Friday 11 June 2010

The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, USA, 2010)

Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford is the picture-perfect West Texas gentleman (yes ma’am; no sir). Called
into the office of his boss, Sheriff Bob Maples, he is despatched to the home of notorious prostitute Joyce Lakeland. The town – riding a wave of economic prosperity in the wake of an oil boom – needs cleaning up. ‘I guess I want you out of Central City by sundown’ – Lou politely commands Joyce. But Joyce aint hearing him; so Lou attempts to be a little more persuasive, and is rewarded with a fierce slap across the face. Seizing the screaming and struggling woman, Lou forces her face down on the bed, and removing his belt, ripping down her panties, he whips her raw. Yet – his rage and her terror transform. Both become overpowered with sexual energies and they fuck. So begins an affair, Joyce and Lou fall in love, and together they explore the boundaries and line between sex and violence, the sado-masochistic realm. Time passes. Lou is once again approached about Joyce. Powerful construction millionaire Chester Conway wants her out of the life of his son Elmer, who pays Joyce for her services and has become obsessed with her. Lou visits Joyce. They have sex, and afterwards, as they talk, Lou slowly pulls on his black leather gloves, and tells Joyce she is going to die. As she laughs, believing this to be one of their games, he playfully slaps her a few times, before pulling back his fist and hitting her full in the face. Lou then pummels Joyce to pulp. His fist slams again and again into her head, shattering her nose, busting her eyes, ripping apart her flesh; all the while speaking soothing words, I’m sorry – I love you – It’ll soon be over.

Director Michael Winterbottom’s camera is cold and unflinching. The Killer Inside Me is glacial in its depiction of this violence. There is no frenzy here, no hyper-psychopathic hysteria (no canted angles, no stylistic flourishes, no jagged musical accompaniment). The frame, shot and editing, colour and sound have the most restrained of realist coordinates. In this way, the images mirror the behaviour of Lou. The camera dissects the beating, every impact of the fist is captured as it connects with Joyce’s flesh, and Lou examines his work as he proceeds, turning Joyce’s head to better see the extent of the injuries bestowed upon her. Winterbottom’s expresses Lou’s detachment through the formal production of images. The camera is always with Lou; the deputy sheriff is the privileged, subjective centre of the film, the image around which all other images revolve. Accordingly, the film is shot from Lou’s perspective, and his being in the world permeates every image on the screen. After he has beaten Joyce to death, he leaves her body in her bedroom and calmly removes his gloves, and awaits Elmer. When Elmer arrives, Lou immediately shoots him dead, placing the gun in Joyce’s hand.

It is this difference between the killings of Joyce and Elmer that are at the heart of The Killer Inside Me. One murder fleeting, momentary, clean; one depicted in all its brutal, dirty horror. It might be thought this difference is necessitated by the plot (of the film, and of the character) – in order to frame Elmer for the murder of Joyce, and make Elmer’s death the last desperate act of the dying woman. This is not the case. Winterbottom reinforces and reifies this difference as the film continues. Investigator Howard Hendricks suspects Lou, so does Maples his boss, and his fiancée Amy Stanton. Lou will go on to commit a whole series of murders in an attempt to erase these people and stymie the dissemination of such suspicions. However, while the men are dispatched with quick, instantaneous actions; the death of Amy will be another pitiless, vicious killing, enacted through the cruel ruse of a secret elopement. There is a whole world of difference between the way in which Winterbottom films and Lou enacts the murder of women and men. Accordingly, we encounter a fundamental misogyny within the images and the narration, a dire philosophy which permeates everything. Yet the question is not if it is the film itself which is misogynistic, or if this woman-hating is simply a function of the character. Such a debate attempts to divide an indivisible. Rather, it is if in depicting such misogyny The Killer Inside Me is complicit with or actively evaluates the situation it sets out to explore (a reactionary reification or an effective critique).

To approach a possible answer to this question we can begin by aligning the film with an element of Deleuze’s cineosis, the index of equivocity, a sign of the small form action-image...

To read the full exploration of The Killer Inside Me through the Deleuze's sign of the 'index of equivocity,' see Deleuze's Cinema Books: Three Introductions to the Taxonomy of Images...

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