Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Killer Inside Me: Pushing Buttons

First off, I'm reposting the trailer for The Killer Inside Me, since YouTube seems to have taken it down. Secondly, prompted by this blog post, and it's concern about the film's depiction of violence against women,I went back and reread Thompson's book, which I had not looked at in many years. My first observation was that the trailer seems to show a film that shows remarkable fidelity to its source material. The story, as far as I can tell, is the same as the book's, and even has a lot of dialogue lifted verbatim from the book. That makes me optimistic about the film, even though Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson aren't exactly the greatest actors in the world.

Now,I'll make a frank assessment: The violence depicted in the trailer isn't the result of some Hollywood desire to tart up Thompson's book with titillating and shocking detail. It comes straight from the novel. The filmmakers seem to have actually toned down the initial meeting between Lou Ford and Joyce (Jessica Alba's character). In the book, Ford beats Joyce until she's unconscious and then revives her. When she comes to, she comes onto him. It's an uncomfortable scene, but not nearly as uncomfortable as the scene where Lou kills her. The trailer is graphic, but so is the book. Lou describes killing Joyce as, "like pounding a pumpkin. Hard, then everything giving away at once." If that imagery weren't disturbing enough, Joyce, who is clearly almost as screwed up in the head as Lou, asks for a goodbye kiss while she is being beaten.

The murder of Amy Stanton (played by Kate Hudson in the upcoming film) in the book is even worse. Lou hits her in the stomach, and "[his] fist went back against her spine, and the flesh closed around it to the wrist. " After that vicious blow, Amy falls and the floor, and Lou sits there and watches her die. Then he kicks her in the head for good measure. I've got to say, this scene, particularly the description of the punch, stayed with me for years. I remembered it long after I had forgotten most of the book's story.

Now, Lou Ford is a complex character. His violence is not just reserved for women. He kills men. He puts cigars out on vagrants for fun. He corners people and repeats corny cliches just to watch them squirm, but the worst violence of the book is reserved for women because Lou Ford has a complex relationship with the opposite sex. Without giving too much away, let's say that what torments Lou, aside from an inherited tendency toward sadism, is his relationship with women. To say more than that would be telling, but Thompson isn't going for misogynistic thrills. He's doing a character study of a man who has an inner life he hides from the world, and a public face at odds with his true self.

The Killer Inside Me was published in 1952, seven years before Robert Bloch's Psycho (another novel that hinges on a killer's complicated relationship with women). You can probably lay a lot of blame at Thompson's feet for the boring and repetitive serial killer fiction that clogs up the crime fiction section of your local bookstore, but it would be a mistake to accuse him of misogyny. It's not a theme that runs throughout his work. Thompson, like Bloch, wrote a lot of novels, and they're quite different, with different types of characters.

Similarly, it would be a mistake to accuse the filmmakers of misogyny for bringing Thompson's disturbing story to the screen. Artists have no obligation to preach, or try to instruct, or to worry about whether their work depicts something that's "dangerous." If you can't depict "dangerous" behaviors or ideas in fiction, then where exactly can you depcit them? I can see how The Killer Inside Me trailer might make the author of that blog post uncomfortable. It's not based on a Little Golden Book. The book is disturbing. It's meant to be. Dismissing The Killer Inside Me, as "no better than a snuff film," however, based on five minutes of footage, an obvious ignorance about the source material and a misplaced sense of self righteousness
seems silly, although such controversy will undoubtedly end up helping at the box office.

Bonus video: MC 900 Foot Jesus raps from the POV of Lou Ford in his 1991 song "The Killer Inside Me."

1 comment:

BC Armstrong said...

Casey Affleck? Enough to know the film cannot be called a faithful adaptation. It's not just acting ability. I think he's probably good enough. But it's like casting Flipper as Moby Dick. The character's intimidating physicality is intrinsic to the book.

But maybe it's a decent flick, even if it's an abuse of the novel. I doubt it though, because the trailer just looks depressing, without any of the verve and humor of the original (Lou Ford isn't only a sociopathic brute, he's an articulate, witty man, which makes his story even more terrifying.)

This film looks like it was made by people to cash in on the novel, not out of love for it. It's a great, shattering book, and deserves better.

Thanks for posting the trailer. (Why do they make those things so long these days? I only watch them all the way through when I don't plan to see the movie)