• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

But Polanski, while dealing coincidentally with comparable buckets of rain around a comparable island fortress, proves himself a much better judge than Scorsese (which one’s the taller, though?), pacing himself prudently, walking a razor’s edge between anxiety and mirth, allowing the plot to unfold without rush, getting to know the cast of characters as palpable human beings — Olivia Williams a standout as the politician’s astringent wife — and keeping the bedrock of political piety pretty well buried. (I hope I can speak this way without signalling a willingness to sign some petition for Polanski’s release from house arrest in Switzerland, a totally separate issue.) In the later stages of his career, it is in genre pieces such as Frantic and The Ninth Gate, and now this, that the director’s mastery is most apparent, not where he subjugates it to greater causes: the classics (Oliver Twist), the Holocaust (The Pianist), political torture front and center (Death and the Maiden) rather than, as it is here, political torture in the wings. He seems in these circumstances to raise the level of his game by necessity, as though he can’t count on his teammates, can’t coast.

His personality, his imprint, is in any event ever-present in the scooped-out bowl-shaped space, so open and ominous and oppressive, and in the off-center observations of people and places. Yet he feels no Scorsesean urge to throw in the kitchen sink, or even the spatula, the can opener, the coffee pot, the meat cleaver. Knife and fork will suffice. And when at last he elects to turn up the heat on the stove top — the brilliant device of following a preprogrammed computer route in the dead man’s car to a destination unknown, the prickly interview that awaits at that destination (“A less equable man than I,” rasps a pedantic Tom Wilkinson, “might begin to find your questions impertinent”), and the black sedan with tinted windows lurking outside afterwards — the effect is delectable. A sustained tingle. It may not hold all the way to the end, but it comes close.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


SDaniels Feb. 24, 2010 @ 8:16 p.m.

"...unscrupulous bait-and-switch tactics that have become a vogue, if not a full-blown genre, ever since The Sixth Sense. All it needs to become a genre is a label: the gotcha genre, the pull-the-rug-out genre, the nothing-as-it-seems genre, the just-fooling genre. (Suggestions wanted.)"

Suggestions wanted, really? Ok, my two cents, then. I don't think this filmic (also textual) device merits an entire generic class unto itself! We could perhaps consider it to be a subgenre, but we run into problems here, because this device can be used in any film or text, no matter the genre--romantic comedy, horror, suspense, etc. etc.

So it is a generic device, rather, in both senses, and in my opinion, you've already designated it, Duncan:

It's the old "bait-and-switch" tactic, and now [cue fanfare] if you must--

the "bait-and-switch" multigeneric device. ;)


joeb March 6, 2010 @ 4:04 p.m.

"Itsy-Bitsy Spider" in the style of Beethoven? Oh, Duncan, you wag. That is too clever, by half.

Bear in mind, however, that Mozart did compose a set of variations on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

If you're curious:



Johann_Nick_vonStone March 12, 2010 @ 3:40 p.m.

joeb, that's not "too clever", that's merely the game they play on NPR's nightly classical puzzle game. I once submited a recording of "Pick A Bale Of Cotton" in the style of Olivier Messiaen, which they didn't use, those bastards.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oE9QYkkxyVQ plus http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSdXitBkFb0

Imagine that.


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!