‘My ears hear what others cannot hear. Small faraway things people cannot normally see are visible to me. These senses are the fruits of a lifetime of longing. Longing to be rescued; to be completed. Just as the skirt needs the wind to billow, I’m not formed by things that are of myself alone. I wear my father’s belt tied around my mother’s blouse, and shoes which are from my uncle. This is me. Just as a flower does not choose its colour, we are not responsible for what we have come to be. Only once you realise this do you become free. And to become adult is to become free.’
Stoker is the tale of how some lucky boys and girls are just born with a talent for violence, of the deep, inextricable link between sex and death, and of how the acceptance of both leads to the coming of age of a killer. Park Chan-wook’s psychological thriller shimmers with the intense visual beauty of the poetic everyday and of the grotesque, and, complimented by a stunning performance from Mia Wasikowska and a gorgeous, if flawed, script by first-time screenwriter Wentworth Miller, it is an infinitely more satisfying cinematic experience than The Great Gatsby.
Mia Wasikowska pushes her considerable command of facial expression to the next level to play India Stoker, a pathologically austere eighteen year old whose father is killed in a car accident on her birthday. This shifting in the balance of her world leads to a near-complete breakdown in her already shaky relationship with her prim, proper and irritating mother (Nicole Kidman) and a skin-crawling, borderline sexual and almost entirely sub-text identification with her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), a prodigal son returned home following the news of her father’s death. As the viewer comes to discover Charlie’s proficiency in charming India’s mother and in putting a belt to deadly use, India begins to discover how acting as a silent, and sometimes unknown observer of Charlie’s crimes and other antics can heal not only the loneliness that she feels after her father’s death, but the isolation from other people that has tortured her entire life, and from which her father, and her hunting trips with him were a welcome respite. Through the shedding of blood and the participation in murder, India wakes up inside and becomes alive in every myriad dimension of what the concept implies, from childlike contentment to orgasmic ecstasy.
Mia Wasikowska is extraordinary, capturing both the boundless delight and the nauseous exhaustion of a person who sees and hears everything in the world but still feels detached from it. Her character remains an enigma till the last moment, her actions impossible to predict, but none of them surprising us: she’s a genuine, entirely contradictory human being. Most of the film’s demanding acting rests on her slender shoulders, and her ability to carry a film in this way at such a young age is testament both to an innate greatness and to the constant progression of it that one finds only too rarely in actresses and actors of similar age. Matthew Goode is creepy in all the necessary ways as Charlie, more nauseating than charming, but nevertheless combining the two in a very effective way; constantly delighted but more often baffled by India, whom he sees as an extension of himself, but whom he is never quite able to capture or tame. The film is rather a waste of Nicole Kidman, her performance an uninteresting specter of her equally uninteresting character in Australia. She nevertheless serves quite adequately as a character whose primary function is to look glacially beautiful and to make us want to slap her.
It is its penetrating yet delicate visual universe that this film will most likely be remembered for. Shooting the film from India’s perspective is conducive to exquisitely artistic cinematography, the world transformed into an intensely sensual place that can caress you or cut you open. Apart from an unforgivable recourse to cliché in the film’s third act that will mortify attentive viewers, Wentworth Miller’s script is highly intelligent, provocative and questioning, the sheer beauty both of its ideas and of the mere combination of words working in perfect counterpoint to the film’s stunning heightened visuality.
Stoker is a film that was meant to be felt and thought as well as watched, and the ideal way to experience it is to simply relax in your seat and to open your eyes and ears to this broken concave mirror reflection of a transition from girlhood to adulthood.