Brian De Palma’s The Fury, Or: Hollywoodland

(The following contains spoilers for Dressed to Kill, Sisters, Femme Fatale, and, of course, The Fury. For obvious reasons of my own comfort, with reference to the above events, a few of the more graphic stills that might accompany this piece and might illuminate a point, will only be put up after a little time has passed.)

A movie about violence. If Dressed to Kill focuses on erotic fantasy, this looks at our thantic ones. It’s a movie about killing, about movie watching, and how we seek out our violent fantasies fulfilled in the movies we watch. I write of these observations as things self-evident, when they are not: they are suggestions that have always been there for me, of something beneath this movie’s surface, and what they most resemble to me is a thesis on violence we wish to act out, which is committed before our eyes, for us. I see this analogy for movies and movie making not to find some depth in a movie I greatly enjoy, but because it is a metaphor so strongly hinted at, I yield to it: I do not ever think of the meaning in something we enjoy, but our meanings, a semaphore which chimes deep with us, but which we can also find deeply grounded in the details of the work, one not entirely floating free, entirely of our own making.

HEROES, SUPERHEROES, MORTALS

The characters of this movie might be placed in three classes, classes which, even if not given formal names, are common to many popular movies. If we take our cues from Northrop Frye’s seminal Anatomy of Criticism, there are the heroes of romance, superior to us in degree, they “move in a world in which the ordinary laws of nature are slightly suspended: prodigies of courage and endurance, unnatural to us, are natural to him” – these are Peter Sandza and Ben Childress, respectively, a spy of extraordinary agility and endurance, and his opponent, a man who commands a secret agency we have never heard of, an agency that is almost all-powerful in its ability to surveil and kill – in the words of Sandza, “it’s a frightening power these people have, they can make almost anybody disappear at any time”; there are the two gifted with telekinesis, Robin and Gillian, “superior in kind both to other men and to the environment of other men”, divine beings; there are those comic characters who are far less powerful than either of these two groups, men and women who are ridiculous, either lower than us, or who we are, but dearly wish not to be, characters of an ironic mode: those who are “inferior in power or intelligence to ourselves, so that we have the sense of looking down on a scene of bondage, frustration, or absurdity…this is still true when the reader feels that he is or might be in the same situation, as the situation is being judged by the norms of a greater freedom.” These last may include many of those in the movie, including the Nuckells family and the two cops. Even when Sandza has his ridiculous moments – when his pants fall around his ankles or a shot where we hear him panting like a dirty caller during a phone call while shaking from the cold so we at first think he’s masturbating – these are effective because they are ridiculous moments for a heroic character, a character we do not expect to have such moments – they might best be compared to Han Solo having to deal with a spaceship that keeps breaking down, or Indiana Jones confidently reaching for a pistol, but finding only an empty holster.

Such classes exist in many such movies, with one group of heroes set apart for idolatry, and another placed aside for contempt – though we often may realize that we are closer to the latter category than the former, and we might resent and deny the fact. Though these classes are in the movie, they are not unaccompanied without self-awareness and skepticism, the film questioning our perspectives on these men and women. For example: at various moments, Peter acts absurdly, and we are given no reason for his actions, a ridiculing of the assumption that every action of the hero contains heroic genius. Near the movie’s opening, Peter Sandza drives away from the beach, away from his son, out to the open ocean, a clear target – what tactical purpose does this serve? We assume, despite all appearances, something is to be accomplished in this, because he is the hero. His boat is then blown up, but since he is a hero, superior to us in degree, he survives the explosion and doesn’t drown. We next see him fire a machine gun at Childress in order to wound him, then throw the gun down and walk away, and we must ask again, why? Why simply wound the man, why not try to get his son back? We assume his actions all have a greater purpose, again, because he is the hero. What this early wounding most certainly serves is the story’s aim, which gives these characters an almost mythic genesis. Sandza is rendered into an exile, a near invulnerable, near invisible man. Childress, whatever his secret villainy before, now assumes the outward appearance of a nemesis. He only wears black for the rest of the movie, his arm now entirely dead, a good half entirely vanished, the man now engulfed in shadow. The lame arm also serves as a taint of evil, as any deformity used to signify, such as Richard III’s hump, not simply a noble creature who has strayed into malevolence, but a man who embodies it. From now on, every phrase and action of Childress is malicious, without any mitigating humanity.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

The heroic and super-heroic types – Sandza, Childress, Gillian, Robin – are distinguished from the lower, ironic types in two other ways as well. They are very good looking, the beauty of marquee movie stars, distinguishing them from the unattractive rabble. They also have far more money than any of these low characters, this money giving them a further freedom and grace that the others lack. We see the gorgeous high-rise Gillian and her mother live in; Peter and Robin have access to the great schools and foreign travel expected from a man paid a high salary by a government agency; the Paragon Institute, of course, has the money to buy just about anything. These qualities – good looks and wealth – are intertwined with their great powers, of degree and kind. We are shown Raymond Dunwoodie (played by the late and well-missed De Palma stalwart William Finley), a man with something like the abilities of Gillian and Robin, a powerful telepathy and precognition, yet he is a figure of contempt: Gillian looks upon him as a freak, while Sandza treats him with barely veiled impatience. He is, despite his powers, not a divine figure, but an ironic, ignoble one, a man of rotting teeth and shabby clothes, a man of poverty and ugliness that might remind the audience of their own, or which they may have experienced, and which they feel is ever close. Whatever this man’s magic, we do not wish to be him.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

The contrast between these two classes, not simply of character, but economic classes, is in the sequence that begins after the phone call to Dunwoodie, when Sandza must flee his apartment. He demonstrates the incredible athleticism that we wish for, not just in youth, but which gives a man hope that some virility will persist late into life. The feats demonstrated in the escape are extraordinary, but also casual, without dramatic camera placement, or any music cues, the everyday feats of a heroic man who has done them often.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Sandza finds himself in the apartment of the Nuckells, a family living in poverty, entirely helpless before greater forces that dominate them – oil barons and the CIA, unable to do anything but watch on TV as these powers impose themselves. While Sandza has the physique of someone god-like, their mother, of comparable age, has a body that is falling apart – one is near immortal, one is mortal. Though we are very far from the era of TV-watching people, we may well feel closer to them than the man of action, Peter Sandza, the heroic type we aspire to, a man of strength and endurance who at least is able to fight back, who has a fighting chance against these same oppressors. The Nuckells are, of course, helpless before this man – they are weak, they are poor. Added to their past humiliations, they are soon bound in place by Sandza.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

While at the Nuckells, Sandza puts on a disguise, and I think it’s further evidence of the distinction between these classes. It might be helpful at this point to quote a movie over which I have much mixed feelings, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, but which contains some dialogue that offers great insight into this moment. It is the well-known and oft-quoted “Superman” speech, that Bill gives near the film’s end:

BILL
Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race. Sorta like Beatrix Kiddo and Mrs. Tommy Plimpton.

I think Sandza’s disguise reflects the very same thing, a superhero having to pass for an ordinary man, the appearance of this ordinary man carrying the qualities of how Sandza views this other, lower class, and how the movies present such people – he is poor, he is weak, he is overweight, he wears shabby clothes, he is helpless, his life is worth nothing.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

The moment he walks onto the street, he is immediately set upon by muggers who see these very same cues. The police think him a complete joke until he steps into their car, and reveals something of the fearlessness and determination of the man he truly is.

We also see in this sequence that where material possessions mean a great deal to these ironic types who have so little, whose status is tied to these possessions that they work so hard for, which they barely have the money to afford, these possessions are meaningless to those like Sandza because they have so much money, and have known only lives of plenty. When intelligence agents come into the boarding house to get Sandza, the landlord pleads with them not to break the door down. The income he has is meagre, and to repair or put in a new door would be a killing cost. It is something he knows well, but which these agents would know nothing about.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

LANDLORD
Hey, government man. Don’t bust my door down, please. Use a pass key.

He, of course, must show great deference to this men, even if he wishes them to go to hell – because what power does he have in comparison to them?

We have something like this again after the incredible chase scene through the docks. Sandza has taken control of the car of the policemen, a car which this movie has made clear, is a recent purchase by one of the patrolmen, one that is very expensive for him, and which he values greatly:

EGGLESTON (honks horn)
Hey, how’s that for a horn?

EGGLESTON (turns on stereo)
Or listen to that stereo. I mean, you ever hear better fucking stereo sound in your life?

SANDZA
Hi Bob. Nice car.

EGGLESTON
Yeah, it’s brand new. I just picked up a half hour ago…I sure wouldn’t want anything to happen to it.

SANDZA
Don’t blame you.

EGGLESTON
God, oh god, please don’t let anything happen to my new car.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

The end of this chase is well-known to anyone has seen the movie: another of the absurd moments of Peter Sandza, where we grant it some purpose because he is the hero. He takes this car, valued so much by the patrolman, and destroys it by driving off the pier and crashing into the water. This car has incredible value for this patrolman not just for its material qualities such as the stereo and horn, but how much it cost. The pride in owning the car lies in the pride of having earned so much, the pride of having worked so hard for it. Sandza, whose domain was of wealth, is entirely indifferent to the pride such a man might feel, and he tosses it away easily. We are left the same question as we have after the escapades in the beach – why not simply blindfold the men, or toss the keys into the river so they can’t follow him? We accept that in this grand, heroic gesture of flying into the river there is a reason. Sandza, of course, survives this crash: as we have seen already, like almost all action heroes, he is nearly immortal.

HESTER

Brian De Palma's The Fury

I try to find what is the best place to speak of The Fury‘s character I find most sympathetic, whose appearance and death interconnect with so much of what I see in the movie. Though she is Sandza’s girlfriend, she is not heroic but a character of the low mimetic or ironic tradition. She is someone of great kindness, easily the gentlest character of the film, but also a woman that appears fragile and insecure. When she describes Sandza to Gillian and the description – the part about going out dancing and buying presents – doesn’t entirely match up to the man we’ve so far seen,

HESTER
Well, he’s very charming…swept me right off my feet. In the park.

GILLIAN
In the park?

HESTER
Yeah, he picked me up in the park.

GILLIAN
What was his line?

HESTER
He said he needed help.

GILLIAN
Some line.

HESTER
What are you talking about, it worked.

GILLIAN
Yeah…what’s he do?

HESTER
Do? He…travels around a lot.

GILLIAN
Where?

HESTER
All over. Oh, when he comes to town we go to parties, he loves people…he takes me out dancing, buys me presents…oh, he dresses beautifully, and he’s a good dancer.

GILLIAN
Yeah?

HESTER
The only trouble is, he’s very hard to get hold of.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

We’re not sure if this is Hester trying to present her man as something he is not, or if these are details we just haven’t seen firsthand. An undercurrent to the whole film, it should be noted, are the unsatisfying relationships of three women: Hester and Peter, Lindstrom’s unreciprocated affection for Dr. McKeever, and Dr. Charles forced to act as consort for Robin. Gillian, who is in high school and may not have had any intimacies with a man, let alone a long-term relationship, has other ordeals to deal with.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Hester is a woman imposed on by others: when we first see her, she is obediently strapped into the telekinesis machine serving as a sample test subject. It is possible that Sandza sees in her this submissiveness, and he knows it will prove useful to his mission. She is, of course, entirely an order taker, never an order giver or dissenter in Sandza’s attempt to kidnap Gillian. That there is a mercenary component to his relationship with her, there is no doubt. Whether it is the sole motivation is another question. Sandza is genuinely moved by her death, but whether this feeling is for a woman he loved, or whether it’s over the death of a very kind-hearted woman who he knows that he used, is another question. Hester may well see this mercenary aspect as well, but deny it to herself. There is the suggestion of a woman who does not wish to see the most hurtful things beneath affection, perhaps because she has been very badly hurt in the past. I feel this maybe all the more strongly because of the resonant last images she’s in, where she runs cheerfully in the sunlight, the music buoyant, unaware of what a dangerous game she’s in the middle of.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Her death is a variation on the situations involving vengeance that occur again and again in the film, which begin with Childress shot in the arm, and ending with his death, inflicted by Gillian. In this scene, Sandza shoots at the agent (who has kept showing up in the background throughout the film) again and again, even after he’s wounded and helpless, solely as an outlet for his rage. This might be seen as a precursor to the finale, both with the same series of zooming cuts, both involving a good character, rather than the sociopath Robin, exacting revenge – but the vengeance of the movie’s end is purer, with an innocent, a blameless victim, destroying the villain. Here, the agent who is killed is not directly involved in Hester’s death, but more importantly, it is Sandza himself who is more to blame for this woman dying – it is he who involved her in this scheme, he who gave her no warning or preparation for escape. Once again, Sandza employs his heroic genius, employing a larger plan the audience can only guess at: he sits in a car far from the Institute, far from Gillian and Hester, then fires his gun at the on-coming car. He has nothing to fear in this situation, because he is near immortal; Hester, on the other hand, is very mortal, was built to die, so other men might kill other men in anger over her death.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

PRINCE AND PRINCESS SUPERSTAR

Sandza’s storyline is one examination of the expected tropes of action movies, those of Gillian and Robin are another. Key to this examining is the opening, where Robin sees his father killed by arab terrorists, an event which will be used to make him into a weapon, a creature entirely of vengeance, vengeance for this terrible act he witnessed. This plot, a man who kills those in reprisal for the killing of a family member, perhaps even a family member killed by terrorists, is not an uncommon one in action movies. The Fury should not be seen as a political movie in the sense that it speaks to us in any way about the middle east, or U.S policy there. If The Fury is a political movie, it is because it examines the way in which the viewer is so easily manipulated by such simple provocative images, how movies give us a cathartic target for our anger, a release for our frustrations, an enemy we can hate and have a proxy destroy. That the convenient enemy here are arab terrorists is fitting for this thesis, but it could well have been a soviet military, a cuban militia, japanese or chinese business leaders, black gangsters and pimps – any number of villains.

The event from which Robin’s anger stems is, of course, entirely fabricated. Members of one intelligence agency play the part of the terrorists, and Sandza isn’t killed. The sole purpose is to create a fictional memory, which will give Robin a focus for his hate. This is not, I think, very different from many who form a sense of the world from TV and movies, where the outside world is an unending series of enemies to be destroyed. Robin disappears from the movie, and when we next see him, he is a lunatic sociopath – a proper rendering of someone governed only by destructive hatred. He has a power, and he only wishes to use it to kill.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

His opposite is Gillian, a young woman with an equal or greater power, but who is deeply afraid of it, and deeply upset any time she comes close to hurting anyone with it. The movie, by its end, cleverly plays with these characters and what we in the audience want in our fantasies: that we are sane, decent people, unlike Robin, but that we want some violent catharsis, which is finally given us.

I detect an undertone to these characters that I do not think accidental: that Robin and Gillian have something like divine powers, through which the audience acts out their own desires, makes them something like movie stars, who are often associated with the divine, their beauty exceptional and unearthly, their very presence having a charismatic power comparable to a supernatural being. That this presence is often ubiquitous about the planet is perceived not a sign of a well-designed publicity network, but another indicator of their mystic gifts.

The Paragon Institute itself makes me think of the entertainment complex dealing in young actors, who attempt to nurture and train those whose talents they recognise, and which they may well view as extraordinary, but just as Gillian and Robin are there because they could prove to be useful weapons, the primary reason for the cultivating of these young talents is because they might have very lucrative possibilities. That Robin’s ability is directed solely towards the purpose of violence makes me think of great actors whose talents are placed, over and over again, in the service of the most simple-minded action movies. The way Robin’s every appetite is indulged cannot help but suggest those celebrities whose every degenerate whim is sated so that they remain happy and productive clients.

Then there are several isolated moments that I see as comparable to that of the life of many well-known actors, such as the extended scene where Robin tries and fails to make a high pole vault:

Brian De Palma's The Fury

CHILDRESS
What’s he trying to prove?

DR.CHARLES
Mentally, Robin has developed this perfect psychotronic relationship with all kinds of machines. And so naturally he’s trying to do the same thing now with his body. Except that physically, he’s just…adequate. And when he fails…he’s intolerable.

That Robin has extraordinary mastery over one field, which he then futilely tries to duplicate in physical prowess, makes me think of actors, masterful at acting, who then try, and fail, to somehow emulate their actual roles – they try to engage in real-life heroics (or have their publicist plant such stories), they become insufferable bullies as they try to be actual gangsters that they once merely played, they think themselves full of wisdom and sagacity because they were once awarded for their brilliant acting work as saints and sages.

Here is another moment, when Robin can feel the near presence of Gillian, and he gets upset with Dr. Charles:

Brian De Palma's The Fury

ROBIN
You know what’s the matter. It’s that goddamn girl.

DR.CHARLES
What girl?

ROBIN
One that’s like me.

DR. CHARLES
What do you mean, like you?

ROBIN
Oh, you think I don’t know she’s around. She’s right out there.

DR. CHARLES
There is no girl.

ROBIN
That’s a lie.

DR. CHARLES
No, it isn’t Robin.

ROBIN
She’ll do everything I’ll do, won’t she? And you won’t miss me at all.

Again, this makes me think of a noted star who realizes that his status is being challenged, as his agency and studio suddenly move their focus to some up and coming talent, and his anxiety that he’ll be reduced to some marginal figure.

There is this final scene, the last speech of Childress:

Brian De Palma's The Fury

CHILDRESS
How did you sleep? OK? I was here most of the night. I guess you don’t remember. Move a little closer to the fire. I know what you’ve been going through these past couple of days. I know how exhausted you must be. It’ll take more than one night’s sleep. I know how I feel. Peter was my friend. Maybe the best friend I’ll ever had. But I had to do what I did. I mean, you saw what happened. Peter could have saved Robin. Instead, he let him go. He deliberately killed his son. I hope you don’t judge me too harshly. I can’t say what I did was right or wrong. I only know I acted…and it’s done. Robin is gone. Peter is gone. And you’re the only one who matters now. Yes, I know that hurts. That hurts so bad you wanna lie down and die. But you have to survive. You’re a healthy…strong…young girl. And you must survive. You’ll begin by putting all the tragedies behind you. I think that’ll be easier if you accept my help. All the bad things you heard about me just aren’t true. I’m not a bad man. All I want is for you to trust me. Time will take care of the hurting. That’s the simple truth. Tears are good. Don’t be afraid of crying. Tears are just what we need right now. I’ll be a good father to you, Gillian. You can depend on that.

This performance, given by a speaker so mendacious he doesn’t even hear the obvious insincerity of so many lines, with its utterly phony compassion and icky paternal feeling, suggests to me nothing else than yet another reptilian agent or producer, who is always affecting some ersatz intimacy, who lies so easily and so often that he can no longer even hear the blatancy of his deceit.

ILL COMMUNICATION / VENGEANCE IS OURS

For me, the central sequence of this movie, and the one which hints so strongly that this unusual action movie is very much a self-examination of the experience of watching movies, is, suitably, at its very center, when Gillian is asked by Dr. Lindstrom to use her powers to find the current location of Robin. Gillian passes her hand over the photo of the boy, and then, suddenly, she falls into a trance, and then she is Robin, transported to the recent past, a test chamber where they play the footage of his father’s death over and over again, trying to gauge his reaction. She sees entirely what he sees, she moves her head in response to the commands of Dr. Charles, while the world outside this vision has entirely disappeared. The movie Peter watches in fact becomes reality, no longer a movie on-screen, but a re-play of what took place before, actual life, or actual life for these characters, Peter and Robin, just as movies can become vivid as life. When Gillian sees Sandza killed, she responds as Robin overwhelmed with anguish at the death of a father – and it is this reaction which nearly ends up killing off Lindstrom.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

This, I think, is all not unlike what we experience in a movie, where our vision becomes that of the hero, and we respond with kindred feelings to the victories and suffering of this character we are linked to. That we are then unable to distinguish between reality and fiction, that we then do great harm through this lack of distinction, is an obvious truth as well. It is not so facile as movies inciting us to violence, but: say, a series of films are made, that are almost exclusively heroic narratives from the experiences of a recent war. Those who gain their sense of war from such films then expect that a subsequent war will unfold according to one of these heroic narratives, a brave native of their country in great battle against a foe whose defeat means that the chimes of freedom will now ring. That these narratives are made, and that we want them, is without question; yet with the wars launched years ago still on-going, no one now would be so cretinous to think that these heroic narratives come close to capturing the essence of what took place in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For we not only take on the perspective of a character in a movie, it often gives us the opportunity to fulfill our own fantasies. Sometimes those fantasies involve intimacy with a beautiful lover, what it’s like to be obscenely wealthy, or: to kill someone who might serve as a convenient target for our anger. We are given, over and over this fantasy in The Fury, which we might accept without scrutiny, but which instead, I believe, we are intended to question. At the center of Robin’s transformation is the possibility of the fulfillment of a revenge fantasy based around an event which we know to be false, the killing of Sandza by arab terrorists. Robin has been programmed by being forced to watch this event over and over again. We have in the carnival sequence an examination of the catharsis a movie death is supposed to provide: he is angered by the nuisances of his own life, jealousy over the lack of affection of a woman close to him, and then he moves this anger onto something both abstract and intimate, the arabs who he has seen, over and over, kill his father. He is given an ideal image of a target, saudi sheiks who are wealthy, clownish, entirely resembling each other, anonymous. He has the power to destroy at a distance, a power we ourselves might wish for our own revenge, and he exercises it. If it doesn’t give us the satisfaction of vengeance we might have in another movie, it is because we see clearly that our proxy for revenge here is a sociopath, that the inciting event is a manipulation, a lie – we cannot enter this vengeance fantasy, and we instead question the past times we have been given this same revenge plot.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

The next involves Dr. Charles, and again, we have the possibilities of a satisfying revenge, but again, we are outside it. Dr. Charles has many of the qualities that would make her a villainous female marked for destruction in another movie: she is a variation on the taunting girl at Gillian’s school; beautiful, with a snooty british accent, sexually confident, but a little cold. She can have drinks with some male friends at a bar, and not care how it looks. She can describe a man’s performance in bed as, “he wants to please me”, adding “isn’t that the most important thing”, in a tone that suggests no, it isn’t. Yet despite these traits, despite the fact that she helps Childress, the entire performance is sympathetic, an ordinary female executive, tired and overwhelmed. Some have found the final violence done to her especially repulsive, and this misses the point: it is supposed to repulse us. We should not be able to watch this calmly, and marvel at its visual wit, or find satisfaction in her destruction, but be disturbed by it, just as we are repelled by Kate Miller’s death in Dressed to Kill: we question instead why movies so often give us this pattern, again, of a bitch nemesis destroyed. That the violence, again, is executed by the sociopath Robin only alienates us further.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

It is around this time that the two polarities of good and evil in this movie converge at the estate, Sandza and Childress, Gillian and Robin. Before, whenever Sandza drove off in a motorboat, shot Childress in the arm, or went off a pier into the river, we assumed some brilliant tactical purpose was behind these works. Throughout the movie, Sandza has appeared impervious to death. Now, he goes to this heavily guarded estate without any prior plan whatsoever to get his son back – we assume once again he has some rationale for an utterly absurd move. Again, that we must infer some genius when the hero acts in such a ridiculous manner is a staple of action movies. After Sandza is caught, then forced to retrieve his son, he ends up on the roof, his strength still that of heroic figure as he manages to hold onto the bulk of Peter with a single arm. His son, though, is now entirely lost to him, a complete lunatic who tries to kill his father. Sandza, whose whole quest was retrieving his child alive, ends up being the man who kills him. This man who seemingly cannot be killed by any man, gives himself the task, and dies by throwing himself off the roof.

After this death, Gillian and Robin lock eyes for the first, and only time, with Robin’s eyes flaring up with light, and Gillian’s briefly burning as well, as if some vital essence is passed between them. There is something of great significance in this moment, just as the moment when Kate and Liz lock eyes is key to Dressed to Kill: it is never hinted at what passes between them, and we can only guess at it. There is the possibility that some power passes from one to the other, but it’s already been made clear that Gillian’s abilities are extraordinary, far greater than Robin’s. A transformation takes place in Gillian between this scene and the next, but I don’t think it has anything to do with what powers she has; instead, a malevolence passes from one to the other, and finally, Gillian becomes an effective weapon.

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

The last scene takes place in a woman’s bedroom, used often by De Palma as a setting for a woman changed into something else, a subtle, internal change.

In Femme Fatale, one woman takes over the role of another:

Brian De Palma's The Fury

The bedroom in Sisters is where we realize with horror that Grace Collier has been successfully hypnotised into forgetting about a murder:

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Dressed to Kill‘s Liz Blake, always a self-possessed woman despite trying circumstances, a sexually experienced and confident female, is finally very frightened, and wearing virginal white:

Brian De Palma's The Fury

We open in this bedroom where Gillian has been asleep for a long time, the first shot not quite her, but her in a mirror. Prior to this, Gillian has always shown horror at what her powers can do, repelled by its effects, even when it hurts a school bully who has been taunting her. Now, as they say, things are different. Something has happened. Before, there was no place in this world for someone with such a destructive power who does not want to use it. Gillian, with her strange ability, has no idea where her place in the world is. She wants to meet Robin so he can show her what place there is for her in this world, and he, in the moment of light passing between them, has shown her. Where before we are given vengeance from which we were alienated, now, one is arranged through which we can finally take satisfaction. I have often wondered at the title of this movie: whose fury is it? I think I know now: it is our fury, the collected fury of the viewers, our private anger at so many things, for which we now get release. This movie which started in the maddeningly complex terrain of the middle east ends in a division that is entirely manichean. This, of course, is what is so often wanted from a movie, with whatever complex crisis is out there re-assembled into a match-up of good and evil. The villain is in black. Our heroine is in white. She, who never wished to use her powers for the most conscientious of reasons, now uses them with abandon, and it is what we want. The audience is indifferent to whether she is now a malevolent spirit like Robin. We want her to spill blood, and we want it now. She delivers for us gloriously, a sweet revenge we have been waiting for, with one of the great closing moments of any movie: “You go to hell.”

Brian De Palma's The Fury

Brian De Palma's The Fury

(On May 30, 2014, I changed the subhead “We Wants Revenge”, which I’d always hated, to “Vengeance is Ours”.)

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