Another perspective on DePalma’s newest film, examining the master director’s form. Introducing our’ new film critic Binx Bolling who joins the CityArts crew committed to bringing thinking back to the arts. Check in with Binx’s regular insights on movies and modern art. Binx recently reviewed Austenland.
The final, overhead shot of Brian De Palma’s Passion twists to reveal an inverted diptych a la Masahiro Shinoda’s Double Suicide. The shot denotes two things: 1) one character waking from a nightmare and, then, 2) another character murdered. The shot also connotes two things: 1) guilt and 2) fear of punishment. It confirms the film’s relationship dynamics as based on authority and power.
passion power playpassion power playThe shot concludes De Palma’s satire of corporate politics as murderous gamesmanship between three ambitious businesswomen (played by Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace and Karoline Herfurth—a sexually desiccated ménage a trois). Through this plot, De Palma delineates authority’s manifestation in old-media (cinema, advertisement)/new-media (viral video, webcam, smart phone) narrative. The closing shot’s playful narrative and camera move highlights De Palma’s own role as author.
His control of film technique makes this theme particularly felt in the movie’s three signature set pieces—which, unfortunately, typify the film’s lack of humanizing De Palma wit (as do the film’s Puritanically-staged sex scenes and come-ons).
In the catalytic murder sequence, a split screen throws off suspicion while also working expressively. The seduction ballet (from Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun) on the left side communicates female agency, while the murder on the right acts out the characters’ psychosexual power pathologies (via a kinky doppelganger mask).
Later, in the events leading up to the murder and following in its investigation, De Palma and dp Jose Luis Alcaine use stylized lighting and wide-angle lenses to approximate a barbiturate p.o.v.—but this proves another red herring (aimed at fooling both the legal authorities and the movie audience).
Finally, the appearance of a fictional twin (the return of the authority figure) begins the climactic nightmare. In it, the boss brings vengeance upon her subordinate in wild De Palma fashion: slow motion signifies dread inevitability in every impotent effort to dispose of evidence and regain control of the narrative.
In such moments, De Palma analyses how power perverts human relations. Doing so, he betters his more fashionable progeny to whose depths the nihilistic ending suggests he now perversely aspires (“I used to want to be admired; now I want to be loved”). More elegant than Quentin Tarantino’s appropriations. More probing than David Fincher’s procedurals. More cruel than Neil LaBute’s cynicism. Unfortunately, De Palma joins them with Passion by reducing human behavior to pathology, rather than evincing pathos (the root of “passion”). He betrays cinema’s capacity for radical identification: the transgressive shift from Desire to Compassion that made De Palma’s 2002 Femme Fatale his last masterpiece.
Read Armond White’s review of DePalma’s Passion: