Tag Archives: Mickey Rourke

The Meet in The Pope of Greenwich Village


This post, and recent others, are interim, idling points while in the middle of larger, more ambitious work. It was made a few days after the death of Roger Ebert, a man who was an old-fashioned newspaperman, a movie enthusiast, and a man whose struggle against a fierce illness demonstrated a strength that I would never claim without entering such struggle first. I place a remembrance by an acquaintance whose work he championed in a footnote rather than the main text1, because the eloquence is not mine, and because public mourning for a public figure so often seems intended as a focus of attention for the mourner, rather than the mourned. Included is a song, which, appropriately or not, connotes passage, but one well used in a movie that gave me temporary but great relief. This invocation of beautiful escape, so rare, and so often hoped for from the movies, perhaps makes it suitable for a fellow moviegoer.

Near the very end of The Pope of Greenwich Village:

CHARLIE puts out his best suit, his best shirt, and his dressiest shoes. He gets an expensive manicure, a shave, and a shoeshine. His face is never at ease, shows no joy, but is always solemn, no longer even fearful, but simply analyzing every point of the moment that will come next. He is dressed to the nines as he walks along the neighbourhood streets, but there’s no ease to the walk, absolutely no swagger, maybe even a little stiffness, as he moves closer and close to the gentleman’s club. He stops, takes an inhale from the cigarette like it’s oxygen and he’s about to dive deep into the ocean, then enters the establishment, a place whose streetfront glass is blocked by green felt, and marked with a simple small cursive: “Members Only”.

The Pope of Greenwich Village

The Pope of Greenwich Village

NUNZI and PETE sit at a table with some espressos, NUNZI has just finished lighting a cigar. PAULIE stands nearby, waiting any orders. They are the only ones in the front of the club.

This is a private club, pal.

Well, I’d like to see Eddie Grant.

NUNZI looks to PETE, who gives a nod of assent. NUNZI puts down the cigar, gets up, and pats CHARLIE’s front down. With a rough move, he shifts CHARLIE to the side, so he can pat down his back. CHARLIE gives a contemptuous smirk.

He’s in the back room.

CHARLIE takes an inhale from his cigarette, then slowly, and very deliberately, blows smoke directly in NUNZI’s face. PAULIE looks at this with a nervousness like they’re in the Vatican and CHARLIE just spat on a cross. CHARLIE makes his way to the back room, giving PETE a hard stare along the way.

The Pope of Greenwich Village

The back room is an unassuming, shabby place. An unrepaired hole in the wall is off to the side, and the door squeaks. The only importance in the room is BEDBUG EDDIE, who begins speaking almost the moment CHARLIE enters.

You’re Charlie Moran? You’re one of the scumbags that robbed my money.

CHARLIE gives a non-commital small shake of his hands.

The Pope of Greenwich Village

The Pope of Greenwich Village

You were brought up around here, no?

Carmine street.

Charlie moves into the room, and goes to sit down. We see more of this unimpressive throne room: a photo to the right of the door commemorating an important handshake between two men, a Last Supper above it, and a black and white pin-up to its left. Below the pin-up are some stacked cardboard boxes of glassware that probably fell off some truck.

Same thing. You know you owe the neighborhood some respect?

CHARLIE is now sitting at the non-descript wood table, across from EDDIE, CHARLIE’s hand on the table. EDDIE might want to kill CHARLIE, but his voice remains controlled, never changing in volume, staying at a level closer to mild exasperation, rather than murderous rage.

People steal from Eddie Grant it makes for a total breakdown. No one knows right or wrong. Before you know it, you got moulinyans2 moving in. What the hell brings you in here?

The Pope of Greenwich Village

The Pope of Greenwich Village

A tape I took off a dead cop…that’ll hang you by your balls.

EDDIE gives a silent laugh out of the side of his mouth.

You walked in here to threaten me.

You’re fucking right I walked in here to threaten you.

EDDIE now gives a quick, full, raspy laugh.

Last time somebody talked close to me like that was from the Village, too.

NUNZI and PETE, still at the table, are looking at what’s going on in the back room with nervousness. PAULIE looks on too, less with nervousness and more determined hatred.

I parcel-posted the scumbag home.

He didn’t have the tape that could put you away for twenty.

EDDIE’s voice now drops lower in volume.

Okay. Let me give you some advice. You’re behaving like a mamalucco3, capise? You walk in here, you don’t show the club no respect. You’re acting like a real scumbag. You’re half-irish, so —

EDDIE cracks his knuckles, as if it’s CHARLIE’s very spine he’s breaking, and what’s said next is a pleasurable, loud exhale.


PAULIE nows looks on with nervousness. EDDIE’s pupils are dark and cold, like olives on a bed of ice.

I give you this for the tapes.

EDDIE makes the classic vaffanculo gesture, the fingers brushing against the underside of the chin.

I promised myself I’d wipe my ass with this hand…

EDDIE reaches out to grasp CHARLIE’s hand on the table. The emphatic part is said in a whisper.

…and nobody, nobody but the pope, could walk out of here with his hand.

The Pope of Greenwich Village

We see through the door NUNZI get up from the table, but PETE blocks him with his arm from going any further.

CHARLIE struggles a little, but EDDIE has his hand tight in his grasp. CHARLIE leans close to say the next part.

Mister…I am the pope. This might be your church, but right now, I’m the pope of Greenwich Village.

CHARLIE uses his free hand to give the clasping fist of EDDIE an emphatic tap.

Because I got a tape, alright?

The Pope of Greenwich Village

EDDIE lets CHARLIE’s hand go, but EDDIE’s eyes are dark, cold, and wild: he’s already picked out a place where this young man’s body will never be found. CHARLIE returns the stare, then gives a smirk.

I like you, you have balls. I don’t get too mad at that.

PAULIE comes to the door.

Coffee, Eddie?

Despite what EDDIE has said, his eyes remain in the same state: CHARLIE will probably never be seen alive again. CHARLIE gives a cold, unceasing look in return.

PAULIE enters, and puts down the espresso cups. EDDIE stares, CHARLIE stares back. The lethal energy between the two men could kill off every fly in the room.

The Pope of Greenwich Village

The Pope of Greenwich Village

The Pope of Greenwich Village

CHARLIE briefly breaks his stare to look down at the espresso cups being put down on the table, and EDDIE gives a happy grin: of course he’s tougher than this prick.

Three sugars, Eddie?

CHARLIE returns to his old stare, however, unweakened. EDDIE is back to his mad, murderous state; his eyes are both cold and bulging out. PAULIE puts the sugar in EDDIE’s espresso.

I already put your sugar in, Charlie.

It’s now EDDIE who breaks the stare and looks off at PAULIE, and CHARLIE gives this break a cool acknowledgement: you sure you’re tougher than me?

EDDIE stirs his espresso, without looking down. He takes a grip of his espresso. CHARLIE turns to look at PAULIE, trying to read what’s going on in his strange friend: why does PAULIE stay fixed on the mafia chieftain, as if he’s waiting for something to happen? PAULIE realizes what he’s doing, and abruptly looks off into the distance. CHARLIE returns to the staring contest, but EDDIE has already taken this prolonged break as a victory. He lifts the cup to his mouth, eyes always locked on CHARLIE, drinks the espresso as if it’s CHARLIE’s blood, all in one gulp, then gives a pleasured HMMMM – before falling out of his chair in a sudden, violent movement, crashing against the floor.

The Pope of Greenwich Village

The Pope of Greenwich Village

The Pope of Greenwich Village


1 From the podcast “Day 6”, hosted by Brent Bambury:

What sticks out for me is that he was one of my earliest discoverers and defenders. Decades ago, when I came out with my film Aguirre, the Wrath of God, he put it on his list of the best ten of all time. And people started to listen…he was like an icebreaker for my films, and he always had the feeling that my films were something which made his life right, that he was working [for] in this field. I think we have lost someone who…with him, an epoch ends. The epoch was intelligent, deep discourse about cinema. And all this, in the last two decades has been lost…gradually, it has shifted over into celebrity news. Roger was much larger than life, in a way, and I don’t see the successor, but there’s a big cultural trend, and that’s beyond you and Roger and me, and that is a shift, cultural shift within audiences, and the reflection in that is that almost all print media have gotten rid of their film reviewers, and today they all write about celebrity news. So, it’s bigger than just the passing of Roger Ebert. An epoch, in a way, ends with him.

He sometimes would call me the good soldier of cinema, and I have to give it back to him. I would say to him, Roger, you are the real good soldier of cinema. You are holding out in an outpost that has been given up by all the others. You are the one who is afflicted now, you are the wounded soldier. He was the wounded soldier, he was afflicted, he was silenced – and just wouldn’t give up, and just plow on, and that gave me a lot of courage, to plow on.

“This Time Tomorrow” by The Kinks, from The Darjeeling Limited soundtrack:

2 A slur for african-americans; absent a better source, I guide those to the urban dictionary’s etymology, where there is division on whether or not it comes from the italian, melanzana, for eggplant.

3 An idiot. Definitions at vocabulary.com.

(All images and excerpts copyright MGM / UA)

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Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka

(As usual, for reasons of brevity, one of the co-creators of the movie has been left out of the post title. This movie had a screenwriter, and his name was Paul Mayersberg.)

This post has an embedded vine at the end of the page which features explicit NSFW nudity.

A movie that has greatness in it, but remains maddeningly obscure since its release. A contemporary Times review was short, dismissive and deaf to its deeper themes. When Ed Lauter, one of its stars, was recently interviewed by the A.V. Club (Will Harris is the interviewer), he was asked about his work on “Simon & Simon”, but, sadly, not this strange and beautiful vision. One may, however, take some comfort that a feted olympic ringmaster named it among his favorites. The movie is a mix of conventional genres such as bio-pic, murder mystery, courtroom drama, romance, but all given an enrapturing tilt. It hints at all the possibilities of movies, and hints at the paths not taken in film, an old-time studio epic rendered into a hallucinatory dream. The stories of these epics, such as Duel in the Sun or Gone With The Wind, which the movie hat-tips, have elements which suggest myths, but this movie goes them one better, not simply giving the characters the stature of myth, but giving the story the metaphysics and rituals of myths as well. I do not think the movie’s themes are what make it great, and I am, in fact, much in disagreement with some of them, but I think it helpful to make clear that the film is not a haphazard mess of strangeness, but of a very clear design. I make a small, obvious note before going on: those who have not seen the film will be utterly lost in what follows.

The viewer who casually stumbles upon the movie might think its plot a fantastic creation: one of the richest men in the world, a former gold prospector, is brutally murdered, with the husband of his gorgeous daughter put on trial for murder. All of this, did in fact take place, a celebrity murder and trial that received extraordinary coverage at the time, but has now, for whatever reason, descended into obscurity. The story of this movie’s Jack McCann (Gene Hackman, hitting it out of the park, as usual) is that of Harry Oakes, a former doctor who was obsessed with striking it rich, traveling throughout the world, including the Yukon, the Congo, and Australia, before hitting pay dirt, not in the stark snow landscape of the film, but Kirkland Lake, Ontario, developing a gold mine that made him one of the wealthiest men of the world. He renounced his U.S citizenship, moved to Canada, acquired a baronetcy, felt he paid too many taxes even after tossing massive contributions to politicos, renounced his Canadian citizenship, then moved to the Bahamas, where he bought much of the land, held much of the island’s power, and built a lavish estate. It was there that he was brutally murdered, and his son-in-law, Alfred de Marigny – the movie’s Claude Maillot Van Horn (Rutger Hauer) – was put on trial and eventually acquitted. Harold Christie, a real estate magnate and close friend of Oakes – Charles Perkins of the film (the solid Ed Lauter) – always remained a strong suspect as the true killer.

The movie is based on Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes? by Marshall Houts; I have not read a book by this title, but I have read his King’s X: Common Law and the Death of Harry Oakes, which appears to be entirely the same material given a different name. Houts adds one extra dancer to the whole fandango, based on unnamed sources, who may or may not have held the role given him: Meyer Lansky. This addition made by Houts, is included in the film, Lansky now Mayakofsky (Joe Pesci, known for playing one or two gangsters after this), who becomes the main force in opposition to McCann, though Lansky’s involvement has been dismissed by his definitive biography, Robert Lacey’s Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster’s Life1. On the other hand, there is a fantastic element of the actual case, and in Houts’ book, which is removed, perhaps because it was too distracting: the duchess and duke of Windsor, the abdicated king, were on the Bahamas at the time, and were close friends of Oakes. When Marigny wrote his memoir of the affair, A Conspiracy of Crowns, a book I’d like to read but have not yet, he placed the royals among the conspirators acting against him. I mention their omission not as possible suspects left out, but to make the point that a tale that might seem fantastic has actually had some fantastic elements left out.

When looking at the cast, it might seem that the game of putting unlike actors together for comic and unsettling effect is being played, but it is nothing of the kind. The parts are very close to what they were, as described by Houts, and the casting is pitch perfect.

The Harry Oakes, in King’s X, is a man with an obsessive hunger, and a raw demeanour.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann on the quest for gold

From the beginning, Harry Oakes was an introspective daydreamer, short and wiry, whose adult height barely reached 5 feet 6 inches. A lone wolf, he roamed the woods, fished the streams, and hunted the forests without a single close friend to his credit.

If psychological clichés had been the vogue at the time for Harry Oakes’ graduation from Bowdoin College in 1896, someone might well have alleged, “His grasp on reality is rather tenuous.” When he talked at all, it was always about the great fortune he would make; but he would not even speculate on the plan he would employ to amass great wealth.

In a milieu where a partner was frequently essential to survival, Oakes still found that he could work only alone. If anything, his physical privations and the obsession that drove him to exhaustion for twelve, fourteen, and sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, made him more introspective. His eighty-pound pack was substantially heavier than half his total body weight. He endured the 50-degree-below-zero temperatures in the sunless winter. He tolerated the flies and mosquitoes of the long summers which were virtually without darkness. He did not drink. He did not gamble. What he did about women is not known. The life of the gold prospector in Alaska around the turn of the century could not help but leave an indelible imprint on this asocial Bowdoin Yankee, the erstwhile medical student with psychotic compulsion that somehow, some way, some day, he would possess one of the world’s great fortunes.

On his extraordinary discovery:

Myth and truth coalesce in their account of Harry Oakes’ famous strike. The truth is that it occurred on Kirkland Lake in northern Ontario, east of the trading post of Swastika, some two years after Oakes’ arrival in Toronto. We know that it was the second largest gold mine in the Western Hemisphere, second only to the Homestake mine in South Dakota, which served as the financial base for the William Randolph Hearst fortune.

His appearance by the time of his arrival in the Bahamas:

By this time he was paunchy, like a bloated athlete who adds great bulk quickly after hanging up his spikes and deserting the regimen of the training table. His face, particularly about the eyes, was a mass of fine lines, the insults of cruel years in arctic cold and desert heat. The wide-set eyes with their hard, intransigent glare fenced in a long, bulbous, beak-like nose. His nose stopped only a quarter inch above thin, fine lips that locked defiantly above a jutting, belligerent jaw. Perhaps his most noticeable feature was a full head of wavy hair, only slightly lined with gray.

Oakes’ manners on the island:

But Harry Oakes had paid dearly for his financial pinnacle. Anything resembling manners, grace, and charm which he had possessed when he left Maine were spilled along the frozen wastes of the Yukon and the burning sands of Australia and Death Valley. He was now a boorish man, crude in both language and demeanor. At the table he spit out grape seeds and fruit pits with the same reckless abandon that had characterized his animal-like meals in Dawson City and Nome. Since a knife was the proper eating tool for beans and bacon in Western Australia, there was no reason why it should not be used in the best hotels in Toronto. His language, liberally laced with four-letter words, remained vulgar.

Jane Lapotaire, as Helen, is an equal fit for Oakes’ wife, Eunice:

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka McCann's wife Eunice

Eunice was three inches taller than Harry. Her soft blue eyes set off a plain, oval face formed around a straight, medium nose. She was slender and lithe, her movements instinctively poised. Her father was a government employee in Sydney, Australia, and Eunice worked as a stenographer in a bank. She smiled often and easily and Oakes fell immediately under her spell.

Ed Lauter is Charles Perkins, the film’s Harold Christie. Lauter has played some very tough characters, but here he deliberately is a blank, a man of a banal, quisling exterior with a killing envy coiled up inside.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Ed Lauter as Charlie Perkins

In physical appearance Christie was average and undistinguished in every respect. His receding dark hair exposed a great, curved, symmetrical dome which was now naked for several inches back of where the hairline had run years earlier. The hairs thinned at this new boundary, exposing bar skin behind them to give the illusion of a canted halo. The eyes were nondescript as was the nose and, for that matter, the entire round face. He stood some forty pounds heavier than he was when he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War I, although he did not appear particularly puffy or grotesquely overweight.

I read the description of Marigny, and, despite the change in hair color, I see Rutger Hauer as the sleazy playboy, now named Claude Maillot Van Horn, without difficulty:

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Rutger Hauer - Claude Maillot Van Horn

Everyone knew something about the lean, lanky, broad-shouldered man in his thirty-sixth year, whose arms and legs dangled almost disconnectedly on his 6-foot-5-inch frame. His hair was black, parted on the side, and slightly wavy; and his clear skin was always tanned dark, the result of constant exposure to sun and sea.

The appearance of Pierre De Valois (Cavan Kendall) embodies well Georges de Visdelou Guimbeau, who had the intriguing role of Marigny’s companion:

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Cavan Kendall as Pierre De Valois

De Visdelou was born with darting eyes, and there was no way in the world for him to alter their impression of shiftiness and untrustworthiness. It was he rather than de Marigny who looked the role of cad, gigolo, and fake. His brow was wide, his face narrow, and his chin pointed; his black wavy hair rolled in perfect marcels; there was a cast of femininity in his demeanour, hand motions, and voice; and the French accent, captivating and intriguing on De Marigny, shouted out arrogance and deception when emitted by de Visdelou.

This man, who barely has a part in the movie, played the role of a seamy shadow, accompanying Marigny on his early adventures before he met the Oakes family, another aspect that makes the story even more fantastic, like something from a Patricia Highsmith novel:

Alfred de Marigny, and a fellow islander, Georges de Visdelou Guimbeau, who was apparently authorized to use the title of Marquis, made several trips together to Europe. They were in and out of boarding schools after passing beyond the limited offerings of the educational system on their island; and in 1937, Alfred de Marigny married Lucie-Alice Cahen, the daughter of an Alsatian banker, who was classed as an heiress ofsorts, although what she inherited was enver clearly established. It may have been truth and it may have been subsequent fiction, but the banker-father is supposed to have charged that “Count” de Marigny was a confidence man whose only interest was his own bankroll.

De Marigny, his bride, and Georges the Marquis de Visdelou crossed the Atlntic to the United States as a merry threesome aboard the Normandie, in an era of cruise ships for the rich and idle.

“What a trip it was!” de Marigny later wrote. “I had been reading a play called Design for Living [by Noel Coward, about a husband, wife, and love who lived in the same house]…and found the parallel most amusing.”

The implications were clear: There was an easy and thrill-gratifying triangular co-option of bed partners, long before wife-swapping became popular in a later generation of swingers.

Those qualities of Van Horn, a suaveness, a handsomeness that makes him so attractive to women, and a wayward dissoluteness which repels McCann, are there in life, as described by Houts:

He spoke in a sort of throaty, Charles Boyer, French accent, punctuate by dapper manners that included back-slapping of men and hand-kissing of women. He could exude charm, grace, and poise; and he was considered an excellent conversationalist, his thickly accented English underscored by colorful phrases that conveyed descriptive imagery. His great captivator, enemy and friend both agreed, was his easy, fluid smile that wilted grandmothers, mothers, daughters, contemporaries, and granddaughters. There was about him a tantalizingly evil mystique.

He was however, never accepted by the native Bahamians. His reaction was to look condescendingly at them and scorn even their few social invitations when they came. The natives never forgave him for being foreign, and they thought him supercilious, haughty, distant, boorish, and overbearing. He was called not only playboy, but fop and gigolo. He was reputed as immoral and amoral, the corrupter of womanhood, old, young, and in between, a lecher who lay in wait for gullible rich women; he was neither Bahamian nor British.

Nancy Oakes, Eureka‘s Tracy McCann (Theresa Russell), was, just like her film counterpart, a very young woman, still seventeen when she met Marigny in his thirties, with the confident, mature air of a much older one. Russell is one of the most beautiful women to have ever appeared in the movies, and like her, Nancy was gorgeous:

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Theresa Russell as Tracy McCann

Now nineteen, but considerably more mature than her chronological years, Nancy was redheaded – perhaps auburn would be more accurate – her 5-foot-5-inch height exaggerated by her thin build, although bust, hips, calves, and thighs were adequate enough to prevent her from appearing skinny. An innate physical frailty was beautifully concealed by natural grace and poise.

She carried her firm, almost belligerent chin high in the manner of a model, her mouth wide, her lips full, her nose long and straight. The intensity of her deep-set eyes was her most striking physical feature: she looked directly at the person speaking to her, confidently and with such animation that the other person invariably first broke the gaze.

From some angles, particularly head-on, her face was classically beautiful, radiant and sparkling; but from an oblique view, the Indianlike cheekbones became more exaggerated, the forehead lost its normal slope to become directly vertical, the wide-spaced eyes separated farther, and the jaw and mouth gave the illusion of being almost detached; her profile was excellent.

She dressed tastefully but conservatively and was not extravagant in her wardrobe. Her immaculate, every-hair-in-place coiffure emphasized neatness and cleanliness.

I’ll write about Joe Pesci as Meyer Lansky, a little later, but I think this casting is, again, felicitous to a conception of Lansky not far from him in real-life, and far closer than the more famous one in Bugsy, where Lansky is, in effect, a transplanted professor, a man untouched by the blood and dirt of the streets, a saint of the heaven dust world of gangster mathematics.

I begin now, in something like a sequential order of Eureka, a look at its themes. What is crucial for getting a grasp on the movie is its embrace of various mystic traditions. I am not a believer, and the makers may not have been strict believers either, but it appears as if the movie is a celebration of those qualities embodied in the mystic, a sincere belief, over an empirical, materialist approach. Despite his less sympathetic qualities, Jack McCann is ultimately the hero of this story because of this genuine belief. It is a man who, through his connection with the mystic, is first able to strike gold, and then to win a fight with a rival over his daughter. The movie’s title might be derived from the Edgar Allan Poe work, Eureka, his attempt at a cosmology, where he emphasises intuition over deduction.

The movie opens with the subterranean river of gold, before cutting to deep space, as we approach earth: this story is not just about a man and his family, but embraces the cosmic. We move over the bleak Yukon landscape like a god, coming across McCann and a fellow miner. Just like Oakes, he has a fanatical belief that he’ll reach this treasure buried in the earth’s seams. He walks to a mining town, on the verge of abandonment because the prospectors have given up hope of hitting ore. There’s a man who is something of McCann’s funhouse double, also blind with belief, but one that’s false: he’s given over to madness, not even noticing that his unshod feet are now frozen. What takes place next is a motif to be played on later: the man shoots himself, a self-willed death, and we are given a brief glimpse of fireworks. For a few seconds, as the man’s family continues to pack their truck, it seems as if no death has taken place at all – till we see the outside of the claims house splattered with blood.

McCann moves on into the cold night, propelled by his search. He collapses in the snow, and some of the key mystic imagery begins. I do not think the movie strictly plays to any specific tradition, but takes from many, either the traditions or whatever images and rituals preceded the traditions, for its spiritual system.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann and the tree

McCann suddenly finds himself at the foot of a massive tree, which I take to be either the tree of life, Yggdrasil, of the Norse myth, or some such tree myth that influenced it, or the movie’s own variation on such myths, familiar as a variation to those who might know of the folklore. This tree’s roots descend into the deepest parts of the earth, and it is this tree which will help guide McCann to his quest’s end. He is surrounded by four wolves, just as he is surrounded by four gangsters before his death. The Norse god Odin was killed by the wolf Fenrir, with this imagery a possible hat-tip.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann and the wolves

At the foot of the tree, a lodestone appears in his hand, a stone which might be considered connected with the powers of the moon, for just as the moon’s gravity guides the tides, this stone will move McCann to the gold. It also connects McCann’s obsession with the bootless man consumed with madness, for there is something in McCann’s quest that is lunatic. The tree Yggdrasil also links to other worlds, and this tree has a similar quality. McCann finds himself under it again at the point of near death, and the tree now transports him for a night to a world re-created from his past, a bordello run by a woman he once loved passionately.

This ill house is like a hallucination, a life-size construction of a snow-globe, a world apart from the forest in which it sits.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka McCann and the bordello

Inside, McCann interacts with no one except Frieda (Helena Kallianiotes, the only actor among talented performers who equals Hackman’s work) who speaks to him only of their past. McCann asks if he’s dead, and Frieda speaks of his being dead, but both times we are pulled back, and told, no, it is only a metaphor. The uncertainty of this moment embodies the qualities of the mystic that the movie celebrates. It is not one material event or another. It has the feel of a hallucination, yet we are never told that it is such; what Frieda says is of crucial importance in the rest of the movie, she is the person most important to McCann after his daughter, yet this one scene where she appears may never have occurred. There is another paradox, for this vision is recursive, with McCann somehow imagining this house, while inside, Frieda somehow summons up Jack McCann himself, in a globe, a figure who will burn in fire, created in fire.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Frieda looking at the globe

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - globe reflecting fire

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka -  globe with reflection of moon

That this orb is a witch’s ornament, I do not think accidental: it is not just that Frieda is familiar with magic, but that lust in this movie is presented as a variety of spell, and it is lust that once gave her a near magical hold over McCann. Frieda’s colors, the dark of her hair, the white of her skin, the red of her dress, recur again and again. Here is an important break with the story of Oakes, a man who seems to have felt no desire for anything other than gold. The relation between Jack and Frieda is overwhelmingly erotic, and there is the possibility that McCann directs his obsessiveness away from the gorgeous flesh, which is transient, to a beauty that is eternal and indestructible: “the smell of gold is stronger than a woman.” There is an unkempt reek to Frieda; she brags of taking a bath for the occasion of McCann’s return. It is a reek of a squalid, unclean mining camp, but also the reek of lust, lust without poise or shyness, and it is the reek of death. Perfumes often contain indoles, the smell of corpses and decay, which add to the erotic bouquet, and all these are exuded from Frieda, a woman who is alive, yet talks as if her life is entirely of the past.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack and Frieda

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Frieda on the couch

Tonight I took a bath, because of you. It’s been a long time…Jack. My Jack. We never did find the gold, but we had something. Something between us that was good as gold. My Jack had all the nuggets we needed right between his legs. You interested in men and women?

JACK gives a “maybe?” gesture.

FRIEDA gives a small dismissive snort.

With you, the gold is everything. You’ll never give up. We had a crock of gold between us. His cock. And my crack. A crock of gold. More than love it was, it was a power. In love…Jack was an alchemist. God, were we on fire. Then one morning I woke up, the sun was shining, and Jack was dead. Dead beside me. Dead in bed. That must have been when I started to smell bad.

FRIEDA throws perfume on herself.

You’ve had quite a life.

So will you. Then there’s some leftover life to kill. My Jack…and his perfume of Paris…Paris and the golden coach. You’ll find what you’re looking for…but after? It’s right here. I can see it. It runs like a river to the shore of the lake. There it goes, diving underwater.

FRIEDA starts to cough violently.

She makes clear in the morning that what will happen next is not happenstance, but fate. He will become something mythic now, though at a price. Not a price of death, but pointless years spent after the gold strike, without a quest.

Understand what this means?

Yeah. My luck has changed.

Luck’s for ordinary men, not you. When you took the stone, you made your choice. You’re alone now.

This, of course, is a a reiteration of what she said when Jack first arrived at the bordello:

No, Johnny. This stone found you. It has your name on it. Not outside, but inside. It’s your destiny. But everybody pays. Everybody pays.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack Frieda and the stone

With the stone guiding him, he breaks through to the subterranean river, not simply finding this gleaming liquid, but joining with it, his body spattered with dust as he emerges from the earth, the pagan anthem, Wagner’s “Rheingold” on the soundtrack. That he has exchanged one kind of passion for another is perhaps made concrete as Frieda begins a fatal cough as the earth is struck, her house’s furniture suddenly packed away when McCann returns to announce his good fortune, she now on the verge of death, warning him of what will come next. Her foresight is not that he will die, but that his quest is now finished, and he will now have to spend decades without purpose.

I’m dying, Paris.

Wait. What…what happens now?

A mystery. The end and the beginning.


There’ll be another after you…after the war. The great events!

The fireplace suddenly erupts, a cinder striking McCann, an omen that he will one day burn, a cinder from another fire burning him again when he returns, decades later, with his daughter to the Yukon. Though there is just one scene featuring only McCann and Tracy, it feels in fact as if there were many, as this short moment so clearly establishes the strong tie between them. This bond, again, is not the movie’s creation, but from life. Houts’ King’s X:

Nancy spent considerable time with her father, more than the other children, not only because she occupied the special position of the eldest but because of that special bond between father and daughter who were greatly alike. She served as his genuinely appreciative audience while he recounted the eerie fights for survival during his lonely prospecting days; she considered him by far the most interesting and unusual man in the entire world; she called him “a strange person” and “the most extraordinary person I ever knew.” While Sir Harry was often close-mouthed and introverted in the presence of most of his associates, he related tale after tale, story after story to Nancy by the hour. She dreamed of writing his biography, confidently believing that his was a completely different life story which should be preserved for posterity.

She respected her father, held him in awe, never really feared his temper since she was confident it would not be vented against her, loved him, but refused to be subservient to him.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack and Tracy McCann

When Tracy and her father talk about women at the mining camp, the dialogue has a frankly oedipal quality:

What did you do for girls up here?

JACK, a far-off gaze as if he’s remembering something long ago: Frieda. He says the next line while suddenly fumbling for something in his pockets, a possible cover for his face revealing too much.

I guess we did without.

JACK stops fumbling in his pockets, and finds his gloves.

Unlike some people I know.

Suppose I’d been here. Would you have given me a second glance?

No. My darling Tracy…I never would have taken my eyes off of you.

However, when I say “oedipal” it might be read as exclusively sexual, a handsy father with his beautiful daughter, when I intend something subtler. These two are so like each other that they are inevitably drawn into a communion, one far different from that of father and daughter, one that’s associated with romantic love, but is barred for them because of their roles. Both attempt substitutes in others, Helen for Jack, Claude for Tracy, but in both there is something lacking. By the end of the movie, I think this communion is achieved, but without any carnal union. Though Tracy is McCann’s daughter by Helen, she is also something of a variation on Frieda, a creature of powerful sexual attributes, and she reminds McCann of his own past, and this other woman. We have a strong hint of it in this scene, when Tracy thanks McCann for the trip to Paris, and his face goes still with discomfort, perhaps seeing how much this daughter resembles his old love, who associates their best times Paris as well, no doubt when they were together and passionately into each other. He is also painfully aware that her thanks are those of a daughter for a father, while she wants Claude, enthralled by this man in a way that she cannot be with Jack.

TRACY pulls out a gold flask, which JACK takes from her, examining it, perhaps what’s inscribed on it.

Where’d you get this? He gave you this, didn’t he?

Give me a pull.

TRACY grabs the flask and drinks from it.

That guy’s no good for you. You think I’m jealous. I am not jealous. I just know he’ll never appreciate you.

Oh, appreciate be damned. I’m not a work of art. I’m not a piece of china. I want him.

I wanted to thank you for Paris. I didn’t thank you. I guess I take it all for granted. I had a wonderful time.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack and Tracy McCann - Jack can't have his daughter

We now shift to the ocean where Claude and Tracy sail on his yacht, the two lustfully conjoined, much as Frieda and Jack were, in a way that Jack cannot be with Tracy. Then we are suddenly on the terrace of McCann’s massive estate, McCann looking out at the yacht by telescope. Helen in a drunken haze lays out Tarot cards, while Perkins tries to enlist Jack’s help on a real estate deal on the island. I try not to rely too much on symbols, but I think a few here underlie obvious themes: Jack sees through a telescope because he truly can see further than almost all the other characters, a gift for seeing he shares with Frieda, anticipating even his own death. He is also more knowing of the behaviour of others, most importantly, of his daughter and son-in-law.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann looks through telescope

This contrasts with Helen, who might see certain things, but chooses not to. Her drinking is an obvious expression of this, but another, subtler, sign is given as well. She needs glasses to see, but it is only in this scene that she wears them, in all others, without. One detail that she is blind to or does not wish to see is the bond between father and daughter, though Claude is very much aware of it. She cannot find her glasses in the house, and he provides them for her. She finds this man fetching, as do so many of the women on the island, but it is nothing like the link between Jack and Tracy.

Both mother and daughter wear similar outfits, the red and white motif, marking them as rivals. Not sexual rivals, but rivals for Jack nonetheless, though he has a far stronger feeling for Tracy.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude and Tracy on boat

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Eunice in red and white dress

In the bordello scene, Frieda called Jack “Paris”, and this is not just a simple association with the city where they had such good times. It’s an association with the Trojan prince, who had the choice of great beauties, and chose Helen, sparking the Trojan wars to return her to the Greeks’. Here, Paris has not only captured Helen, but kept her, and they have grown into middle age. Helen remembers the great time she and Jack had on the ship, and it’s a reference to this ancient myth, Helen taken by sea from Sparta by an enswooned Paris, but it echoes with the shot we then cut to, Claude and Tracy on the yacht, youthful characters re-enacting these joyful memories.

I’m dying, Paris.

It was so wonderful…once upon a time…all those years ago. Weren’t we in love on that ship?

Claude and Tracy kissing on the boat

While dealing the tarot, Helen gives Jack his card, a card which he then holds close to himself for the rest of the scene, linking himself to it. It is “The Hanged Man”, a card signifying an in-between state and resurrection. I do not believe in such methods of prediction, but this movie does wish us to take this sincerely, and I believe it is a continuation of its mystic underpinnings. From The Pictorial Key To The Tarot by Arthur Edward Waite (my bolds):

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Eunice holds The Hanged Man

The gallows from which he is suspended forms a Tau cross, while the figure-from the position of the legs-forms a fylfot cross. There is a
nimbus about the head of the seeming martyr. It should be noted (1) that the tree of sacrifice is living wood, with leaves thereon; (2) that the face expresses deep entrancement, not suffering; (3) that the figure, as a whole, suggests life in suspension, but life and not death. It is a card of profound significance, but all the significance is veiled. One of his editors suggests that Eliphas Levi [occult writer] did not know the meaning, which is unquestionable nor did the editor himself. It has been called falsely a card of martyrdom, a card a of prudence, a card of the Great Work, a card of duty; but we may exhaust all published interpretations and find only vanity. I will say very simply on my own part that it expresses the relation, in one of its aspects, between the Divine and the Universe. He who can understand that the story of his higher nature is imbedded in this symbolism will receive intimations concerning a great awakening that is possible, and will know that after the sacred Mystery of Death there is a glorious Mystery of Resurrection.

This underlies what will take place after, with Jack allowing his own death to take place, in order that he may be resurrected. The red and white which will appear again and again are not idly chosen. They intuitively imply, respectively, carnal and spiritual qualities, but I think they may also have significance as colors dominant in the text of The Chymical Wedding by the Rosicrucians, a sect that claimed to be able to perform alchemy. The wedding of the text is a metaphor of a union between the physical and the transcendent. McCann does not achieve this with either Frieda or Helen in this life, but he does with his daughter, after his death.

A brief meeting between Van Horn and McCann, before things come to a head. Van Horn touches the stone, yet it yields nothing, the stone’s magic does not lie with simply holding it, but in helping the person who holds it fulfill a quest. Before McCann became obsessed with gold, his passion lay with Freida, and there is the possibility that Van Horn might be like him in this respect. But, no: Van Horn’s one indulgence is not McCann’s daughter, but his yacht. The yacht, on which we often see Claude, embodies his essential quality, his rootlessness, his lack of commitment to Tracy, his lack of true belief in any mystic system, his lack of any driving impulse, or desire for one. That the movie ends with his returning to the yacht suggests that he will never mature from, or leave this state.

Now, an extended scene with Mayakovsky, which sets up the conflict between mythic man and materialist man. Jack McCann is the hero of Eureka, a man of mystic belief who has pursued a quest. He is “a dinosaur”, to be superceded by questless men. It is important that McCann not believe in luck: were he to simply happen on the gold, it would deprive the treasure of its meaning, just as Arthur cannot happen on the grail by chance, but it must be pursued. His opponent, Mayakofsky, wants to build something on the island that is the antithesis of this, a casino, which is a celebration of luck, or rather, a rigged game with the appearance of luck. McCann’s lodestone is connected with the moon, and this casino will be built in Luna Bay, a desecration of this lunar faith. When Mayakofsky speaks of everyone becoming Americans, it is not a question of nationalism, but of everyone soon becoming only economic man, materialist man, a successor to those of pagan ideals like McCann.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Joe Pesci as Mayakofsky

So, who’s not an american? Everyone is an American now. The Germans, they’re Americans. In Chicago, there are many Germans. Come on. The Japanese, believe me, one day they’ll all be Americans also. Languages, that’s all the difference. This war, what is it? It’s a war between Americans, who all speak different languages. So how could we lose? Mr. McCann’s an American, he knows we’re all on the same side.

I find it difficult to label Mayakofsky a villain, because I don’t think the film portrays him as such; it is least sympathetic to those characters which it views as weak, such as Perkins and Van Horn. Mayakofsky is strong, and just as McCann is allied with the mystic force of his lodestone, Mayakofsky is aligned with a greater force outside of himself, animating him, and that is capitalism. When he says “We have to build”, he speaks as an instrument of this greater will, and the “we” animated by this will is not simply he and those involved in the casino project, but now the population of the world. He, unlike Perkins and Van Horn, has a strong belief, a belief in capitalism equivalent to monotheism, Christian or Jewish. That McCann appears to Mayakofsky to believe in nothing is because he is outside of the group structure of the market economy, a last epic hero, or, as Mayakofsky puts it, a dinosaur. A conversation with his lieutenant, Aurelio (Mickey Rourke, who makes a great presence in a small role):

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Aurelio and Mayakofsky

I’m very angry with Perkins. I don’t think he believes me. And that’s bad, not to believe. Do you go to confession?

Every week.

There’s only one god between all of us schmucks. These men are without faith. They believe in nothing.

I think Jack McCann believes in himself.

That’s what I said. He believes in nothing. It makes me meshuga [crazy]. How can you do business with a man who believes in nothing?

He’s not a businessman.

Then we shall have to find some other way. I have to buy, so he must sell. He must sign because we have to build. He dug up his fortune. We cannot allow him to stand in the way of new men who want to build their fortunes. Jack McCann is a dinosaur, Aurelio. And everyone knows what happened to dinosaurs. He has outlived his time.

It is here that I should mention one of the major qualifiers for my love of this movie. There is nothing terribly controversial in this conflict, which is a recurrent theme, and pre-dates the industrial era, a tension between the deductive and intuitive minds. What is disturbing, is that this is a re-play of some of the very themes of World War II, the Nazi forces rallied by pagan fires and gatherings, and, yes, the pagan music of Wagner, against the jewish materialist, the accountant, pawnbroker, debt collector, and atheist, who destroyed the people through capitalist or communist materialist ideologies. I should emphasize that I do not think the movie implies any support for the Nazi cause, it is simply that this is a movie between a materialist jewish opponent and his mystic adversary, taking place during World War II, and that such a context shadows the movie, though the film’s makers seem to have been indifferent or unaware of this.

The next scene: McCann burns his fingers when he touches his lodestone, a warning that his physical end is soon coming, burning in flames. At that very moment, Tracy feels the same pain, but in penetration. The physical pain links them, yet separates them, the sexual keeping them apart. Perkins, like Van Horn, touches the stone, but feels nothing, the stone carrying a power only for those truly seized by a quest.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann touches stone

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann burns fingers

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude and Tracy have sex, Tracy screams

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Eureka: the magic of the stone.

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Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Perkins touches the stone, nothing happens

After sex, Claude tries to predict the future, using the kabbalah, but he fails: he sees McCann falling ill, though McCann never does, and he is unable to see his own mother’s death. This points to a key difference between McCann and Van Horn, for the prospector only turns to the magical as part of a larger seeking, while his son-in-law indulges in these arts for the indulgence itself, as an ostentatious piece of play. The moment in the bedroom ends with a shot whose great significance will only be grasped later. Tracy feels that there is something missing in them, while Claude insists that they are perfect.

What is it?

Those tests last year in Miami.

They were inconclusive.

Is that what we’re gonna be? Inconclusive?

I don’t need a child to love you.

I just don’t want us to be incomplete.

We’re complete now. Perfect.

By the end of the movie there will be something that completes them, and it is hinted at here. The camera moves away from the couple to the table, where there is a wedding picture of Jack and Helen, a gold chain beside it, which suddenly falls to the ground as if pulled by an outside force, as ominous cello notes play.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack and Frieda portrait, and the gold chain

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Eureka: golden chain.

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Before this moment with Tracy and Claude, we are given a shot of the moon looming closer and closer to us. McCann’s stone is linked to the moon, and now, it is as if the stone wills what will take place, moving McCann towards his destiny. There is the shot of the moon, and framing the ruckus at the banquet, we see the stone glowing bright. McCann must invoke a break between himself and his son-in-law, and he must do so by protecting the sanctity of the treasure at the heart of his fate, gold.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the moon

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the dinner and the stone

At the banquet, in a moment of import for what will happen later, McCann lights his placemat on fire, letting the fire burn, without fear of it.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann lights placemat on fire

The exhibitionism of Claude’s mystical dabblings continues, with his wearing a shirt illustrated with the kabbalah, with the rivalry between he and his father-in-law continuing as well. When McCann gives out small gold pieces, and Van Horn swallows his. What McCann worships is not the material value of the gold, but its permanence, its transcendence. When Van Horn does this, it is an attempt to rebuke Jack, but also a desecration of a material that McCann considers sacred. It is for this reason that McCann erupts in such anger at this man, for this man has just done the equivalent of defaming his father-in-law’s religion.

I don’t believe in luck, good or bad, but everybody believes in a little bit of gold even if it’s just a wedding band.

There is only one golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The rest is conversation.

You didn’t earn the gold, Jack. You took it from nature. You raped the earth.

I found it.

You stole it.

You can’t take it with you.

CLAUDE swallows the gold, then chases it with wine.

What are you doing? Get out of my house.

It’s only gold, Jack. Like all things it’ll pass, and when it does, I’ll send it back to you.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude and his kabbalah shirt

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude drinks down the gold

A color shift now takes place in the characters’ clothes as the movie gets closer to McCann’s death. Van Horn anticipates through unconscious magic the letter announcing his mother’s death, for he is already dressed in all black, the clothes of mourning. After hearing the news, He sprawls in grief near a comforting Tracy and we see the pattern on the sofa, a stain of red on white, anticipating McCann’s blood spray on his bed.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude and Tracy after Claude's mom has died

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann shot, blood on pillow

Tracy sends her parents a letter, cutting off all ties with her father. Helen reads it, without glasses, a mix of black and red. We see a brief shot of her gloves, again, the white and red, then a diamond pendant, the white and red of a butterfly, the second form of a caterpillar.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Eunice and butterfly pin

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Eunice's gloves

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Eunice in red hat and black dress

The butterfly hairpin next to Tracy’s letter; the butterfly is the severing of the spiritual from the physical, Jack McCann breaking from his earthly essence, and the letter is Tracy severing herself from Jack.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy's letter and the butterfly hairpin

Helen does not see that this is about Jack and Claude being romantic rivals for her daughter, but her husband does.

Why did she write that? I thought she understood.

She does understand. And so do I.

HELEN looks on, without glasses, without understanding.

Come to bed.

McCann takes his wife passionately, they have sex in a way they haven’t in a long while. I do not think this is solely sex as comfort in a difficult time, but sex as an outlet with the woman he can have, when the woman he can’t is lost to him. The blood red theme of this bedroom is obvious foreshadowing. We see here why Jack fell for Eunice in this scene: she bares a physical resemblance to Frieda, the lost woman of his dreams.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the blood red bedroom

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack and Eunice in bed

McCann now wears black as well, a grieving for his lost relationship with his daughter. He looks at the money sent to him by the gangsters, but he has no interest in it. His pursuit of gold was never about avarice. He takes out a gun and starts to load it with experienced ease, then puts it away with exasperation; a clear sign that if he wants to, he could stop the men who enter his house later.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann loads gun

There then follows a confrontation between Jack and Claude over his daughter, Tracy doing her best to keep her father from killing him. He first forces his daughter to look into a mirror, another moment of a character looking at themselves as they truly are in the reflection, which takes place again and again in the film. The scene then descends further into violence. What’s key here is that Jack is willing to kill for his daughter, she means this much to him, and this is in contrast with what Claude, later, is willing to do. When the fight begins and Claude faces him with the meat cleaver:

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack shows Tracy her reflection in the mirror

Go on, you haven’t got the guts.

I’ll kill you if I have to.

Jack stands over this man, ready to kill him, having it in him to kill this man – but ultimately not doing this – in order to sunder his daughter from this man’s grasp. McCann is a man for whom the past is more vital than a present, and he is suddenly transported back to the Yukon, establishing himself as the hero alone, where he is dependent on no one, and now he is suddenly in vital need of someone else, his daughter.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack and Claude by the fence

Why’d you make her write that letter? Why’d you make her write that letter? Say it, you son of a whore. Jack McCann never made a nickel on another man’s sweat.

Kill me.

Say it loud, so god in his heaven can hear you.

There is also the important line by Tracy, “I want flesh.”

Come back with me.

I can’t. Don’t you see I can’t?

Come back with me.

I don’t want your gold. I…I want flesh. I want to touch human flesh. I want to kiss it, hold it. I want to suck it. Oh, did you ever love someone? All of someone? I love all of him. It’s terrible…the feeling. Night and day, I can’t get away from it.

The spiritual bond, however strong, between father and daughter is not enough. The scene ends with Claude speaking of this as a romantic conflict: “The triangle is broken.” There is a motif that now begins, which links the three characters, an additional sign that the triangle clearly isn’t broken. It is a blood stain on the side of a white garment. It begins with Tracy, the blood from the cut she received by accident during the fight. This continues with the blood on Van Horn’s coat the night of the murder. Blood on the white clothes of McCann after he is struck. Then, when he is arrested on his boat, there is blood on Van Horn’s clothes again.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy with blood

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack with blood

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude with blood

What comes next involves my second major qualification of my great passion for this movie. On the night of the murder, Marigny attended a dinner before driving two women home. If anything untoward was inferred in his conduct toward the women, it is not brought up in Houts’ book. The movie treats this part a little differently, though my issue has nothing to do with the infidelities of the women. Instead of a simple dinner, Van Horn goes to a voodoo ceremony, and I’m sorry to say, it is as ridiculous and offensive as any depiction of such rituals has ever been. I suppose it to be an expression of uninhibited African sexual mores, in contrast to staid European ones, a re-designing, and frankly, profanation of the ceremony for the purpose of creating a contrast, with an african ritual not allowed to exist in and of itself, but re-made into something in relation to european religious traditions. That a chicken sacrifice is mixed in with a snake ritual, when these, I believe, are very much separate ceremonies is a small point.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Voodoo ceremony

A larger one, and that truly gets to my animus of the scene, is the reduction of what is a chaste, sacred moment into a frenzied, bloody orgy. The best comparison would be to the anti-Catholic literature of the civil war era which portrayed various convents as havens for wanton sex, or previous to that, Catholic writings which spoke of gnostic churches as places happily welcome to bachannalia2. That the desecratory attitude toward such African ceremonies is passed over with indifference by those who write about the film, I attribute entirely to the fact that it is a commonplace for such rituals to be portrayed as these unsettling, sex crazed Dionysian festivals whose purpose is solely to excite, much as a gaping wound or a nude woman might. The disgust I feel has nothing to do with a belief in such traditions, only a respect for things sacred to others, and you demonstrate a respect for such rituals that you expect for your own. This all takes place in a movie where the man who unseriously dabbles in the mystic is almost a villain, which might be seen as an obvious irony, but one which I wish wasn’t there. I should also note that the criticisms I make of this film are not those of a killjoy, someone happy to find such flaws, but entirely the opposite, of someone who very much loves this film, and wishes its worst aspects weren’t there. A good antidote to this too common portrayal of voodoo ceremonies can be found at “Haiti: On Voodoo” by Hugh Cave.

In a frenzy from the ceremony, Van Horn picks up a club, a piece of hard rock, that he will bring to the murder scene, but will never use. Its texture is like that of the rock in the gold cavern. McCann’s beginning contains the seeds of his end.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude picks up the club weapon

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - interior of the cave

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the weapons in court

McCann searches out Van Horn, but is unable to find him. He looks about the room of his son-in-law and daughter, and a deliberate focus is made on him picking up the gold chain from her drawer, with a close-up of it in his hand.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann looks down at gold chain

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the gold chain

He now travels with the gold chain given to Tracy, this significant emblem that is taken up once more at the movie’s end. While looking for him at the hotel, he passes a mirror in which he sees himself, a moment of (I sigh as I say this) self-reflection. He is suddenly given a vision of his past, and he cries out Frieda’s name. McCann goes to see the gangsters, knowing now that he’ll die. After the meeting, he sees Van Horn, who lacks the courage to confront him directly. McCann makes clear he knows what his fate will be when he says, “I was looking for you. It doesn’t really matter now.” His lodestone cracks, it connects to him like a magician’s familiar or an enchanted sword, and he will soon no longer need it.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann looks into mirror

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - McCann dancing with either Frieda or Eunice

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Eureka: McCann dancing.

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Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the stone breaks

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Eureka: the stone breaks.

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Jack is followed to his house by Perkins, Van Horn, and the gangsters. He takes the sacred stone, to have with him in his last moments. His killers are portrayed entirely as clumsy goofs, and I think this is to make clear that if McCann truly wished to avoid death he’d be able to fight them off, or that if Van Horn wanted to save the man’s life he would easily be able to do so. Van Horn, however, whatever his physical courage, lacks the conviction to either save the man’s life or kill him. McCann has it in him to murder for his daughter, but Claude does not. That Claude is as helpless a bystander as Perkins, is equal to this man, is a damnation. The men strike at the prospector, while a phone rings and rings, unanswered. Mayakofsky is trying to reach his men, but cannot. Tracy calls as well, from her room at another house, a room with stuffed animals and actor’s photos, and we realize she’s far younger than her demeanour suggests. She now wears red and white, the Rosicrucian colors of the earlier scenes. She calls again and again, her tie with her father telling her that he is in danger.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy calls, but no one answers

One of the gangsters picks up the sno-globe that holds the icon of McCann, a prospector trudging along a white landscape guided by a moon, and then, in a shot that echoes the opening of a justly well-known movie, the globe falls from his hand and shatters.

Citizen Kane - snow globe falls

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - gangster with the snow globe

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - snow globe shatters

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The globe falls in Citizen Kane and Eureka.

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Earlier, Claude came across the chain which McCann carried, and has now left behind; his enemy is prepared to be unbound from this life, and when the glass shatters, Jack is released from the vision that has held him, he is released from the physical itself.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the man outside the snow globe

The gangsters burn the body, after which a pillow breaks, and feathers float about the room. This, again, is not a poetic flourish added to the story, but part of the real. From Houts’ book, describing one of the gangsters at work:

He systematically played the torch over Sir Harry’s body from head to foot, dabbing particularly at the eyes, the chest, and the abdomen, and apparently trying to burn off the pajamas. As the mattress and Sir Harry’s body were burned separately, the mattress first, there was no unburned area of the mattress underneath Sir Harry’s body. Finally, as if by afterthought, the “button” man lifted his torch to the mosquito net above the bed.

The man was gone and Christie stood pondering his next move when suddenly, like an evil apparition, the man reappeared. He walked toward the bed, picked up a burned pillow, ripped open its blackened case, andd emptied the feathers over Sir Harry’s body.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann in the burning bed

There is another crucial moment here, that is difficult to glimpse. A massive knife lies on a cutting board, and one of the gangsters moves to take it, but Van Horn takes it instead.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - gangster reaches for knife...

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - ...but Claude grabs it first

He cuts off McCann’s head, and this is a detail that did not take place in actuality, but an addition that is part of the film’s mysticism. The cutting off of the head of the chief priest of the cult of Diana is the central focus of J.G. Frazier’s The Golden Bough, the seminal book on ancient rites, where after the priest is defeated by a rival, he is decapitated, and his opponent assumes his role. Van Horn, however, does not follow this rite, does not actually fight McCann, lacking the will to do so, and only cuts off his head after he is dead and the body burnt. Frazier suggests that the purpose in the Diana rite was for the successor to assume the inherited powers of the older man, that it was a variation on older fertility and vegetative rites. This, however, is not what takes place, with McCann somehow keeping his powers and transferring them somewhere else. Given the bond between father and daughter, it is not surprising that when the knife cuts the head off, Tracy is startled awake, choking. At the end of the scene, we suddenly return with McCann to the scene of the tree, moving closer and closer to his unconscious form, and as his body is steadily burned in the bed, McCann at the tree opens his eyes and exhales a breath, as he suddenly wakes.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann burnt body

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy feels Jack's pain

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Eureka: grabbing the knife.

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Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann wakes up

De Marigny’s trial, as related by Houts, focused on the methodology used to extract certain fingerprints at the location that were identified as his, and the relentless cross examination of Harold Christie who gave contradictory testimony, often ridiculed by the defense attorneys.

An example of one cinematic moment in Houts’ book, during examination by de Marigny’s defense attorney on what he did when he entered Sir Harry Oakes’ room and saw the body:

[Geoffrey Higgs, attorney for the defense]: “You got a towel and wiped Sir Harry’s face?”

[Harold Christie:] “I did.”

Mr. Higgs: “You think you wet that towel in your bathroom?”

“I think I did, but I am not positive. But that is my impression.”

Mr. Higgs: “Did you soak it?”

“I would not say I soaked it. I wet the side of it.”

Mr. Higgs: “Which side of it?”

A Hollywood scriptwriter would be accused of being unrealistic if he conjured up the next line.

Mr. Christie: “For God’s sake, Higgs, be reasonable. I don’t remember which side of the towel.”

Christie’s shout, which reverberated all around the courthouse outside, was more of surrender than challenge, like that of a cornered fox who turns out for one last stand against his pursuers.

Slowly, realizing that every eye burned into him, Higgs walked once more to the registrar’s table, thumbed through a stack of photographs, and selected another, this time a portrait view of the left side of the dead baronet’s face. He studied it for a moment, then with a twist of his head he looked up at Christie, who retreated a step to the rear of the box. With dramatic flourish, Higgs thrust up the photograph so that Christie had no alternative but to accept it.

Mr. Higgs: “Would you say that that face has been wiped?”

“I say that this face had been wiped. I would say that water had been put on the forehead and on the face.”

It was the only answer Christie could give, but it still served Higgs’ purpose, because the jury would see from the photograph that if any wiping of the face with a wet towel was attempted it had not disturbed the drops and spatters and lines of crusted blood which remained clearly visible.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Perkins on the witness stand

(An earlier version of this post contained the following sentence in this section: “The dramatic photo of McCann that haunts this courtroom, though it might seem a surreal addition, was, once again, entirely taken from life.” There was dramatic use of this photo of McCann’s body, but it was restricted to a smaller picture, occasionally shown to witnesses and the jury for effect.)

Though the events the trial lend themselves very well to the sparring and twisting of a good courtroom drama, they’re ignored here for an emphasis on the testimony of Tracy McCann, who is questioned by Van Horn after he fires his lawyer, in a scene where the two principals are lit in a way to suggest that, as in the bordello encounter between Jack and Frieda, this scene is of extraordinary importance for these characters, yet somehow, it does not actually take place.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude and Tracy face off in court

Nancy Oakes did testify, but not at any great length, nor was what she said of any importance to the outcome, while the act of Van Horn taking up his own defense is one of the few dramatic gestures of the movie that aren’t in real life, De Marigny keeping his defense counsel throughout the trial.

Though Tracy testifies that Van Horn is innocent, she is, in fact, damning him, declaring that he lacks the sufficient will to have killed her father, that everything he does is unserious, everything he does is innocent. She makes clear that his winning her is not analogous to Jack’s striking gold, because he didn’t win her, she sought him out. If he is to have a quest, it is to come only after this.

Do you think I’m guilty?

Oh, Claude. Face the truth. You may have come close to murder, but you didn’t do it. You’re innocent, innocent. That’s the only thing this jury can condemn you of, is innocence. You don’t know who you were when you married me, you don’t know who I am. You were born under the sign of innocence. Your politics are innocence…the other girls…the disappearance of your father, the death of your mother. You are guilty of innocence.

I found you, but you haven’t found yet what you’re looking for, Claude. Your time will come, though…sometime in the future…but it’s not yet. You couldn’t kill Jack McCann. You’ll never kill anybody.

Tracy also makes clear that she believes her father willed his own death.

Are you sure it was murder?

What are you talking about?

I’m talking about what happened to Jack McCann on that day in the winter of 1925 when he found the gold. He’d been looking for fifteen years, day after day, week after week, year after year, and then one day he found it. How could he ever recapture that moment of triumph? He couldn’t share the gold. That was his, and his alone. Now he realized his joy in having done what he set out to do all alone was gone. Poor Jack. He was like a man struck by lightning, one moment of rapture followed by decades of despair. Jack McCann wasn’t murdered three weeks ago in his bedroom at Eureka. He died in 1925. What happened that night was just his physical end. He needed someone to finish him off, and he found him, just as he had found the gold.

She asks Claude if he cut off McCann’s head. Out of fear, he cannot admit to this.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy in court

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude in court

Did you cut off his head?

No…when I found him he was dying, burned, as if struck by lightning, covered in feathers. He was smiling at me. The next moment, he was dead. I saw myself in prison. I didn’t feel sorry for him. I felt relief…but he’d never come between us again.

Oh, but he has.

At the end of the hearing, the prosecutor raises the possibility that Claude was going to leave her.

In the police report, it states that the defendant appeared to be in the process of packing to leave shortly before he was arrested. What do you make of that?

But her reaction is never heard; the court is suddenly breached by a cheering crowd. The war is over.

Now, one of the most important moments in the film. Frieda, in the beginning, told Jack of all the events to come, including:

There’ll be another after you…after the war. The great events!

If Van Horn had had the courage to kill for what he loved, McCann’s powers would have fallen to him, and he would have been this successor. Something else happens: we see Tracy in bed, as she is suddenly gripped by a seizure, a violent force, and then it is over, with no explanation. Van Horn is briefly seized by the same force as well, his shirt torn to shreds, so that we now see an undershirt with the same blood stain that was there the morning of the murder. He neither had the will to kill his opponent, or to stop the murder, and he now keeps the shameful mark of this. In these moments, I think we see McCann in his new, transcendent form, haunting Claude, and joining his daughter, Tracy and Jack becoming one, a possibility strongly hinted at in the final scene.

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Eureka: Claude is haunted.

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Right before Tracy’s seizure, Van Horn puts out a candle and the prison falls into a tint of blue, a moment which echoes for me another moment, from Lawrence of Arabia, a movie on which Roeg worked as a cinematographer.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy in bed

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Eureka: Tracy is haunted.

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Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude in prison

Claude is found not guilty, and then has a celebratory dinner with his wife. She now wears a gold chain about her waist, the same one which rattled so ominously the night of the banquet, the same one McCann carried with him in his last moments; her father and her, now bound together.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the gold chain

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - McCann with the chain around his neck

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy wearing the chain

Tracy discusses her plans to leave Eureka. This catches Claude off-guard, and he asks her if she’ll sell it. No, she’ll give it away. Always, there was the suspicion that Claude was a fortune hunter, and now there is the possibility that this fortune will be handed off. If he truly loves this woman, it will be of no consequence. She then says a line, which is her father’s line, from the dialogue at the banquet, the categorical imperative, the golden rule.

From the banquet:

There is only one golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The rest is conversation.

From the last scene, my bolded emphasis:

We can sell this place.

I don’t want to sell anything.

You want to keep Eureka?

I think I’m gonna give it away. The whole island…I’m gonna give it away. It’s not what I want anymore.

What do you want?

I don’t want to talk about it now. I’ve got plenty of time. I just want to…do unto others as I’d have them do unto me.

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Eureka: the golden rule.

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Claude looks for an excuse to leave, and now we have an ending that echos earlier moments. Van Horn finds the furnishings of the house slowly packed away, just like those of the bordello. He sees himself in the mirror, just as McCann saw himself in a mirror the night of his death. “I knew it would be you”, was what McCann said to him, but he is gripped by the fact that it was not him: he lacked the will to either kill this man or save his life. He says with great sadness, “Tracy”, just as McCann called out the name of Frieda. As he rows out to his yacht, Tracy looks on through the window, just as Frieda did.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - abandoned bordello

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude looks around empty house

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude looks into mirror

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Frieda looks out window

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy looks out window

Earlier, after his mother died, Claude promised Tracy that he may have run away from other things in his life, but he would never run from her. He now, of course, breaks this promise. This is one final break with the real, because Nancy Oakes and De Marigny stayed married after the trial. Just as Van Horn’s mother made allowances for his waywardness, so has Tracy, and now he has betrayed her one last time. An excerpt from that scene’s dialogue, my bolds:

My mother died. I should have stayed in France. I should…I shouldn’t have left. She must have needed me and…I could have protected her. Now there is nothing.

Sit down, sit down.

As a child I ran away from school all the time. She’d bring me back, but never scolded me. She knew all I wanted was to be free. Then I…then I ran away from her. I ran away from France, I ran away from the war. I’m such a coward. Tracy…I’ll never run away from you.

The last shot suddenly returns us to the Yukon, one last contradiction, because the prospector is dead, but somehow, he’s also alive, still questing for the gold, joyful that the quest is neverending. And Tracy, now joined with her father, forever, has given Claude one final test, and he has failed it. The war is over, and Jack McCann has won it.

On April 21, 2015, this post underwent a session of copy editing.

Images and script excerpts copyright MGM pictures and RKO pictures.

1 From Lacey’s book:

Meyer [Lansky] almost certainly found himself some sort of income from the Lucayan Beach [a casino in the Bahamas] – a rake-off, perhaps, from the junkets which Dusty Peters [occasional Lansky associate] ran to the casino. But the evidence scarcely justified the wilder tales that were given credence by newspapers, and which even formed the subject matter for full-length books. Meyer Lansky’s infiltration of the Bahamas went back, it was said, to the Second World War, when the Duke of Windsor was governor of the islands. Meyer’s name was suggested as the key to the great mystery and scandal of those wartime years, the murder of Sir Harry Oakes. Meyer had the baronet killed, it was alleged, because Oakes opposed Meyer’s plans for Bahamas gambling.

2 I am grateful for Arthur Goldwag’s The New Hate for these references.

From Maria Monk’s Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery:

I was now, she told me, to have access to every part of the edifice, even to the cellar, where two of the sisters were imprisoned for causes which she did not mention. I must be informed, that one of my great duties was, to obey the priests in all things; and this I soon learnt, to my utter astonishment and horror, was to live in the practice of criminal intercourse with them. I expressed some of the feelings which this announcement excited in me, which came upon me like a flash of lightning, but the only effect was to set her arguing with me, in favor of the crime, representing it as a virtue acceptable to God, and honorable to me.

A description of gnostic rituals, by Epiphanius, a father of the catholic church, from Stephen Benko’s Pagan Rome and the Early Christians:

I will now come to the place of depth of their deadly story.… First they have their women in common. And if a stranger appears who is of the same persuasion, they have a sign, men for women and women for men. When they extend the hand for greeting at the bottom of the palm they make a tickling touch and from this they ascertain whether the person who appeared is of their faith. After they have recognized each other, they go over at once to eating. They serve rich food, meat and wine even if they are poor. When they thus ate together and so to speak filled up their veins to an excess they turn to passion. The man leaving his wife says to his own wife: Stand up and make love with the brother.… Then the unfortunates unite with each other, and as I am truly ashamed to say the shameful things that are being done by them.… Nevertheless, I will not be ashamed to say those things which they are not ashamed to do, in order that I may cause in every way a horror in those who hear about their shameful practices. After they have had intercourse in the passion of fornication they raise their own blasphemy toward heaven. The woman and the man take the fluid of the emission of the man into their hands, they stand, turn toward heaven, their hands besmeared with the uncleanness, and pray.… They say: “We offer to thee this gift, the body of Christ.” And then they eat it, their own ugliness, and say: “This is the body of Christ and this is the Passover for the sake of which our bodies suffer and are forced to confess the suffering of Christ.” … They have intercourse with each other but they teach that one may not beget children.… And if … the woman becomes pregnant, then … they pull out the embryo in the time when they can reach it with the hand. They take out this unborn child and in a mortar pound it with a pestle and into this mix honey and pepper and certain other spices and myrrh, in order that it may not nauseate them, and then they come together, all this company of swine and dogs, and each communicates with a finger from the bruised child. And after they have finished this cannibalism finally they pray to God, saying, “We did not let the Archon of lust play with us but collected the mistake of the brother.” And this they consider to be the perfect Passah. Many other horrible things are done by them.

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