I know I haven’t been posting on the blog but I’ve just been so busy! I’ve been writing my next novel which is coming along nicely, I’ve been busy catching up with movies and I’ve been busy with interviews etc.
During this weekend I caught up with several films I’ve been meaning to catch but never did – Transamerica, Bicycle thief and Chumsrubber. All of them are great films, but the one that impressed me the most is The Chumscrubber.
Chumscrubber is an extremely popular video game in which the protagonist annihilates competition using his own severed head. Eponymous film is a dark film about the modern urban society. It is a study in a society comprising insulated individuals who go through life popping pills/alcohol to feel good. They don’t want anyone, they don’t need anyone. Who wants to be happy the hard way when you can buy instant happiness, right?
Chumscrubber begins with the suicide of Troy Johnson who is school’s pill supplier and the protagonist, Dean Stiffle’s (Jamie Bell) best friend, though, as Dean is at pains to point out, “We just hung out a few times, that’s all.”
Dean discovers Troy Johnson hanging by a rope in his room during one Mrs. Johnson’s pool parties. Though shaken, Dean does not tell anybody in the party because he thinks they just won’t care. He is right. They don’t. Dean’s own father, Dr. Stiffle, a bestselling author of psychiatric books, treats how son like a lab rat. In a show of concern over Dean’s attitude towards Troy’s death he invites him to chat man-to-man, only to make research notes for his next book.
While parents still try and maintain a veneer of interest in their children’s activities, children don’t even accord their parents that courtesy, often cutting them off mid-sentence. Parents think nothing of disciplining their children because to do that you have to admit there’s a problem first, right? And who wants to deal with that?
Anyway, Troy’s death throws everything out of gear in this outwardly ebullient but precariously balanced society because one, who will supply pills to the kids and two, now they’ll have to deal with it. As someone mentions in the film, “But nothing like this has ever happened before!”
Troy’s mother, Mrs. Johnson (Glenn Close) reacts by seemingly losing it. She arrives on the Stiffle doorstep with an empty casserole tray, supposedly to thank Mrs. Stiffle for her thoughtfulness post Troy’s death. Though the way repeats over and over, “everybody’s been so nice!” leads us to suspect that the opposite is the case. And indeed during this exchange Mrs. Stiffle is forced to admit defensively, “But I didn’t bring a casserole….I was meaning to call but you just get so busy.” And then Mrs. Johnson goes about calling everybody with the same message, “In no way do I hold you responsible for Troy’s death,” which leads us to suspect that it’s a transference of her own guilt.
Dean deals with it by donning a cloak of impermeability and indifference.
Troy’s death has an unexpected fallout. Billy, the school bully kidnaps Dean’s brother, Charlie, to force Dean to hand over Troy’s stash of drugs. Only Billy and his gang get the wrong Charlie. They get Charlie Bradley who’s the son of Mrs. Teri Bradley (Rita Wilson), the recently estranged wife of Officer Bradley. And now Teri Bradley is all set to marry Mayor Michael Ebbs (Ralph Fiennes). In fact, she’s so busy planning her wedding that she fails to notice her son’s missing for two whole days! Or rather she prefers to believe that her son has gone gallivanting, so that it doesn’t interfere with her wedding plans. In fact, she is even upset with Mrs. Johnson because the latter is holding a memorial service for her son on the same day. “How dare she keep the memorial on Sunday! Doesn’t she know it’s my wedding?”
Once Billy realizes he’s got the wrong Charlie, he decides to keep him hostage anyway to force Dean’s hand. Charlie, on his part, is happy to go along because this is probably the maximum attention he’s got.
Dean realizes that they’ve got the wrong Charlie figures it’s no skin off his nose. Except that he does care. So he agrees to get the pills for Billy. Only, at the last minute Dean’s brother, Charlie switches the pills leading to the denouement of the film. So in a way, Troy Johnson is the ultimate Chumscrubber
With a theme like this, it is very easy to go wrong. Yet the screenplay is cleverly crafted and razor sharp. The writers take us to the brink and then just as we are about to go over, pull us back. Even though it is dark, it has us laughing at several places. The key is balance and is often repeated in the film, in a different context of course. The direction is tightly controlled which is a tribute to the capabilities of the director, Arie Posin (also one of the writers, along with Zack Stanford). Though with a stellar cast like that it must have been easier, still, Arie Posin extracts some of their best performances.
Though relentlessly warning us about modern urban society’s inevitable march towards self destruction, the film ends with a hopeful message – it all a pattern. Everything happens for a reason and the trick is to capture the magic. Amazing Film! One of the best I’ve seen in a long time.
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