Spoiler Alert Watching the beginning of "The Comfort of Strangers" I
become aware of three things: the camera oozing through a grand
Venetian apartment clearly lost in time, Angelo Badalamenti's haunting
score teasing with classical elegance only to cut to a darker tone and
Christopher Walken's voice. The voice is calm, hypnotic and (much like
Badalamenti's score) carries an uneasy note - or rather a note that
makes one feel uneasy. It's a voice that is only part of one of
Christopher Walken's greatest performances, in a film which he, not
I do not, however, wish to be caught suggesting that without Walken "The Comfort of Strangers" would be a bad film. It wouldn't (most likely, but that's speculation) - it's got more than Walken going for it. Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett play a young British couple well (not that it is hard to do, I suppose, at least until) when their darker side emerges. The stimulation and prodding of this darkness from its hole and home of politeness and comfort occurs not only as a consequence of the couple's encounter with Walken, but also by his wife, played by Helen Mirren, who I love in this role.
"The Comfort of Strangers" is not a European-like art film, or subtle drama as much as it is a horror, or rather, horror plain and simple. Its story is relatively simple: a young British couple on vacation contemplate their relationship and the possibility of marriage when they encounter a Venetian resident (Walken) who seduces them with disturbing tales of his past, while terrifying them as well.
Shortly into the film, however, it turns out that Walken's encounter with Richardson and Everett's characters wasn't so chance after all. This should hardly be considered surprising since the film is directed by Paul Schrader ("Taxi Driver," "Last Temptation of Christ") and adapted by Harold Pinter ("The Go-Between," "The Servant"). Both writer and director obsess over psychology and the darker side of humanity. Well, in "The Comfort of Strangers" this obsession also reveals itself.
The dialogues in the film are classic Pinter - innocuous at first sight, matter-of-fact, meaningless on the surface, they add up to much more than they do in isolation. The story operates on subtext and nuance. It invites interpretations like many of Pinter's plays (most notably "The Caretaker), primarily social and psychological. And the film has countless - its ending may be considered sporadic, extreme, or, contrarily, pertinent and perfect.
I loved the ending and the film feeling that it works with the horror of the whole. My interpretation of "The Comfort of Strangers" puts aside psychology (I prefer to leave psychology ambiguous - darker things lurk in corners of the unknown than the explained). "The Comfort of Strangers" is, to some degree, an allegory, much like Losey's "The Servant" about two generations clashing with each other. More specifically, it's about old and new upper-class clashing. Walken is haunted by his father, a man of an older order, a patriarch with full knowledge of the value of his power, both psychological and physical, the terrorist of the family, an authoritarian. A symbol of virility. His gift to Walken's Robert is made clear through the relationship with Robert's wife - it's a violent, sexual relationship, the woman is a victim who comes to peace with her fate. It's an old-fashioned relationship, a relationship that terrifies Richardson and Everett.
They are a modern couple by modern standards - Richardson's Mary has children from a previous marriage and lives with Everett's Colin outside of wedlock. They are, to some extent, free. Robert criticizes them for this several times implicitly - he states that he respects Colin as an Englishman, but subtly berates him for living with a divorced woman. And he berates Colin not so subtly when Colin criticizes Robert's collection of his father's things.
Colin doesn't tell Mary that Robert hit him hard in the stomach. In fact, their relationship is jostled by their encounters with the strange Venetian couple, sexually energized - Mary, who initially wants Colin to propose to her, feels more powerful, free and desirous of that freedom she tastes. When Colin, shrinking (after the violent encounter with Robert), proposes to her finally, she brushes it off with a smile - she feels free and she likes it. Colin, however, is threatened by it. He doesn't fight back against Robert - he takes it and is quiet about it. He even allows Robert to call him a "poof, or how you say, a fruit?" during dinner.
The strong patriarchy of the past, manifested by Walken's Robert, isn't as strong as it appears at first. It has no future - the sickness of it is apparent to any viewer, especially as revealed by the Mirren character. It's a diseased relationship, yet it attracts Mary and Colin. Their relationship is also doomed, however - it appears to have no future, because it cannot define itself. There is no dominant figure, no person to give a direction to it (marriage?) - and when a direction presents itself, neither of the partners appears very committed to it. It's far from normal either - otherwise there would have only been one encounter with the Venetian couple. But interest and curiosity are far too strong for the encounters to stop.
So, when I watch the final moment of the film - very reminiscent of its first - I think not only of Walken's brilliance, but now of the newly-bestowed meaning to his monologue. Whenever Robert is questioned by a character in the film he offers a tale of childhood, of the past, about his father, who bestowed him with psychology, values and an understanding of the world. The understanding, of course, is impractical and must, inevitably, cause Robert a great deal of pain - every time he is forced to face the present, he has to revert to a past which he understands (and only because it made an incredibly psychological impression on him and his growth, development), but makes sense to no one else. He invokes the spirit of his dead father. And the spirit does not return the call because it is itself dead and gone - along with Robert, who is not in our world, but a world past. He is a ghost and he is truly horrifying, especially when he tries to materialize.
The Comfort of Strangers
Action / Drama / Thriller
The Comfort of Strangers
Action / Drama / Thriller
An English couple holiday in Venice to sort out their relationship. There is some friction and distance between them, and we also sense they are being watched. One evening, they lose their way looking for a restaurant, and a stranger invites them to accompany him. He plies them with wine and grotesque stories from his childhood. They leave disoriented, physically ill, and morally repelled. But, next day, when the stranger sees them in the piazza, they accept an invitation to his sumptuous flat. After this visit, the pair find the depth to face questions about each other, only to be drawn back into the mysterious and menacing fantasies of the stranger and his mate.
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July 07, 2015 at 10:44 PM