October 31, 2004

In The Cut

Why did two of Holywood's most successful actresses vye for this movie, "In the Cut"? The rights to the book were bought by Nicole Kidman. It ended up being a recently divorced Meg Ryan that played the lead part. But it was panned by the reviewers and the majority of the buying public.

But for me it was one of the most interesting and ambitious films that I have seen in some time. It interested me so much because I think that it is film that... Roland Barthes would have approved of. It is a film that gives power to the reader, or rather watcher, because even at the end, it does not let the cat out of the bag. I will, let the cat out of the bag, as I see it, in a very anti-Barthian way. Please see the film before you read this spoiler.

First of all, what does the title mean? There is a lot of cutting in this film. The is the physical cutting of human bodies. There is the backwards forwards flashbacking and changes scene. But most importantly it seems to me that "the cat" or, since this is a crime movie, the scene where we find out who dunnit, is also cut. We are not told who dunnit, that scene is cut. This is a very brave thing to do. Too brave it seems because most people watching it do not seem to have realised.

The film starts in a bar. Meg and her hunky aspiring boyfriend are having a drink. Meg goes to the toilet and sees a woman giving peforming oral sex to a man with a tatoo on his wrist. She watches transfixed. But not for all that long (it should be emphasised). When she returns to the bar the-hunky-aspiring boyfriend is no longer there. He says later to Meg, "you were gone ages."

The next day we find that a body part of the woman that was giving the blow job is found in the garden of Meg Ryans apartment. The police question her. And the policeman doing the questioning has 'that tatoo' on his wrist.

Despite the fact that he is the person that she has last seen with the woman that was murdered, Meg starts to have a fling with this hunky cop.

Another woman is murdered, this time a medical student. The audience is left worrying for Meg since it seems that one of the three men in her life is the slasher.

The policeman has that tatoo on his wrist, and he seems capable of treating women like objects.

Meg's ex boyfriend played by a typically psychotic Kevin Bacon. He is obsessed with Meg and cannot accept their split. He is also a medical student, so we are left to wonder whether he has killed one of his medical student friends.

The "hunky-aspiring-boyfriend," one of Meg's students is fond of writing essays about serial killers and he is want to attempt rape (he comes on strong to Meg.)

But then, Meg's sister is killed, just after Keven Bacon says that he wants to date her.

Jumping back a bit, we have seen Meg and her sister quite a lot. They are very different in especially their attitude to sex. Meg is miss repressed. Meg is ideally suited for this part because she always plays, very well, the eternal innocent (that is one of the reasons why she is so massively popular in Japan). In this film we see her sexual awakening but her sister, a stripper, is very fond of sex. The other difference between the two sisters is that they do not share the same mother. Meg relates how their shared father proposed to Meg's mother, and how her father left for another woman. This has clearly left a scar upon Meg, who finds it difficult to trust adult men. The proposal scene starts of as being romantic. Daddy dumps his at that time betrothed, to marry Meg's mum (also played by Meg) the most beautiful woman skating on an iced over lake. But later in the film we see the horror version of the same proposal, showing what in effect dad really did do to Meg's mother - cut her up. We see the mother/Meg fall do the ice and be cut to pieces by daddy's skates.

The film builds to a climax where, Meg alone in her room with the cop suddenly doubts him, since he in in possession of the cot knick nack that has fallen from her bracelet possibly when she was molested in the street. Fortunately she has the cop chained to a drain pipe so she can make her escape.

She leaves the apartment to find the cop's partner, and that he also has a tatoo on his wrist. He takes her "to the lighthouse," (a book that Meg teaches in class) and then turns out to be the killer. The killer always leaves an engagement ring on this victims wrists. Meg shoots him. She returns to the appartment, to find the cop still chained up. She hugs him. Happy end.

On the face of it then, we are provided with a murderer -- the cops partner.

But hold on a minute.

Surely the murderer is Meg herself. Or perhaps there have been no murders at all.

On one level, it is surely Meg that is the person that has been chopping women up. We know that she has a thing about engagement rings from her past. We know that she has a scar regarding how her father treated her mother. We know that she is really repressed. We know that she has dreams of women being cut up when they are given engagement rings. We also know that she is one of the last people to see the first victim alive.

All in all the plot works much better if we assume that it is Meg, that cannot express her own sexual desire, that is cutting up women that can, especiallly when they do it with men that Meg silently desires. There is no other reason why the killer should be killing women that Meg knows or putting body parts in her garden. There is nothing connecting the victims other than their relationship with Meg. The first woman clearly riled her, and Meg took "ages" to get back from the toilet in the bar in the first scene. We can only guess who the medical student was, perhaps a girl that had designs on her ex boyfriend. And we know that Kevin Bacon, her ex boyfriend was about to start dating, or attempting to date, Meg's sister.

Meg is an English teacher and novelist. Her theme song is "Its just my imagination." There is a case for believing that, as is in fact the case, the whole thing is the imagination of a pretty mixed up English teacher. 

The film does not let the cat out of the bag. But the discerning viewer should be left with a feeling of unease. Something important has been left in the cut.

Since I am not Barthes, and like film that does have a conclusion, even if the conclusion is unsaid, for me the film did not quite work. It did not quite leave us with an "unsaid cat". I think that there will be more films, mark my words, that do leave us with a plot that we can taste and feel, but that we are not shown. "Big Fish" is perhaps one of them.

Posted by timtak at October 31, 2004 07:19 PM

hello tim

Posted by: timtak at November 9, 2004 10:09 PM

Great analysis. I had assumed we knew who the killer was there at the end, but didn't kow what to do with that 納得いかない feeling I had at the end. Now I see what it was. Thanks!

BTW, unrelated to the post, but "contents" (as in "web contents") is actually 和製英語. The correct English in such cases is "content." Web content, streaming content, article content, page content, etc.

Methinks you've been here a long time...?

Posted by: Mike Parker at November 21, 2004 10:55 AM

Thanks Mike,

You are right I have been here a long time. コンテンツ yes, seems to have found its way into my pidgin.

Most of the films that I have been collecting till now are of the "and it was all a dream" kind (Matrix, Vanilla Sky etc). But I am always left feeling 納得いかない towards the reality that dreamers wake up to.

What I think that we will see more of from now on are films that show us a dream, let us know that it is a dream, but do not show us the reality.

Because? As a Buddhist I would like to suggest that there isn't one.

So I think that there are going to be more and more "didn't let the cat out of the bag" films. I am not entirely sure if "In the Cut" was one of them. But I think it was. It was too clever to have ended where it did.

I am pretty sure that Mullholland Drive does not wake up (although most people think the second half is the reality, but I think that it was a double dream.).

The Big Fish - Does not even come clean about its title but drops strong hints at what kind of fish was caught with a wedding ring.

Some may not do it deliberately.

The Human Stain - Was this film really that bad? Or was it trying to hint at intepretations beyond the films borders (rather than freak DNA or murdering Vietnam Veterans.)

Dreamcatchers - Again the title. Surely this film needed to wake up, but did not, so was it balder-dash, or did it hint at another reality?


Posted by: Timothy Takemoto at November 21, 2004 02:38 PM