Thursday, August 16, 2012

Killer Joe [2012]

MPAA (NC-17)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (0 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review

Killer Joe (directed by William Friedkin, screenplay by Tracy Letts based on his play by the same name) is the first movie that I walked out of since I began my movie blog (nearly 2 years ago) and one of only a handful of movies that I've walked out of (or simply shut-off) in my entire life.  The other film that I remember that I also simply had to shut-off at a particular point was the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre [1974] .

I'm not sure about the intent of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre [1974], which may have simply sought to produce a super-realistic film about a mass murdering family, but I'm more or less positive that a good part of the intent of the makers of Killer Joe was to ask viewers how many minutes it would take before they realized that they (the viewers) were being made fun of.  It took me about thirty minutes...

To go any further in watching the film would have required me, the viewer, to participate in the (okay "simulated") rape of a 12 year old.   And yes, folks, we have a right to turn off a tape or walk out of the theater.  We may lose the money (arguably the film makers earned it...).  But there is absolutely nothing other than "pride" or "social control" that would prevent us from saying to ourselves: "Okay, I get it.  The film-maker got me here, but you know what ... I'm done."

Why am I saying that to go more than 30 minutes into this film would have required participating in the ("simulated") rape of a 12 year old?  Because it's filmed that way ...

The set-up of the story is this: A family of "Hick" losers (from "Texas...") decides to hire a hitman named Killer Joe Cooper (played by Texas native Matthew McConaughey) to kill their mother/ex-wife "for the insurance money."  Because, of course, "they're so stupid" that they don't have the money to pay "Killer Joe" upfront, they offer their sister/daughter Dotty (played by Juno Temple) as "collateral."

Well, good ole Joe wants "a date" with Dotty.  And that's when the scene about 30 minutes into the film plays out: Joe comes "over for dinner."  The rest of the family has made excuses so only Dotty's there, who's cooked a "nice tuna casserole" for what she had expected to be a dinner for the whole family.  But again, the "rest of the family's" made excuses and is gone.  So it's just Dotty (who doesn't exactly know that she's been "given" to Joe as "down payment" on the "job" that he's been hired to do).  Joe then asks Dotty to change clothes into the dress that he heard the family had bought for her for that evening.

NOW AS A "GENTLEMAN" _JOE_ actually "turns his eyes away" as she "changes clothes."  HOWEVER, THE AUDIENCE "gets to see everything," watching her get out of her clothes, put on the dress, while Joe, a _police detective_ in his "day job," facing "the other direction" empties his pockets, putting among other things a set of handcuffs on a table..

While she's taking her clothes off (completely, I should add..., and then putting on the dress) Joe makes "small talk."  Among other things, he asks, when she's completely naked (again, _he's_ facing away, while the viewers are seeing everything): "By the way, how old are you?"  This is when, though it wasn't completely clear before (even if there were "indications") she answers: "Twelve..."

She puts the dress on.  He turns around (to face her).  We see him walk over to her, around to the back of her, leans her over against the table ... with both of them now facing the camera so that _he_ was not going to see her anguish as he raped her (but presumably the audience would ...).  I can't tell you what happened afterward, because "twelve" was my breaking point, and I was at the door when he leaned her against the table ... And at this point I was out the door and gone.

As a result of the way the above scene was filmed, the audience (the viewers) was/were actually being asked to participate in the ("simulated") rape of a twelve year old.  AND ARGUABLY THE AUDIENCE WAS EVEN MORE GUILTY THAN JOE.  This is because Joe, in fact, had "turned his eyes away" when she was changing and by presumably "taking her from behind" would not see her anguish, WHILE THE AUDIENCE GOT TO SEE "EVERYTHING."  This then, was the "price of admission" for seeing the rest of the film ...which by my guess probably continued down this exact path, challenging the viewer with the question: "When are you finally going to realize that WE THE FILM-MAKERS ARE MAKING FUN OF YOU?"

And even as I was feeling _somewhat_ "good about myself" for "having had the sense to step out" of the film when I did, I realized that this was the whole point of the story:  "You idiot, (Fr!) Dennis, you went to see an NC-17 rated movie, yes supposedly rated that way 'primarily for the violence' about a 'STUPID/EVIL HICK FAMILY' that was going to kill their mother/ex-wife 'for the insurance money' AND NOW YOU'RE UPSET THAT THE FILM WAS ASKING _YOU_ TO PARTICIPATE (much more than you'd like) IN THAT EVIL?

"Isn't the FIRST EVIL here your own 'buying-into' the assumption that 'Hicks' are so 'stupid/evil' to want to kill their mother/ex-wife 'for insurance money' to begin with?  And if you _choose_ to think so poorly of 'country folk,' heck we'll show ya EVIL but we're gonna ask YOU then to _participate_ in it.  And (presumably...) we're gonna _keep pushing you_ until you finally realize what kind of an idiot you are."

So honestly, Killer Joe makes for an utterly unwatchable film, but it made some very interesting 30 minutes.  And yes, I think I "got it."  Thank you.

And folks, once more.  If you find yourselves in a situation where you've obviously been tricked and are being asked to go down a path to further Evil/degradation, you ALWAYS have the right/opportunity to get up and leave.  We all make mistakes, but we don't have to despair or resign ourselves to continuing on a path to things that are even worse ...

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  1. I get that you didn't like it, it's a pretty damn polarizing film, but to clear something up, Juno Temple's character was not 12 years old, she's in her 20s. She has a scene in the film where she tells Joe: “When I was 16 years old, Chris and I used to watch Mommy and Daddy fight."

    Her mother and father have been divorced for several years, so Temple's character is in her 20s.

    She says she is 12 during the sex scene because that's how old she was when she first fell in love. McConaughey says he is 12 as well, because, well, why the hell not.

  2. Hi Alex, thanks for your comment. On the IMDb message board, I've read similar explanations. I suppose my main complaint would be that the film-makers made the film intentionally fuzzy on the point of how old "Dotty" was.

    Clearly the actress herself could not have been under 18 or else everybody involved in that scene would have been in jail by now.

    But earlier on in the film, Dotty was talking to her step-mother about her "first boyfriend" who she said she had when she was in third grade. As she talked to her step-mother it became clear that this "boyfriend" was only in her head, in the way that one would assume a really young person would pretend when trying to persuade someone older that "he/she" is more mature than she really is.

    Then her bedroom was filled with stuffed animals/unicorns and all that. At minimum, the film-makers intentionally portrayed her as "naive." So when I heard "twelve," I took her for her/the film-makers' word.

    Consider also simply my occupation and the recent history of the Catholic Church in the United States. I and every priest in the country now is a _mandatory reporter_ when it comes to child abuse now.

    I've also had to personally deal with a case of someone who's now on a sex offenders' list for having picked-up someone at a bar who turned out to be under-age. The minor involved was happy as pie that someone "so hot" would find her attractive enough to take her home, but her parents looked at the matter, well, differently. And now the guy is on a sex offender list basically forever. So this kind of "age bending" is not exactly funny ... (to me anyway).

    Roger Ebert mentioned in his review that there were at least 6 scenes in the film that were difficult to watch. I assume that this was the first. I simply could not go on, especially since this one arguably required me the viewer to participate in (is it or isn't it? it can't possibly be ... or wouldn't all involved be in jail?) child rape. I honestly didn't want to know what else could possibly follow.

    But I would say that the scene got me up and out the door was _very well filmed_ (as I mention in my review arguably making the viewer as culpable in that scene as "Joe" was). And I would imagine that a film-maker _could_ intentionally make a film that was to be unwatchable, basically telling the audience: "If you actually sat there and watched my film all the way through, you missed my point." And I'd certainly understand that intention of the film-maker.

  3. I don't think that as a fr you can really examine films objectively,for instance roman polanski's films must be off limits to you,due to the character of the director,and therefore your view will never be a fully rounded or informed one,which is what one aims for when reviewing anything.

  4. Hi Lorelai, thanks for your comment but I honestly think that you rather limited and needlessly prejudicial view of a priest. Religion at its core is about life, its ups and its downs, its joys and its sorrows. Hence almost any story is open to theological inquiry. Then in terms of objectivity, as a Catholic (belonging to a Church that sees itself as universal, hence big enough for everybody) I would imagine that I'd probably be more objective than most people.

    Seriously. Do you realize how many films are made that depend on portraying one or another group in a villainously stereotypical fashion?

    Consider simply this film. The premise of this film is that a bunch of poor white "hicks" are so stupid/evil that they decide to kill their mother/ex-wife for insurance money and barter off their sister/daughter to their hired-gun as collateral. At its core it is an awfully prejudicial premise. Yet, clearly entire swathes of the American population buys into the premise "Yes 'hicks' could be that stupid / evil..."

    As a priest who works with a lot of blue-collar folk here in Chicago and worked with a lot of white country folk when I was stationed down in Florida, I can call the film-makers (viewers) out on this. And in my work I've _also_ worked with African Americans, Haitians, and Asians / Hispanics of pretty much all nationalities / stripes.

    So you'd be hard pressed to find anyone both in print or with a blog on the internet who's been as consistent on combating prejudices whatever they are as I have.

    So honestly, I'm about as objective as they come and frankly far more than most.