Stoker [Blu-Ray] Chan-wook Park

Stoker [Blu-Ray] Chan-wook Park
9
Unfortunately for Stoker and its visionary, emotionally in tune director, Chan-wook Park, his earlier, exceptionally made, stylistically intriguing works (Oldboy and the Vengeance trilogy) have the stigma of hipness attached to them. Appealing specifically to a very vocal legion of middlebrow fanboys, Park's works attract the attention of an insular male perspective, ensuring that boys more interested in being involved in the film industry than learning about the art of it, or reflecting upon it as a medium and facet of culture, are the ones scrutinizing his works. Since Stoker wasn't interested in utilizing film in its traditional, easily interpreted literary format, wherein linearity and a generalized heteronormative male perspective are omnipresent, it was readily dismissed by an outspoken audience it wasn't intended for. While categorized by those with limited cinematic vocabulary as a Hitchcock rip-off, or criticized for its lack of concern over subjective, expressionistic moments piecing together an operatic, emotional experience, Park's assemblage of cinematic elements transcending the superficiality of basic story isn't interested in either approach. Unlike Hitchcock's moralizing and playful jabs at subverting narrative, Stoker is embedded in the hyperbolized psychology of the other. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is presented as the standard gothic outsider — having lost her father (Dermot Mulroney) in an accident, she moons about her family estate, exchanging snarky commentary with her surprisingly grounded and unaffected mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). The arrival of a long lost uncle, Charles Stoker (Matthew Goode), upsets this balance, being a younger, sexier version of her deceased husband for Evelyn and an intense, abstract thinker and vessel for perverse desires for India. As only those that identify with being the "other" can understand, female sexuality, or additional forms of aberrant desires (homosexuality, interracial desires and so one), the coming-of-age involved with acknowledging urges we're forced to repress, while boys are encouraged to champion and brag about them, feels implicitly dangerous and subversive. In addition to capturing this feeling via an off-kilter, beautifully photographed and composed aesthetic, Park has a lyrical sense of piecing moments together, moving from slow stretches — where Clint Mansell's subtle but effective score hums softly — to more intense, deliberately edited and paced moments that make orgasmic and sexual the emotional vocabulary of the film. As India becomes aroused by her uncle and takes her first stabs at carnal deviance in the woods with a local boy, our perspective is forced into sexual identification, which, considering that incest and brutal violence involved, is contrary to the traditional moralizing we're force-fed in the limited modern American cinematic lexicon of the majority of Stoker's viewers. Rather than being reassured, or, in turn, judged, by "unnatural" hormonal instincts, we're given permission to indulge in them, just as India is by her irreverent, socially irresponsible, and exaggeratedly psychotic, uncle. Sex and death become one as the sets, music, action and composition culminate in an advocacy for, and celebration of, deviance from Judeo-Christian ethics, which explains why dumpy marketing execs and emotionally stunted boys were so immediately appalled by the implication that their assimilation isn't what everyone wants and desires. (During the Sundance premiere, a publicity woman behind me yelled, "This is disgusting.") It's a tough pill to swallow for those that have never been put in a position to question the status quo, but without them having a reason to experience what it's like to be shamed and punished for being different, it's impossible to communicate. Park does a very effective job conveying this with his splendid, exciting foray into embracing impulses the moral majority wishes to suppress, which is why this work will hold up through time as one of those underground efforts that speaks multitudes to the few. During the supplemental material about storyboarding and location shooting, everyone hints at knowing what the movie was really about, but mostly discuss Park's intensely structured and visionary approach to the material, understanding the subtext and having a master's control over how everything would come together. It's not surprising, since this is one of the rare films that manages to overcome self-conscious image posturing to embrace sheer experiential beauty and passion in a disturbing, yet oddly touching manner. (Fox)