starring Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgress, Charles Durning
screenplay by John Farris, based on his novel
directed by Brian DePalma
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. While Brian DePalma is nothing if not a leitmotif filmmaker, it's curious that he chose to direct The Fury right after Carrie. Imagine Spielberg following up Jaws with Orca--it's like De Palma was begging to be pigeonholed. And it's not surprising that The Fury wasn't as zeitgeisty: it lacks the classical simplicity and youth appeal of Carrie, with almost no one in the cast under 30 save for future softcore legend Andrew Stevens and Carrie holdover Amy Irving, a good actress who just doesn't have that X factor. But The Fury's echo can still be heard, because its ending is indeed that impactful. Nearly every review mentions it, and the terms in which Pauline Kael and her acolytes described it gave it a kind of porny rep that's since inspired generations of young film buffs to seek the movie out. (Armond White called it an "orgasm.") It is a great ending, but a revisit makes clear that The Fury is worth reading for the articles.
It's here that The Fury shifts gears significantly, creating a distaff surrogate for Robin capable of inviting compassion for a character who by the time we catch up with him is well and truly alien. (In a way, the gender swap shows real genre-savvy, as Final Girls are innately more endearing than Last Men Standing.) One almost gets the impression that DePalma's attraction to the material was the chance to visit a Bizarro realm where Sue Snell has Carrie White's powers, and to that end he casts Irving as Gillian, a classically average prep-school student who doesn't seem to know she has ESP until others do. She's Peter's discovery, but Ben, tracking Peter's movements, intercepts her. It doesn't take much to convince her she needs the concentrated therapy Ben's team can provide after she causes a classmate's nose to bleed, and for a while she's happy at the spa-like Paragon Institute, where she appears to be the sole patient. (I did wonder a little about the overhead.) Gillian thrives under the care of avuncular Dr. McKeever (Charles Durning, lovely), until she is propelled by a touch of his hand into a disturbing memory of Robin falling through a window trying to get away from McKeever, which takes over her field of vision in a bravura 360° pan that suggests a nightmare in Cinerama. De Palma began his career with a pair of comic if slightly sinister tributes to the Peeping Tom, Greetings and Hi, Mom!, but The Fury introduces a souring on voyeurism in his work--the fear of seeing something un-unseeable is now taking precedence over the cheap thrill of spying--that will continue through the autobiographical Home Movies and reach its apex when John Travolta literally covers his ears at the end of Blow Out.
A hangout movie when all's said and done (the cast is Hawksian in its eclecticism and collective beguile), The Fury is as contemplative as it is convoluted. Beginning once McKeever finally pries loose of Gillian's exsanguinating grip is an entr'acte of sorts, a much-needed and peculiarly hypnotic breather that follows the doctor into the night. He institutes new precautions for dealing with Gillian, removing any woman who's menstruating from his nursing staff--an edict DePalma shoots from above, at once endowing McKeever with godliness and showing how antlike he is in the grand scheme. He pours himself a stiff drink, McKeever does, lamenting the late hour, and a few sips in Ben materializes, uninvited. They talk about Ben's phantom limb, the pain he still gets in the arm Peter "killed," setting the tone for an ethics debate that might well, or might as well, be taking place entirely in McKeever's tortured imagination as he wrestles with guilt over his contribution, however indirect, to another Manhattan Project. It's just a grace note, yet it shows a dimension that most of the era's paranoia thrillers, with their monolithic shadow conspiracies, lack. Ben is actually something of a rogue, morally if not bureaucratically, as we see when we catch up with Robin's increasingly ambivalent wards.1 One doctor, Susan Charles (Fiona Lewis), has seduced Robin in an attempt to rein in his mounting aggression (that tumble out the window set him on course to full-blown supervillainy), but the film dwells more on her fatigue than on her deception.
Gillian grows obsessed with finding out who Robin is and what became of him when he left Paragon. (That's the $64,000 question--nobody really knows except for Ben and his subterranean lackeys.) Driving her is the desire to meet someone else like her, someone who will get it, and because he's around the same age, maybe they'll even grow sweet on each other and make clairvoyant babies together. Her girlish optimism is heartbreaking, especially the second time through.2 Peter, meanwhile, longs to be reunited with his son, and the Robin Ben has isn't necessarily the Robin he's sought. Indeed, contributing to Robin's dehumanization is the fact that he becomes a MacGuffin, which is primarily how DePalma gets his Hitchcock jones out of his system in this one. If Obsession is DePalma's Vertigo and Dressed to Kill is his Psycho, The Fury is his North by Northwest or The 39 Steps, eventually pairing a fugitive with an ironic femme fatale against power mongers in cross-country pursuit of a platonic symbol, though Robin comes to resemble nothing in Hitch so much as the lighted briefcase from Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly.
DePalma's decidedly present in a couple of tour-de-force sequences: Gillian's flight from Paragon, made operatic with slow-motion; and Robin's destructive tantrum at an indoor amusement park, a location I have to believe DePalma chose for its inherent perversity. He's perhaps absent in details like Gillian's name being interchangeably pronounced with hard and soft "g"s, or Robin revealing an ability to levitate only to, moments later, fall lamely off a roof. What you learn to accept about DePalma is that sometimes he's Hitchcock and sometimes he's Ed Wood. Still, The Fury belongs to the handful of his films--Carrie, Blow Out, Casualties of War, Carlito's Way--that feel genuinely soulful.3 A lot of that comes down to Peter's arc and the erstwhile Spartacus's gift for wringing pathos from defeat. It's touching, too, to see a filmmaker with well-documented daddy issues imbue a father figure with so much tenderness, though if we consider the opening skirmish to be Peter and Ben's divorce, Peter, warm and nurturing, strongly registers as the maternal counterpart to disciplinarian Ben; DePalma gets his bad dad after all.
Robin and Gillian are their children, identical twins by the end of the film as Gillian's eyes take on the same Dune-ish glow that Robin's have on the brink of madness. The Fury, not unlike Carrie, is on some level about the need to symbolically kill your parents in order to achieve independence. Robin accomplishes that by dying himself--Peter, so devoted, is plunged into suicidal despair. The next morning, Gillian causes Ben, in one of the greatest images--or greatest montages--in movies, to burst like a water balloon. But the ending is as cathartic for reasons from without the text as it is for reasons within it (i.e., revenge). Ben stumbles around the room for a bit prior to exploding, pawing at Gillian with tears of blood clouding his vision, every bit the maced rapist grasping for his victim. It's Gillian's I Spit on Your Grave moment, but moreover it's a primal scream on behalf of every disenfranchised individual at the mercy of the power elite--that's why the final showdown had to be between the teenage girl and the de facto patriarch. It's a good scream. It's a good scream.
Twilight Time's Blu-ray release of The Fury, limited to 3000 copies, definitely improves on Fox's 2001 DVD, which reduced everything to brown murk. The 1.85:1, 1080p image on this disc has its problems, but the transfer makes great strides in both dynamic range--without sacrificing, judging by Pauline Kael's description of Richard H. Kline's cinematography as "velvety," a chiaroscuro effect that's intentional--and colour accuracy. Still: Saturation seems a tad dense at times, and grain is disappointingly electronic, made noisy, I think, by our old friend edge enhancement. Also, for the first third of the film, there is a miniscule white dot in the lower left quadrant of the frame that must have resulted from a scratch in, or a particularly stubborn speck of dust on, the lens of the film scanner. (A company like Twilight Time probably didn't have the money for a do-over.) The accompanying lossless audio (DTS-HD MA) comes in 2.0 and 4.0 options, and the purist in me hates to admit this but the latter surround remix, originally prepared for DVD, is significantly richer, albeit similarly lacking in low end--those machine guns sound pathetically mousy no matter which version you select. The 4.0 track additionally grants John Williams's lush music a wider berth, though the fullest appreciation of his work in the film is facilitated by the isolated score, presented in two-channel 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. The only other extra is the theatrical trailer (in SD), not counting Julie Kirgo-penned liner notes that, predictably, put most reviews of The Fury--including this one--to shame.
2. I'm reminded of Edgar Wright talking about repeat viewings of Carrie in THE A.V. CLUB:
...Although you want to see her reap revenge, you don't want it to end as badly as it does. It's my Titanic, in a way, in that every time I watch it, I want Tommy Ross and Carrie White just to have a nice night. I don't want anything bad to happen. [Laughs.] Every time I watch it, I naïvely think, "Oh, maybe it’ll be okay this time." return
3. Pauline Kael has another word that applies: "peaceful." Odd that DePalma's tragedies are also his most serene films. Is it resignation or something more malevolent, like the guy who talks you down from panic after slitting your throat? return
The Jaws and Orca comparison is apt and priceless. Excellent review.
Posted by: gutpunchprod | April 21, 2013 at 03:38 PM