This is a special selection for Cinematical's Movie Club. Read through to the end for some exciting news!
When people gripe about the impossibility of new cinematic stories, sometimes I wonder if that speaks more to uninspired filmmakers and writers, who are much more content to copy than adapt. While there are few, if any, stories that are truly new, there are always fresh ways to tell them, new ways to adapt them -- especially in the hands of Rian Johnson.
It started with Brick, where hard-boiled crime was pulled out of the retro darkness and thrust into the sunny halls of a So-Cal high school. That juxtaposition was then taken a step further with The Brothers Bloom. Where Johnson's first feature was daring and indie-unique, the second pushed that strange clashing of old and new into a flashy and engaging mainstream package. But at its heart is a story with so many layers that it would make the typical, copy-machine, Hollywood writer's head spin.
When I first watched the film, blissfully ignorant, I was swept up in the story, and my adoration for Johnson's female characterizations. While each person was engaging, Rachel Weisz's Penelope showed that quirk could be grounded in charisma and smarts, while Rinko Kikuchi's Bang Bang could be commanding without saying a word.
Watching it for the Movie Club, however, I was struck by something completely different -- just how pervasive and far-reaching the idea of a written life is. Storytelling infuses every aspect of the film, and while it superficially seems to just be the tale of Bloom finding an unwritten life, it's really how all of them struggle with written and unwritten lives.
The most obvious, of course, is Bloom, who has once again decided to leave the world of cons and brother Stephen behind. He wants an unwritten life. He's sick of living out his brother's clever outlines, playing the part, and having no idea who he is. He's never even had his own identity; he is called by his family name, never getting the honor of a given name. That being said, as much as he wants an unwritten life, he flees to Montenegro, which is not exactly the best way to find a life. Penelope, meanwhile, has tried scripting her life with scenarios. She's taught herself to do a myriad of things from rapping to juggling, and has -- for sure -- filled her life with learning and discovery. But it was never lived; it was removed. When faced with the possibility of living and having an adventure, legalities become irrelevant because she's so desperate to experience life, pulling Bloom out of his slump and into a new-found world.
On the other side, there's Bang Bang who almost completely acts an unwritten life -- choosing to almost never speak, and to experience without genuinely interacting. And Stephen, while he might be the mind behind it all, if anyone has a truly unwritten life, it's him. He lives through scripting lives for his brother and spending time with a woman who refuses to speak to him. When Bloom wants to leave, he knows that that's the end of him. He has no existence outside of his con stories and con actor. Without his star, he is done -- it's the protective older brother theme taken to a new and appropriate extreme.
There are, of course, questions that remain -- how much Stephen actually scripted, and what the ultimate plan was. But it seems to me that his plan was to script Bloom's unwritten life. His knowing looks all but admit it. When Bloom wants to leave, his brother might chide him about the times he's tried to leave in the past, but it seems like this time the words sink in. Stephen realizes that he's not caring for his brother by pulling him through a life he doesn't want. The public con is part of the greater private con, where he finds the perfect partner and replacement for his place in Bloom's life -- a woman whose quirky exuberance will give Bloom a life to live, while his experience reigns her in enough that they can both experience life together. When Penelope and Bloom come together, the position has been filled, and it's time for Stephen to exit stage, so to speak.
The greatest irony: When Bloom gets what he wants, it is a written life. Ultimately, with Penelope and free of Stephen, he gets the bliss of ignorance, not knowing how things will play out. But all of it was possible because of his brother's con.
- Is there such thing as an unwritten life for Bloom, or was it just the desire to feel in control of his life?
- Does this speak to Hollywood as a whole, and the idea that even moments that seem unwritten are, actually, written?
- Who do you relate to most in the film?
- What do you think about the outcome? Did Stephen script Bloom his "unwritten" life?
- "The day I con you is the day I die." -- Thoughts?
Rian Johnson has been gracious enough to agree to participate in our Club this week. If you have any questions for the director about the film and what we've talked about, please include them below. Early next week, we'll post a follow-up with his answers and some other goodies.
Also, for now, I'm going to hold off on announcing next week's movie, so stay tuned for that special post next week.