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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 The Killer Inside Me


Directed by Michael Winterbottom (2010)

How exactly do you go about beating someone to death with your fists? Of course, you have to want to do it, which is one thing. But how many times do you have to hit them and how hard?

Itís extraordinarily difficult to kill someone this way. Not only because it takes an awful lot of time and effort but because the whole time you have the opportunity to stop, to change your mind, to show mercy, as the repugnant reality of what youíre doing grows horrifically before your eyes.

Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) in The Killer Inside Me doesnít change his mind, though as a polite country boy he does say heís sorry. The audience, which has seen many people killed on cinema screen, would like him to stop, or at least for the camera to turn away. But Michael Winterbottom isnít that kind of director.

This film has understandably caused controversy, not only because Winterbottom goes on and on beyond where he has surely made his point, but because the victims of this particular style of violence are women. Five people die at Louís hands. Two men are shot, a third is hanged off-camera. Itís the two women who are beaten to death. And they donít even try to fight back.

Lou is, of course, a psychopath. But there is a carefully developed parallel to his clinical violence in the sado-masochistic sex enjoyed not just by him but by the two unfortunate women in his life, his betrothed Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson) and the beautiful prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba). Not to mention his late mother, seen in flashback and in some dirty photos.

Sex and violence are closely intertwined. But there is surely a big gap between playful rough sex and brutal murder.

There is an attempt to explain Louís psyche. Right next to the book in which he finds the pictures thereís another on Freud. But itís not really pursued. Explaining psychosis is not, I think, Winterbottomís prime goal.

Some reviewers have complained of a lack of character development. There is, indeed, a flatness about them. In contrast the surface of the The Killer Inside Me is sharply shot such that curious, contingent details jump off the screen: the fly crawling across someoneís shirt, the eagle flying above a skyscraper, the corner detail of a painting of a buffalo hunt. While she had her eyes closed, my companion noticed the same with sounds. The ticking of a clock while the fists pummel home, for instance.

These are symptoms of modernism, of a reflexivity in which Winterbottom seems to urge us to attend to the screen rather than try to get involved with the characters. In doing so he is asking us profound questions about our responses to, perhaps even our responsibility for, a violent world. Itís not surprising that we donít want to look.

June 14, 2010

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