pretty much anywhere in terms of story, until it settles for the one that preoccupies the second half: Uncle Charlie, in all his elusive charm and incredible talents, is a killer - a killer of people suspicious of him, a killer of people dangerous to his niece, a killer of everyone who stands in the way of him and the life that he intends to carve out for himself, driving his brother's car, living in his father's house, charming his brother's wife and educating his brother's daughter. He might just be a vampire, in need of someone else's life to make up for a lack of his own (we never see him eat, he just sits there, smiling and yet remaining utterly mysterious). 
And thus India realizes that she is not just formed by things that are of herself alone. Some things haunt people, inescapably haunt entire families, and eventually catch up with them. She discovers a family secret - that her uncle Charlie once murdered a third brother, and apparently expressed a desire deeply anchored in the mindsets of the Stokers, one that her father substituted by going hunting, and feared his daughter would eventually discover without the distraction of killing animals and then stuffing them, turning them into trophies. Charlie takes different kinds of trophies, and buries them in the garden, under the grotesque ornaments, collecting them, and one time he makes India an accomplice - and something opens. In the most profound way, India blooms through the experience of killing another human being (doing "the worse" thing that her father tried to keep her from opens a door for her). This is Charlie's design: make India a picture of himself, steal a daughter that he never managed to have himself from the brother that he murdered for taking that possibility away from him. He gives her her first pair of women's shoes, and promises to run away with her, but once India is freed, once she realizes her potential and her desires, nothing, and especially not Charlie, can detain her. He intends to free her from the house that she and her mother are trapped in, and shape her in his own image, but once she is free and knows of the things that lead her but aren't her own, she determines her own fate. The director himself gave three reasons why India may kill Charlie - out of vengeance for her father, to protect her mother (her mother, who is a feral animal trying to break free herself, telling her daughter that she "can't wait to watch life tear her apart"), and to kill the man who intended to keep her trapped just as much as her father did, if in a different way, to claim her own future for herself. She walks out of the house on her own terms, in the shoes given to her, with the gun that her father taught her to use, and she is free - an adult - free to wreak all the glorious and terrible havoc that she wants. She isn't going to get torn apart by life - India Stoker is the one doing the tearing apart, colouring the flowers in the field blood red. 

2013, directed by Chan-wook Park, starring Mia Wasikoswka, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney.

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