This came as a surprise to me. After seeing “History of Violence” and seeing Cronenberg falter I thought this would dissapoint in similar ways. But it is tagged with such engaging devices that it is reinvigorating.
The plot concerns a diary which could incriminate a Russian Mafia boss and get him ‘sent home’ for good. Simple enough. This diary was written by a teenage girl who was left impregnated after a rape and subsequently fled from the underworld. The girl is dead, but her baby was born. The interest in the diary is extended through the baby’s fate. Very clever, and tragic.
I have to point out that the diary is read in voiceover by the dead girl. We have several characters convey their need to read it. There is also some crucial business about translating it. Another device to deepen engagement with text.
Cronenberg is about the embodiment of stories. Text on flesh. His trademark is to visually annotate this enbodiment with textural visions of the organic. So in ‘Videodrome’ a man rams a videocassette into his gut. In ‘The Fly’ Goldblum engages in organic decay and mutation. In ‘Crash’, flesh clashes with steel. Here, it’s only hinted at, and we’re all a bit poorer because of it, but stay with me, the engagement is elsewhere.
It’s all in the narrative and the placeholders within it. Viggo playing a Russian is a show in itself, but to layer it with an undercover cop schtick is an understanding of a singular engineering. There’s a young prostitute who reflects the dead one, I wonder if the same actress played her. She is salvaged by Viggo in a way that predicts and nuances his own engagement with the story of the diary.
And we have Naomi. First she is presented as a nurse, a sort of caretaker of horrible organic visions. But soon enough she becomes a watcher in the story. But a sort of commited watcher. Her uncle has a past history with the Russian criminals she’s up against. It is something sentimental that she is also envisionned as a surrogate mother for the dead girl’s baby: a caretaker of new life spawned by story.
There is a scene after Viggo gets severly cut and wounded where he is taken to the same hospital she works in. I gulped, because by the time it happens all the layers are already there. There is something about watching these two agents of the layered narrative in a situation that seems entirely circumstantial, yet their positions in the story belie a deep deep involvement.
This is one of those films where the story is not in the actual story but in the way it is structured.