BY THROOP ROEBLING
Reviews of the recently released film The Others have refused to reveal its plot. This review, however, as you have hopefully guessed from its title The Plot Revealed, plans to tell you the twists. Knowing what happens allows you to appreciate the film on a considerably deeper level, as though seeing it for a second time, yet without paying the admission price twice. When you see the movie for the first time, which you should do immediately after reading this, others around you may be scared, they may even scream, and they may squirm in the firm grip of this film's dense suspense. A different sensation will cause the gooseflesh crawling your forearms, however. You will realize you're remembering a film you're seeing for the first time, and this will spook you more than any scary thing appearing on the silver screen. Let's call this the spooky, simultaneous "double-feature" sensation.
[We are now offering impatient readers the opportunity
First off, to ascertain the value of familiarity with a film's plot before you've seen it, let’s do a simple cost-analysis of a journey to the theatre. When you go to a movie, you expect to pay about $10, that is, as long as you're neither recently born nor scheduled to die sometime in the next forty-five years. Cheaper admission prices may be available during matinee showings, that is, as long as your area theatres offer matinee prices. (Most in Manhattan do not.) You may want to spend $3 for Goobers or a way-too-big sack of peanut M&Ms. You may want to exchange $6 for a soft drink and a popcorn. When you are asked what size you prefer, we suggest you say regular. Regular is the size formerly known as medium. Keep in mind that the sizes once called large and small are now known as value and kiddie. Feel free to ask for kiddie, even if you are a veteran of foreign wars or a professional kickboxer. Buyer beware of the cheapest option, for they hardly give you enough to justify the $2.75 price tag. Remember, however, that value, although only a few dimes more than regular, typically provides more popcorn or soda than you could possibly consume in a single sitting, even one that lasts three hours. Again, we suggest the size formerly known as medium. In today's multiplex, only regular enables you to receive a generous helping at an almost honest price.
You know all this, of course. Supersizing etc. Maximizing margins. We apologize. We do not think you're a dimwit. We originally intended to reveal the plot of a movie, the enjoyment of which depends upon not knowing the plot. We got indulgent. We could not help it. We ask you to stick with us. We promise this review will improve. We will eventually get to the plot. We promise once more. We encourage you to proceed.
Besides providing the spooky, simultaneous "double feature" sensation mentioned in the first paragraph above, be assured that this review of The Others obviates the initial viewing of the film. Including the ticket price, overpriced alimentation, round-trip transportation, and post-viewing alcoholic beverages, which help ease the nerves of the easily spooked, this review is therefore worth approximately $25, all told.. [An address is supplied below where appreciative readers can send money, nudie pics, ransom notes, etc.]
Thus far, although we have written 475 words (at $2 a word), we haven't revealed a thing about the film. The paragraphs we produced above are very much like the sort appearing recently in many national publications and popular websites. Cinema scribes, very much unlike myself, have pissed all over themselves to avoid the plot. They’ve staunchly confused their reader’s eye sockets with urinals, relieving themselves of interminable streams of aesthetic-centric urine about the lighting, the spare music, the cinematography, the acting, the screenwriting, the producers, the director. For instance, Salon.com’s Andrew O’ Hehir closes his review, actually saying that “there's nothing more I can or should tell you about Charles' secret, or Grace's or Mrs. Mills'. But the secret is out about Amenábar, I hope.”
Reviews we have read, like the one on Salon, are masterworks of circumnavigation. They avoid what matters, namely, what happened in the movie. And people, this movie is all about what happened.
Nevertheless, as demonstrated four sentences above, Mr. O’Hehir’s review, much like Anthony Minghella’s in "The New York Times" wastes way too many words on the director.
We will not make that mistake. Instead, we will tell you something other reviews fail to mention about Alejandro Amenábar.
There’s really only one thing interesting about him.
Sure, he’s 29 (the same age as this writer) and he’s Spanish (and therefore speaks Spanish with a lisp, just like this writer does, but only when speaking Spanish to Spaniards). The one, really interesting thing about Alejandro Amenábar, the thing he will be remembered for in the future, is that he wears that subtle, obligatory badge of the Genius Director. That’s right, Alejandro Amenábar, like so many before him -- including Steven Spielberg, Federico Fellini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Charlie Chaplin, Roberto Rossellini, Jim Jarmusch, Steven Soderbergh, Wim Wenders, Cameron Crowe, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Sam Shepard, Robert Rodriguez, Robert Redford, Rob Reiner, and of course, Mike Myers -- has alliterative initials; that is, the letters that make up his initials, they are the same.
Exactly 800 words later, we have not yet revealed the film’s plot.
So let us begin. Here goes . . .
Making matters worse, Grace’s children are photosensitive, which means they -- much like Native Americans, vampires, and Thomas Pynchon -- cannot be photographed. If they are photographed, their souls are stolen and they become what Grace likes to call “others.” In a daring move mirroring Kidman’s recent high-profile, off-screen troubles, Grace keeps her kids indoors, with the curtains drawn, avoiding paparazzi who gather on her lawn at all hours, where they read pornographic comic books and study the lives of the saints.
The audience is expected to believe that the paparazzi are Catholics, intent on harassing this super-rich, mansion-dwelling Protestant family until they convert. Once converted to Catholicism, the paparazzi believe Grace will move to a humbler castle and donate what's left of her fortune to the church. Grace intends to put up a fight, however. It is Otherness -- expressed in this film as homosexuality, photosensitivity, and Protestantism -- which motivates the film’s principal conflict.
But there are further complications.
The paparazzi would have been easily vanquished by Grace's guards -- but her guards vanished, mysteriously, without even collecting their wages. And then, just as Grace raises a shotgun to her shoulder intent on blasting paparazzi ass all over the smoldering grounds of her Isle of Jersey estate, a strapping trio of prospective guards arrive unbidden. Among these new guards is Mrs. Mills (Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan), a sleight-of-hand expert and a masterful handler of venomous snakes. Mrs. Mills explains that she, Mr. Tuttle the Enforcer (Eric Sykes), and the mute dart-thrower Lydia (Elaine Cassidy) worked at the house years ago and "just decided to stop by." Mrs. Mills lets Grace know they'll go to any means necessary to keep her children from getting their photographs taken.
The plot proceeds as expected at this point, with Grace peeking nervously from behind drawn curtains, as Mrs. Mills, Mr. Tuttle, and Lydia kick serious paparazzi ass. An excellent fight scene ensues. A battle royale worthy of renaming the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Hippopotamus.
In another daring move, the 29-year-old Spanish director with alliterative initials arms the paparazzi with a herd of angry hippos. As these surreally juxtaposed throwbacks to the age of dinosaurs storm the mansion’s gates, audience members of the packed East Village showing I attended yelled at the screen as though we were 110 blocks uptown, saying such things as “Mrs. Mills, get ill witcha surrrpennz on dat lil’ godzilla! . . . Rock dem hippos to rubble, Mr. Tuttle! . . . Pity da hippos gotta grapple wit’ Lydia.” (Yes, I transcribed these lines the moment they were uttered; they have neither been recreated nor misheard.)
The hippos then trample Mrs. Mills and her snakes, Mr. Tuttle, and the deaf dart-thrower Lydia. It is an unexpected, crowd-pleasing twist. One would have thought the audience would lament their demise, but once the hippos start stamping on Mr. Tuttle’s dour, mustachioed head, Amenábar accesses the audience’s fair-weather caprice, turns the tables, and the paparazzi’s mean-as-fuck hippos are suddenly stars.
A 30-minute search scene begins to wear the audience’s endurance down as an endless stream of paparazzi enter the house, despite getting intermittently picked off by Grace’s shotgun (the smoking nozzle of which peeks out a hole in the side of a piano near the doorway). Shots of the scantily clad, Amazonian trainers wiping the blood off the hippos are interspersed throughout the search scene, to the general delight of the viewing audience.
Finally the weeping children are found. In a crosscultual decision more characteristic of Japanese cinematic inclinations, the children become larger and larger with each camera flash, as though inflated by light, until they practically fill the entire room. The paparazzi, faced with these monstrous “others,” run off screaming, leaving their cameras behind, slipping on hippo shit, occasionally getting picked off as they pass the crosshairs of the matron hiding in the piano.
As the film’s wild ride approaches its denouement, Alejandro Amenábar forgoes the hippos to focus on Grace’s children, naked and gigantic, like cherub-faced Stay-Puff Marshmallow Men – a sly reference to Ghostbusters, which also dealt somewhat less obliquely with the eradication of ghosts, informing the larger discourse of the plight of those persecuted for their “otherness.” The photosensitive children, seated with necks craning against the ridiculously high cathedral ceilings of the mansion’s ballroom, then stand. The scene is gorgeously rendered. Daylight illumines what looks like pixie dust as it streams from fissures in the cracked rooftop.
A question arises: what do these children see, now that they are finally out of their darkness and in the light?
An answer is immediately offered: the children see their father returning home.
Out of a thick fog, we see Charles returning from a war he preferred not to fight; his pride nevertheless intact. He is clad in a tight designer tanktop and plaid capri pants. In an Oscar-worthy shot from behind him, the enormous mansion and the even larger, joyous faces of his children loom ahead of him. The waistband of a neon-orange thong stretches across the lowest regions of the small of his back, with just a hint visible of the single cord that bisects the taut orbs of his well-conditioned ass.
When the near-sighted father clearly sees that his children have burst through the roof, however, he becomes entirely ticked off, and in a stunning reference to a movie starring both Kidman and the leading man/producer of this film, the husband drags Grace into a quiet corner of the house, away from the prying eyes of his suddenly monstrous children, where he asks a simple declarative question: you want to fuck?
Kubrick fans in the house moaned. Apparently they were more in agony than enraptured by the reference, but it seems either very few people sat through Eyes Wide Shut to the end or those who did just don’t emote that much when movies involving former couples refer to movies starring couples that once were.
Finally, Grace, in an effort to happily resolve the three-hour affair, tells her husband that they should seek out the paparazzi and "go at it" in public. Perhaps they could dispel the rumors about her husband upon the fresh graves dug for Mrs. Mills, Mr. Tuttle the Enforcer, and the mute dart-thrower Lydia. Charles enthusiastically agrees. A rather unbelievable indulgence threatens to topple the film at the last moment. The children begin to return to original size, little by little, with each thrust. And each time the husband pulls his hips back, another photographer is summoned, like a honey bee drawn to a flower dusty with pollen, tantalized.
The final, startling plot twist is then revealed.
Nicole Kidman bites her lips until blood streams down her chin, completely in rapture, during a mesmerizing, ten-minute shot of her husband’s buttocks going up and down and up and down and sometimes switching things up with these supersexy circular swivels, and then there is an extreme close-up of Grace singing The Flamingos’ classic song “I Only Have Eyes For You” into his ear.
(At this point, a woman in the back row of the showing I attended actually yelled out “What’s going on here?” to general laughter.)
In the end, the wildly copulating couple surrounded by a savage pack of flashbulb-popping paparazzi and braying hippos are obscured by a shakily filmed placard held by Amenábar himself. On it, he or a member of his crew, has written, “What you have just witnessed documents the origins of The Flamingos’ classic I Only Have Eyes For You. -- A.A. 2001.”
The Others depicts otherness as a necessarily eccentric force driving artistic creations -- such as Alejandro Amenábar’s -- that ultimately comes to colonize the very center. In this case, the three-hour ride that is Alejandro Amenábar’s third effort takes us for a trip down the twists of psychological terror to illustrate a simple assertion: the living and the dead do "live" together, and so, we must never forget from whence our most enjoyable joys derive; to offer a quote from the film, "no door is to be opened before the previous door is closed." Indeed. Or, to put it more simply, we must never forget what has happened. In this film, Alejandro Amenábar makes memory come alive in such a way that no one will ever forget seeing this film.
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