Brief Thoughts: Harold and Maude (1971), Kill List (2011), Thelma & Louise (1991)

Harold and Maude (1971) Dir. Hal Ashby
Starring: Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon, Vivian Pickles

A great, strange, idiosyncratic little movie. It seems as if a lot of its quirky odd-couple whimsy and deadpan cynicism has found its way into modern indie films - everything from Wes Anderson to less enjoyable (Zooey Deschanel comes to mind) versions. Its influence seems to be largely underrated. Watching Bud Cort's wide-eyed Harold zoom around in his hearse or continually fake his own gruesome death, one could easily respond with exasperation - we've seen all this quirkiness done before, in a try-hard, glossy way. It's difficult to remind yourself that Harold and Maude was the original, genuine article, and its bizarre love story is all the more charming for it. I think Hal Ashby truly sought to make a movie dedicated to the weirdos and eccentrics, a celebration of those with an utter disregard for social convention. The Cat Stevens soundtrack, the almost-predictable-but-not-quite ending, the unassuming and unsentimental depiction of melancholy, romance, and tragedy, all make the film poignant and disconcerting over thirty years on.

Kill List (2011) Dir. Ben Wheatley
Starring: Neil Maskell, Harry Simpson, MyAnna Buring

I initially watched Kill List at the cinema, and just recently have watched it a second time at home. It centers around two friends who live apparently regular lives, except for their highly mysterious jobs - as contract killers. It remains one of the stand-out films from last year, for sure, though I can't help but to feel the shocks come less keenly after seeing them once before. The shocks aren't gimmicky, certainly - it has moments of real terror, and the whole film zips along with an unnerving sense of dread and discomfort. The many domestic scenes in the film are wonderfully naturalistic, painfully tense, and unexpectedly funny, but are punctuated with moments of increasingly dreadful violence and gore - heads, hands, and kneecaps bursting. The film is Hydra-like in its sensibility; naturally lit and acted, but supernaturally inclined; surreal, and yet so disturbingly placed in a sense of immediacy and reality that 'surreal' is never quite the correct word. Although I disagree with critics who claimed the last 5 minutes of the movie ruined it, I do think it seems a considerably weaker and more derivative ending than it did upon the first viewing. Strangely, it still sort of works, maybe as homage. I've never seen a movie which mixes style and genre quite in the way it manages, and it is a wonderfully dark, bizarre film.

Thelma & Louise (1991) Dir. Ridley Scott
Starring: Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon, Harvey Keitel

I can't believe I hadn't seen this before, and I really enjoyed it in spite of it being a bit flawed. It's an awful shame that Scott tacks on the ending with a swell of 'cry here' music and a flashback to better times, because the movie really didn't need it - the screenplay is wonderfully well-written and Geena Davis and Sarandon have as much on-screen chemistry as Hepburn and Tracy. Davis' prettily dimpled smiles and innocence give way to a much braver, harder evolution, and she is well played-off by the older Sarandon's cynical waitress, a thin slash of red on her lips and a stern, almost motherly tone to her voice. Their adventures are a testament to that rare filmic thing, a realistic female friendship and camaraderie that runs deeper than their reliance on men. The string of movies about male camaraderie is miles long. The Butch Cassidy and Easy Rider generation, with their intent on escaping stifling respectable lives and searching for real freedom, were revolutionary in one respect, but women were completely sidelined in this vision. Thelma and Louise reject domesticity, dead-end jobs, unfulfilling husbands and boyfriends, a nowhere town they're stuck in. They get to ogle the male body, to carry guns, to drive around with an arrogance previously reserved only for men; but they also get to talk about rape frankly, to be hysterical occasionally, to be fully drawn-out women as well as being figures of rebellion. That it took, more or less, until 1991 for a movie like this to come out - one where we watch women talk, form friendships, and kill for each other to the extent that men are allowed to onscreen - speaks volumes. Thelma & Louise portrays the great majority of the men in the film as foolish and arrogant - a conflated caricature of masculinity in the same way that for a century of cinema, caricatures of man-obsessed, decorative femininity have dominated the screen. For all its moments of mainstream pandering or sentimentality, it is so well-acted and full of such warmth, has so many moments of 'right on' feminism, of turning the classic male road movie on its head, I can't help but to have a huge soft spot for it.


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