Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Counselor: Frequently Asked Questions.



Q: What the fuck did I just watch?

A: Either,

a) Ridley Scott's The Counselor

b) Ridley Scott's The Counsellor

c) the most horrendous film to be released in 2013

d) that fucked up movie where Cameron Diaz humped a car

or e) a genuinely misunderstood masterpiece.

Q: So, um...Not to beat around the bush here, but...why did Cameron Diaz fuck a car?

A: Diaz's character Malkina is the central antagonist of the movie, and, somewhat typically for a female villain, her modus operandi is to combine sexuality and violence. It's a pretty old cliché to have a character who's hot and evil, but it's less clichéd to push that sex appeal to startlingly dark places, and that's exactly what director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy have done. They're subverting the usual expectations we have of a character like this: typically female villains are meant to be objects of genuine lust (eye candy, essentially). Therefore, by creating a character that remains lustful but does genuinely fucked up things is a way to undermine what we're used to seeing. They're taking her central personality trait (sexuality) and pushing it to its furthest extreme. Of course, all of this is made all the more shocking by the fact that it's Cameron "Sex Tape" Diaz engaging in the vehicular foreplay.

In essence, Malkina's humping of the car is a the perfect way to summarise her character: it reveals her willingness to use her body to intimidate and dominate the men around her.

Q: Was I meant to find it funny? Because I kinda did.

A: The scene is definitely meant to be funny, but in that "I don't think I should be laughing at this" kind of way.

It's the moment in the movie that most critics misinterpreted - a lot of them seemed to think the scene was supposed to be totally straight-faced, but it's really not; why else would Javier Bardem have that "cat fish" line? It's meant to make you laugh - humour is often the best way to unseat and unsettle an audience, particularly when it's unexpected.

Q: Why did Reiner (Javier Bardem) tell the Counselor (Michael Fassbender) the story about Cameron Diaz and the whole car/catfish thing anyway? Why didn't he keep it to himself?

A:I think that a sub-plot of the movie is about the secret fear males harbour of women. It all relates back to that creepy vagina dentata thing that Freud talked about: men are genuinely afraid of women's ability to explore themselves sexually, which is why Reiner decided to tell the Counselor that story. He was revealing how deeply unnerved he was by female sexuality. The event was like a bad dream that he couldn't keep to himself...It was genuine fear, and he had to share it.

Q: Why was there so much talking in this movie?

A: The Counselor is unusual for a thriller because it doesn't want to outwit you, or throw a plot twist in your face. It sets up a scenario and then follows it through to its logical conclusion. There's no grand reveal, or crazy double crosses. The film's about a man who does a bad thing and then gets punished. The end.

For me, the way the film took a simple narrative and ran with it really worked. It made me think of an Ancient Greek tragedy - you set up a character with a fatal flaw (in this case, greed) and then spend the rest of the running time making them burn for it. It turned the experience into a strange kind of morality play, and added a level of inevitably to the proceedings. We're all going to die, and this film is primarily about the way that happens - fate catches up to us, our mistakes refuse to let us be, terrible things happen, and we're left alone. There's no way to get out of it: it's just life.

Q: Christ, that's bleak...

A: Yeah. This isn't a film to watch on your first date.

Q: You didn't really explain why everyone spent so much time yakking though...

A: Well, I think it's because this film isn't so much interested in driving the plot constantly forward as it is in examining the moral repercussions of what's going on. It's like a philosophical Bourne Identity or a James Bond movie in slow motion. And I can see why that pissed a lot of people off - this movie just isn't for everyone. That doesn't mean you're stupid, or brainwashed if you don't like it: it just means it didn't work for you.

Q: What was with that whole diamond subplot?

A: Nothing.

Q: Nothing?

A: Nope. There was no big reveal to that segment of the story - it wasn't meant to add to the 'plot.' It was just an opportunity to talk about some of the themes of the movie: greed, the desire for perfection, the idea that everybody (and everything) has a deeply seated flaw.

The best way to enjoy this movie is not to overthink it. It's really not meant to be complicated. Constantly searching for the 'hidden meaning' of the scenes just dampens the whole experience. Treat this movie like a 118  minute night terror - it's just a slow descent into horror that is meant to make you distinctly uneasy, rather than meant to make you understand its real motive. Because, essentially it doesn't have one.

Q: I take it you like this movie then?

A: I really do. There is one thing that drove me fucking crazy about it though: the marketing campaign. I think that's what made this movie so universally hated.

The trailers and the poster made this film look like your run of the mill thriller. I can see why the ad guys did that - they wanted to make the film seem appealing so they could get the biggest audience possible - but their plan totally blew up in their face. It meant that people who were expecting to see a straight action thriller felt betrayed and annoyed, and it meant that the film's true audience didn't go to see it because they expected it to be...well, a straight faced action thriller.

That's the lesson to be learnt from this whole experience: when you're in advertising, tell the fucking truth. Don't be afraid of honesty. Remember, like Malkina says, "the truth has no temperature." It is what it is.  (Nothing better than shoehorning in a quote from the movie you're reviewing to tie the whole thing up, right?)

2 comments:

  1. You get most of this wrong, I think. I have posted responses in your thread at IMDB with regards to the Ferrari scene.

    With regards to the other questions above...

    Q: Why did Reiner (Javier Bardem) tell the Counselor (Michael Fassbender) the story about Cameron Diaz and the whole car/catfish thing anyway? Why didn't he keep it to himself?

    Because we, the audience, don't see it unless Reiner tells him the story. The scene is central to the movie. It practically happens at the middle of the movie. It is a play within the play and thus represents the movie. It is not there primarily for comic relief, that relief is ancillary. There is more on this in your iMDB thread.

    Q: Why was there so much talking in this movie?

    This is not a thriller. This movie is definitely about outwitting the audience (and Hollywood). Or at least outwitting them until they can figure it out. This movie is a mystery and intended to be so. That's why it has been called cryptic. Unfortunately people are using that description derogatorily when it is intended to be cryptic.

    The clues are buried within the dialogue, which serves multiple functions: to move the plot forward, to characterize the characters, to hide the clues, to provide double entendres and depth, and to philosophize. It also means it is painted with Cormac's hand. No one else could have written that dialogue.

    Q: What was with that whole diamond subplot?

    This provides the movie with many of its themes and motifs. The discussion with the member of the Diamond Cartel bookends two philosophical discussions, the other being at the other end of the movie from the member of the Drug Cartel.

    And it sets our plot In motion. Our Counsellor loves his woman so much that he buys her the rarest diamond on the market--a red diamond, a blood diamond, a cautionary diamond. Our cartel diamond dealer has only seen two in his entire life, and this is one of them. It costs millions. It drains his bank accounts. He undertakes the drug deal to restore his fortune. We know he is in a different situation than before because he has always declined to partner with Reiner in his deals previously. The woman and his love for her, and thus the rare diamond, changes everything.

    The best way to enjoy this movie is not to overthink it. It's really not meant to be complicated. Constantly searching for the 'hidden meaning' of the scenes just dampens the whole experience

    I don't know about overthink, but this movie is definitely intended to be complicated and requires thought and multiple viewings to sort it out. There's a lot more going on in this film that you don't even touch on above. The movie is certainly not this:

    The film's about a man who does a bad thing and then gets punished. The end.

    There is one thing that drove me fucking crazy about it though: the marketing campaign

    Names are important in stories...

    Reiner means... counsellor!
    Laura means adornment.
    Malkina is from Grismalkin, an evil cat.
    Westray devolves into We stray (I'm giving you a big hint here).

    So it's not surprising that the marketing campaign is complete misdirection for this mystery titled Co-unsellor.

    Nor is it surprising that there are two versions of this movie with material differences in the scenes they share.

    If you would like to know more, just reply to me in your iMDB thread.

    Best regards,
    Inexile

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