Oct 26, 2017

The Phantom Carriage

While I would not exactly call myself a silent cinema connoisseur and I tend to only be willing to sample the best that the pre-sound era has to offer, I have to admit that the greatest of these films has a singular hypnotic quality that sound cinema seems to somehow lack. Apparently, actor turned one-time-auteur Charles Laughton believed this too and was heavily inspired by both the great cinematic works of film pioneer D.W. Griffith and German expressionist films of the 1920s when creating his directorial debut The Night of the Hunter (1955). Undoubtedly, my initial viewings of Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Carl Th. Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Jean Cocteau’s Le sang d'un poète (1930) aka The Blood of a Poet, and F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and especially Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) proved to be such profound cinematic experiences for me to the degree that I found myself questioning the power of a cinema and ultimately coming to the natural conclusion that it is an artistic medium that is truly unrivaled when it comes to pleasurably imprisoning the subconscious and putting the viewer in a waking trance of sorts.  Hell, even a largely forgotten silent short like Das Wolkenphänomen von Maloja (1924) aka Cloud Phenomena of Majola directed by Teutonic mountain film maestro Arnold Fanck has a certain exceptional ethereal quality that seems impossible to reproduce nowadays.

While it had been a number of years since I had a comparable experience with silent cinema, a somewhat recent first time viewing of the fairly influential Swedish horror masterpiece The Phantom Carriage (1921) aka Körkarlen aka The Phantom Chariot aka The Stroke of Midnight aka Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness directed by and starring early silent maestro Victor Sjöström (The Outlaw and His Wife, He Who Gets Slapped) reminded me of the singular power and pulchritude of pre-talkie cinema. Like a virtual Nordic Gothic antithesis (and virtual prototype) to Frank Capra’s classic It's a Wonderful Life (1946), the film tells the surprisingly darkly morose and and unwaveringly grim yet ultimately moral tale of a belligerent wino learning the hard way that life is worth living after a serious brush with death that involves a scythe-wielding Grim Reaper figure in a hooded black cloak teaching lessons as opposed to a lovably jolly, if not seemingly semi-autistic, angel without wings named Clarence like in the Hollywood flick. More a dysfunctional family drama about the perennial homewrecker known as alcohol than any sort of ‘pure’ horror flick featuring cheap scares and banally enigmatic monsters, The Phantom Carriage is not only one of the greatest silent films ever made but also one of the greatest, if not the greatest, film on the subject of alcoholism and its deleterious effects on friends and families. 

 Indeed, as much as I hate being around drunkards (aside from having various friends that degenerated into alcoholics, I was once a bouncer), I would be lying if I did not admit that some of my favorite films, including John Huston’s underrated Malcolm Lowry adaptation Under the Volcano (1984), are about the perils of dipsomania, and I would certainly argue that Sjöström’s film is unequivocally the best of the best despite being one of the first films to seriously tackle the subject. In fact, what makes The Phantom Carriage so effortlessly brilliant and striking is that it manages to relatively seamlessly merge the metaphysical horrors of alcohol with conventions of the horror genre in a fashion that is more or less timeless, hence why it is still one of the very few films of its era that still packs a pleasantly pernicious punch. Surely, Sjöström’s flick is Häxan (1922) tier as far as silent Nordic horror is concerned, albeit with a more innately important message. Based on the novel Körkarlen (1912) aka Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! written by Nobel prize-winning Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf whose works auteur Sjöström had already cinematically adapted three times previously, the film is like a gothic proto-psychedelic fable on acid-laced steroids where the good, the bad, and the ugly of humanity is depicted and where human frailty in the face of both addiction and disease is handled with a refreshing lack of sentimentalism, at least in comparison to other films from that era. Among other things, the viewer is exposed to suicide, deadly drunken brawls, deathbed hysteria, deadbeat dad style family dysfunction, and a decidedly dark climax involving an extremely lonely and desperate mother getting ready to execute a filicide-suicide scenario while her unwitting children sleep nearby with baby dolls with cracked plastic heads in their beds. A fairly preternatural morality tale about redemption with a surprisingly non-linear structure involving a number of flashbacks (and even flashbacks-within-flashbacks) that depicts a literal daunting date with death that a drunkard must take on one rather auspicious New Year's Eve to learn the error of his way so that he can reform and, in turn, safe his family before it is too late, Sjöström’s penetratingly phantasmagorical flick is probably the only ghost story where man in his natural habitat is more horrifying than the gothic supernatural elements.  Additionally, you will not find a more effortlessly artful or aesthetically refined cinematic depiction of alcoholism and I say that as one of the few people that has probably seen Ermanno Olmi's underrated alcoholic odyssey La leggenda del santo bevitore (1988) aka The Legend of the Holy Drinker starring Rutger Hauer.

 Undoubtedly, one of the most poignant things that I personally took away from The Phantom Carriage is that it made me become more aware of the fact that I have been, mostly subconsciously, haunted by alcoholics for almost my entire life. Indeed, while I have thankfully never had the misfortune of having alcoholic parents, the three most important women in my life were the daughters of pathetic boozers. While I have met two of these men, it is, somewhat ironically, the one that I have never met that has haunted me the most, so naturally I was somewhat startled when I first watched Sjöström’s film and discovered that the quasi-antihero bears a striking resemblance to this man in both appearance and character. A smart and charismatic yet oftentimes savagely sadistic bastard that prefers hanging out with his wino buddies at a sleazy bar to spending time with his family, the lead character's behavior so closely mirrors the description that the woman in my life constantly gave of her own father to such a startling degree that it almost felt like the film was an occult form of déjà vu and specially made for me as a form of esoteric art therapy.   Undoubtedly, watching Sjöström’s cinematic masterpiece is probably the closest I will ever come to meeting the miserable man that unleashed so much senseless trauma on the woman I loved.  In that sense, I found the film's hopeful conclusion to be somewhat contrived and its greatest weakness, as the abusive alcoholic can never make up for all the pain and suffering he has caused, even if he has accomplished the seemingly impossible task of getting completely sober as internal scars are forever.

Naturally, as a film with a alcoholic lead, one of the major themes of The Phantom Carriage is how an unrepentant drunkard negatively affects his friends and family. In short, I have never felt so haunted by a film, especially one that oftentimes takes place in haunts where dipsomaniacs act like boorish buffoons and beat the shit out of each other for the most trivial reasons. While the film was made nearly a century ago, it ultimately makes a relatively modern alcoholic film like Leaving Las Vegas (1995) directed by Mike Figgis seem like a slapstick comedy by comparison in terms of sincerely expressing the spiritual sickness, emotional decrepitude, and psychological depravity that comes with alcoholism. Likewise, the short American ‘silent sermon’ from around the same era, Episodes In The Life Of A Gin Bottle (1925) directed by Bela von Block, seems like something on par with Louis J. Gasnier’s Reefer Madness (1936) in terms of being an unintentional joke at the expense at its anti-substance-abuse message. Of course, one expects a certain degree of singular artistic prowess from a film that was such a huge influence on a master auteur like Ingmar Bergman that he hired its star-auteur to star in his own films. In fact, Bergman was so obsessed with The Phantom Carriage that he directed a TV-movie entitled Bildmakarna (2000) aka The Image Makers based on auteur Sjöström and writer Selma Lagerlöf’s collaboration on the film. 

 Despite technically being a ‘horror’ film, The Phantom Carriage—a cinematic work that is certainly not a slave to genre conventions—begins in a somewhat melodramatic, if not downright histrionic, fashion on a somewhat morbid New Year's Eve night with a tragically beauteous Salvation Army sister, ‘Edit’ (Astrid Holm), pleading on her deathbed to her fellow Sister Maria (Lisa Lundholm) that she receive one final wish involving a final meeting with a drunken bum named David Holm (Victor Sjöström), who is not even worthy of shining the gorgeous god gal's shoes. Indeed, as depicted later in the film in a flashback, Sister Edit made David promise to meet her on the following New Year's Eve in the somewhat spiritually delusional hope that he would have a “good year” despite his self-destructive alcoholic ways.  Although the year is technically not over yet, David—a belligerent bastard that has a nasty knack for making everyone around him just as miserable as he is—has had a rather horrendous 364 days of self-induced misery and depravity as a result of his rather aggressive alcoholism, which has destroyed his entire family and left him a lonely gutter-dwelling bum who is only tolerated by other similarly hopelessly debauched gutter-dwelling bums. Unbeknownst to dastardly dickhead David, he is unwittingly responsible for Sister Edit being on her deathbed as she contracted tuberculosis last New Year's Eve as a result of committing the selfless act of touching his dirty jacket so as to clean and repair it.  Indeed, while David was sleeping at the local Salvation Army center the year before, Sister Edit took it upon herself to mend the jacket for the protagonist and he repaid her kindness by destroying her fine stitch work right in front of her face and then stating in a sadistically sarcastic fashion, “It’s a shame you went to all that trouble, Miss, but I’m used to have it like this.” Although David ultimately agreed to visit Edit the next New Year’s Eve, he had less than savory reasons, or as he snidely remarked to the poor sister, “Oh, I’ll be there. I’ll come to show you God didn’t give a fig for you or your twaddle.” Of course, being a typical unreliable drunkard that cannot even bother to remember to take a daily shower, David fails to show up and when Edit’s colleague Gustafsson (Tor Weijden) goes out looking for him and finally finds him, the prick protagonist refuses to honor the poor sister’s last dying wish and instead focuses on getting all the more hammered with his friends in a spooky graveyard. Somewhat ironically, it is only when David himself comes face to face with death that very same night that he desperately wants to speak to Edit and atone for his past wrongs. 

 While Edit is praying for his arrival as she slowly but surely succumbs to her sickness, David is getting wasted with his friends in a graveyard and telling them about a local legend that was once told to him by an old scholar friend named Georges (Tore Svennberg) who was deathly afraid of being the last person to die on New Year’s Eve because he believed his own story that the person in question would be foredoomed to drive Death's ghostly carriage and collect the souls of every single individual that dies the following year. Rather ironically, Georges was the last person to die the previous year and David soon discovers that his old comrade has taken up the unwanted supernatural position of the local Grim Reaper. In fact, not long after telling the story, David is accidentally killed just before the clock strikes twelve after one of his boozer buddies hits him over the head with a bottle during a heated drunken brawl. Indeed, when David wakes up from the deadly blow, he is somewhat baffled to discover that his soul has exited his body and that he is being confronted by Georges and the phantom carriage.

With the creepily dispassionate help of his ghostly friend, David is forced to confront all the evil that he has sired during his mostly pathetic lifetime in a series of pivotal flashback scenes. While originally a happy and loving family man with a decent job at a local sawmill who spent his free time joyously playing with his children in the scenic countryside, David more or less completely destroyed his entire life overnight after becoming a full-time drunkard, which eventually led to the loss of both his job and family.  Naturally, David caused much familial collateral damage in the process, though he was mostly too drunk to notice. Developing an almost demonically depraved alter-ego as a result of his dipsomania, David eventually began to derive an almost sadistic glee from abusing his family, hence why his wife Ann (Hilda Borgström) eventually absconded to another town to get away from her aggressively assholish hubby.  Needless to say, like most bitterly resentful drunk bastards with nothing left to lose, David refused to take responsibility for his own actions and thus was not about to let his wife get away freely.

 Notably, the final straw that inspired Ann to leave was David turning his own younger brother into such a bad drunkard that he accidentally killed someone during a brawl. Needless to say, David is wholly deserving of the karmic fate of eventually dying the same way as his brother’s victim, but luckily for the protagonist, The Phantom Carriage, quite unlike Rainer Werner Fassbinder's early Sirkian masterpiece Händler der vier Jahreszeiten (1971) aka The Merchant of Four Seasons, is a strangely optimistic film about the power of redemption where it is argued that even the most devilishly debauched of haunt-haunting troglodytes can embrace teetotalism and dedicate their lives to wholesome good instead of gutter-level beer-chugging bacchanalian buffoonery. Indeed, it is only when David hits literal rock bottom in the form of an ancient tomb where his lifeless body collapses after being fatally struck with a bottle that he begins to see the error of his ways. Thankfully for David, his suicidal wife is masochistic enough to give him one more final chance in the end. Rather revealingly, David—a man that has already been given a number of recklessly misspent second chances—is only able to convince his wife of his sincerity in regard to wanting to change because he sobs hysterically during a moment of sort of transcendental meekness, or as Ann states to him herself, “It is hard to believe, David, but I do believe you. Your tears convinced me. I won’t truly be happy until my sorrow is drained.” Repeating something his undead friend Georges said to him earlier in the film during a philosophically insightful supernatural carriage ride, David concludes the film by stating while his wife Ann is lovingly resting her head in his lap, “Lord, please let my soul come to maturity before it is reaped,” thus underscoring one of the most important themes of the entire film.  Just as the great Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung theorized after decades of dealing with numerous hopeless alcoholics, the film ultimately reveals that alcoholism is more of a spiritual sickness than a social or biological disease, hence the importance of David's date with death.

 Notably, Aryan Christ Jung was an important philosophical influence on the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) due his promotion of theory that certain hardcore alcoholics would never be able to completely quit the booze unless they had a life-changing “spiritual experience,” as he believed that the addiction had more to do with a certain void in the soul than a simpler hopeless thirst for alcohol.  Indeed, as Jung wrote in a 1961 letter to Alcoholic Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson, “You see, alcohol in Latin is spiritus and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.”  Notably, Avon Products heir Conrad Rooks was only able to get over his terrible alcoholism and substance abuse via a sort of spiritual reawakening, which he would depict in his hermetic counterculture flick Chappaqua (1967). Undoubtedly, judging by his masterpiece The Phantom Carriage, Victor Sjöström seems to have a similar theory to Jung in regard to the metaphysical roots of alcoholism.  In that sense, supernatural horror is in many ways the perfect genre for tackling the subject of the misery of methomania.  Aside from his masterful direction, Sjöström’s performance as the extremely emotionally erratic alcoholic lead is among the greatest, if not the greatest, in cinema history, especially when compared to unintentionally hilarious displays of demented dipsomania like Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. Undoubtedly, Figgis' film seems like Bobcat Goldthwait's decidedly dumb Shakes the Clown (1991) in terms of depicting the nuances of dipsomania when compared to the brilliance of Sjöström's silent masterwork.  In terms of sheer pathos and sensitivity towards the drunkenly insensitive, I can only really compare Sjöström's film to Paul Schrader's fairly underrated Affliction (1997).

Notably, in the essay Phantom Forms: The Phantom Carriage by screenwriter and Nicholas Roeg collaborator Paul Mayersberg (The Man Who Fell to Earth, Croupier) speculates that Sjöström’s performance was influenced by his own much despised womanizer and defrauder father Olof Adolf Sjöström who he apparently closely resembled in physical appearance. Indeed, the film might have been based on a work by Selma Lagerlöf, who Sjöström apparently constantly quarreled with during the production, but it has an undeniable highly personalized quality to it, as if the auteur used his performance to perform a sort of personal exorcism from all the metaphysical pain and suffering that his prick padre caused him.  Throughout the film, Sjöström seems possessed by an almost demonic drunken rage that is quite disturbing in its seeming authenticity, so I do not doubt the auteur was using the role as personal therapy for past traumas.

 I think it is safe to say that Swedish master auteur Ingmar Bergman, who would cast his cinematic hero Sjöström in both his early work Till glädje (1950) aka To Joy and masterpiece Smultronstället (1957) aka Wild Strawberries, probably paid the film and its auteur-cum-star its greatest compliment when he stated in the documentary Victor Sjöström: A Portrait (1981) directed by Gösta Werner, “My encounters with Victor Sjöström—at first, by way of his films, and later on, when I met him in person—these encounters affected me deeply. THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE was an early encounter. It completely overwhelmed me. I was shaken to the core by the movie. Not necessarily because I understood it, but quite simply, it affected me . . . by way of its incredible cinematic power. For me, it was an all-encompassing emotional experience. Certain sequences and images have left an indelible impression.” Undoubtedly, anyone familiar with Bergman’s singular oeuvre can easily see how Sjöström’s film had such an imperative influence on the younger filmmaker. Indeed, the influence is so great that it is comparable to Douglas Sirk’s influence on Rainer Werner Fassbinder or Alfred Hitchcock’s on Brian De Palma in terms of the latter’s films being somewhat unimaginable without the influence of the former. From the obsession with iconic “sculpted close-ups” to signature depictions of Death personified, Bergman can certainly be described as a hopeless Sjöströmian who, rather deservingly, eventually transcended his master in terms of fame and influence. Rather absurdly yet not altogether surprisingly considering the oftentimes hyper self-critical nature of many great artists, Sjöström apparently thought little of his own great cinematic masterpieces, or as Bergman recounted in The Magic Lantern: An Autobiography (1987), “He had never thought GIVE US THIS DAY, THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE or HE WHO GETS SLAPPED were especially remarkable. He mostly saw the failings and was annoyed by his own sloppiness and lack of skill.” Incidentally, in the same book, Bergman explains how he filled Sjöström with “senile anger” during the shooting of Wild Strawberries for failing to provide him whisky that he had promised.  Aside from Bergman, The Phantom Carriage seems to have also been a crucial influence on Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980), most obviously in regard to the famous scene where a demented Jack Nicholson breaks down a door with an axe in a manner quite like Sjöström's character in his silent horror masterpiece.

 Notably, in his classic novel The Long Goodbye (1953)—a work that Robert Altman wonderfully cinematically adapted in 1973—Raymond Chandler, himself a terrible drunk, wrote, “A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can't predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.” Undoubtedly, The Phantom Carriage certainly expresses Chandler’s sentiment in its depiction of the unpredictably unhinged behavior of the protagonist while he is drunk. Even more relevant to the film than Chandler’s quote is an excerpt from the anti-alcoholic Alcoholics Anonymous tome The Big Book by Bill Wilson that reads, “As we became subjects of King Alcohol, shivering denizens of his mad realm, the chilling vapor that is loneliness settled down. It thickened, ever becoming blacker. Some of us sought out sordid places, hoping to find understanding companionship and approval. Momentarily we did—then would come oblivion and the awful awakening to face the hideous Four Horsemen—Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, Despair.” Indeed, The Phantom Carriage not only offers a delectably hallucinatory cinematic cocktail of terror, bewilderment, frustration, and despair, but also a stoically humanistic depiction of alcoholism that does not seem like it was created by some self-important ‘self-help’ leftist phony. In that sense, the film is like a Nordic arthouse proto-The Twilight Zone on Gothic Dickensian LSD in terms of being a phantasmagoric horror movie with a moral ending.

Undoubtedly, when poet and avant-garde filmmaker James Broughton wrote his collection of cinema aphorisms Some Fruits of Experience, he was perfectly describing the aesthetic prowess and importance of a film like Sjöström's as indicated by words of cinematic wisdom like, “Cinema is a lie which makes us realize a truth” and “Movie images are dim reflections of the beauty and ferocity in mankind.”  After all, The Phantom Carriage forced me to confront dipsomaniacal phantoms that have, in various ways, haunted my own life yet it also managed to provide me with a deceptively narcotizing experience that reminded me of the singularity of cinema as an artform. To go back to Broughton, his poetical film book Making Light of It (1992) features a quote from the pseudonymous Early German Romantic poet, mystic, and philosopher Novalis that reads, “The seat of the soul is where the outer and inner worlds meet.” Of course, the titular ghostly carriage in Sjöström's film is undoubtedly a morbid poetic symbolic reflection of the “seat of the soul” that Novalis spoke of.  While he would have never admitted it himself, Sjöström was not only a great actor and auteur, but also a closet poet as indicated by The Phantom Carriage—the ultimate cinematic marriage between methomania and the macabre—and great later works like the fairly idiosyncratic silent western The Wind (1928) starring Lillian Gish.  I certainly like to think Sjöström's masterpiece is set in a world that Edgar Allan Poe might have dreamed up (and/or inhabited), as I can certainly see Death's carriage strolling the streets of Baltimore for him on the night of October 7, 1849 after he died a dubious alcohol-related death.

-Ty E

Oct 12, 2017

The Devil, Probably

As demonstrated by figures ranging from D.W. Griffith to Federico Fellini to Jean-Luc Godard to Dario Argento, even great filmmakers tend to eventually lose touch with cultural trends and their surroundings in general with old age and thus their cinematic output sometimes severely suffers as a result.  As his extremely uneven cinematic swansong We Can't Go Home Again (1973) demonstrates, even truly rebellious filmmakers like great Hollywood anarchist Nicholas Ray—a man that lived in a so-called ‘filmmaking commune’ with his students when he was already well into his 60s while working as a film professor—that attempt try to keep up with youth trends can fail miserably and just seem incredibly ridiculous. In short, it is oftentimes easy to tell if a film was directed by an old fart even if it was directed by a distinctly talented old fart. Of course, there are certainly notable exceptions like Danish maestro Carl Th. Dreyer, who concluded his long distinguished career with a timeless masterpiece like Gertrud (1964), but I don’t think any other filmmaker can really compare compete in terms of singular golden years relevance than French master auteur Robert Bresson. Indeed, Bresson concluded his career with the decidedly dark masterpiece L'argent (1983) aka Money but his penultimate feature Le diable probablement (1977) aka The Devil, Probably is indubitably an unparalleled accomplishment in terms of an elderly auteur managing to depict with great intricacy, nuance, and keen social relevance the darkest aspects plaguing contemporary youth.

Directed by Bresson when he was already in his late 70s, the film was considered such a subversive and emotionally brutal youth pic when it was originally released that is was championed by figures ranging from mischling punk pioneer Richard Hell to Teutonic cinematic iconoclast Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In fact, Hell dared to describe the flick as “the most punk movie ever made,” but of course that would be selling the film too short. Undoubtedly, Fassbinder, who threatened to quit the 27th Berlin International Film Festival unless it received an award (it ultimately won the Silver Bear - Special Jury Prize), paid the film its greatest compliment when he stated to Christian Braad Thomsen in a 1977 interview that, “Robert Bresson's LE DIABLE PROBABLEMENT ... is the most shattering film I've seen this Berlin Festival. I think it's a major film [...]. [I]n the future—and this world will probably last for another few thousand years—this film will be more important than all the rubbish which is now considered important but which never really goes deep enough[.] The questions Bresson asks will never be unimportant.”  Indeed, Bresson's film puts forward many imperative, albeit uniquely uncomfortable questions, but luckily the wise old auteur lacks the arrogance and ignorance to try to actually provide answers for them, as The Devil, Probably is an audaciously austere meditation on pre-apocalyptic youthful angst that beauteously bleeds a certain unmistakable Occidental hopelessness as symbolically personified by a passively suicidal lad that lacks even the will power to kill himself yet somehow manages to pull a date with death in the end.

 Indeed, fuck Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin Féminin (1966), Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969), Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia (1979), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club (1985), Heathers (1989), and countless other films that acted as virtual cinematic therapy to various generations of self-obsessed teenagers and young adults, old fart Bresson was responsible for making the single greatest and most brutal teen rebellion flick ever made. In fact, even Fassbinder’s own rarely-seen teen angst feature Wildwechsel (1973) aka Jail Bait seems as intellectually insipid and sleazy as the crusty kosher comedy American Pie (1999) when compared to the misanthropic majesty of Bresson’s somewhat overlooked masterpiece. Of course, unlike Fassbinder, Bresson does not believe humans will be around for anywhere near a couple thousand years from now as it is a staunchly apocalyptic cinematic work that makes it seem as if humanity as a whole is, for better or worse, on its last gasp.

While the characters in the film are dressed in an aesthetically vulgar fashion that makes it seem as if they were run over by a psychedelic dump truck driven by Jim Morrison (incidentally, the final scene in the film was shot at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris where The Door singer is buried), The Devil, Probably could not be more relevant in terms of depicting the cultural, social, and moral bankruptcy of the materialistic bourgeois, as well as the various metaphysical afflictions that plague contemporary youth, namely those of the hopelessly deluded and spiritually forsaken left-leaning sort. The sad and pathetic yet audaciously and refreshingly brutally pessimistic story of a passively suicidal quasi-hippie twink dropout that has lost faith in love, religion, science, civilization, politics, and just about everything else that makes life worth living, the film probably features what is arguably the most stoic depiction of a totally senseless tragedy ever committed to celluloid.  In terms of sheer artistic fortitude in the face of trendy neo-Marxist bullshit, Bresson's film demonstrates the uncompromising stoicism of a kamikaze fighter pilot just before crashing into a U.S. warship.

 If there ever was a film that might possibly influenced failed bourgeois leftist types to refrain from throwing bottles of old piss at elderly Trump supporters and quit Soros-backed commie terrorist groups like antifa, it is indubitably The Devil, Probably where the sheer impotence, phoniness, narcissistic virtue signaling, and dead-end social dysfunction of the so-called revolutionary lifestyle is exposed for the insipidly sick joke that it is in an inordinately elegant fashion that demonstrates Bresson's mastery of his own distinct cinematic language. Indeed, the young long-haired leftists in the film come off seeming like virtual metaphysical zombies that have been foredoomed to wait for the incoming apocalypse while carrying out innately impotent acts of ‘intellectual’ resistance at the unwitting command of a Joker-esque devil that gets his kicks from seeing the dregs of youth figuratively dig their own graves. Of course, as the great Francis Parker Yockey once insightfully wrote, “A moment's reflection shows that Liberalism is entirely negative. It is not a formative force, but always and only a disintegrating force,” hence the signature left-wing tendency to simply break down and virtually never build up.  Rather intriguingly, quite unlike his comrades, the protagonist of the film has become disillusioned with leftist politics and would probably agree with Yockey’s Spenglerian sentiment, “If pessimism is despair, optimism is cowardice and stupidity. Is there any need to choose between them?” In fact, in the end, the protagonist opts for a Roman-esque suicide as a young man that can no longer be bothered with petty things like neo-Marxist mental masturbation or the distribution of pornography in Catholic churches, as he has opted to swallow the biggest ‘black-pill’ in an age where his comrades think red flags and chink dictators are cool and that the starvation-diet materialism of Marxism will somehow defeat the consumerist materialism of capitalism.  While Bresson's films certainly has strong anti-capitalist themes, it is almost just as critical of the left, especially in regard to how trendy neo-bolshie political movements have destroyed entire generations of youth and turned them into soulless shells of human begins that only known how to bitch and break things.

 While The Devil, Probably effortlessly critiques various aspects of far-leftist political movements, the sexual liberation movement, psychoanalysis and related degenerate bullshit, in a swift and unemotional manner that is comparable to a meth-addled German master gardener attending to weeds,  it is very clear while watching the film that Bresson is deeply concerned with the threat of pollution and its central role in the fall of man.  In fact, Bresson broke with his own cinematic conventions and dared to include stock footage of pollution in the film to the underscore precarious state of humanity.  Despite his fairly negative portrayal of the leftist youth in his film, Bresson had a certain ‘pessimistic hope’ that the film would somehow inspire a rebellion against such a grim garbage-filled fate, or as he explained in a June 13, 1977 interview with the French weekly news magazine L'Express, “I hope with all my heart that the young will deploy all the power of their youth against the massive forces of demolition that are ravaging the world (for which they will have to pay the price). But it might be too late.” Judging simply by his film, which is drenched in a certain preternaturally stoic apocalyptic doom and gloom, I can only suspect that Bresson truly believes in his heart of hearts that humanity is practically kaput and barely even deserves to exist due to what it has done to earth and its innocent non-human inhabitants. Indeed, judging simply by the world depicted in The Devil, Probably, the word ‘humanity’ can only be taken as a grave insult. As for the devil, he is merely a convenient perennial scapegoat for humanity.  Needless to say, the film reveals that Bresson has little hope for the survival of the Occident and the world in general, but as Richard Roud once wisely wrote in Cinema - A Critical Dictionary - The Major Film-Makers (1980) in regard to the great aesthetic irony of the flick, “When a civilization can produce a work of art as perfectly achieved as this, it is hard to believe that there is no hope for it.” I, for one, can certainly not think of another film where the image of a young leftist bitch sobbing becomes such an emotionally poignant experience or where the murder of a suicidal friend by an insanely indifferent dead-eyed junky is depicted with such exceedingly elegant understated brutality.  While he would probably disagree with me, Bresson was surely a rare auteur that had a singular talent for great pulchritude in banal ugliness.

 Notably, French New Wave maestro François Truffaut once described The Devil, Probably as Bresson’s most “voluptuous film,” which is somewhat curious since the film does not feature much ‘sensual’ imagery aside from an extremely brief titty shot and some covert crotch shots of anorexic dope-addled frog boys in tighty whities. In terms of their boyish physiques and pathetically passive demeanors, these Gallic girly men more closely resemble cum-crusted catamites than the proper revolutionaries and are surely symbolic of the emasculation of post-WWII Europa, especially post-colonial France. Naturally, as sexually dubious individuals that lack most conventional masculine traits, the film’s characters, especially the protagonist, have serious problems when it comes to love and romance. Completely conflicted when it comes to the issue of whether or not he loves both or neither of his two favorite lady friends, the protagonist of the film clearly has not read H.L. Mencken’s wise words, “Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.” To make matters even more confusing, the hapless hero—a chap that seems totally incapable of truly connecting to anyone, especially his estranged parents—is, for whatever reason, best friends with a similarly emotionally comatose guy that he dislikes who also happens to be banging his beloved girlfriend.  In short, the characters cannot even seem to salvage their personal relationships, let alone the dying planet that they believe they are fighting for.  In short, these characters focus on the big (and seemingly unsolvable) problems that world is facing as if it gives them a good enough reason in their own deluded minds to ignore their own glaring (and, in many ways, quite fixable) personal problems, which is surely one of the defining traits of the archetypal left-winger.

 At the very beginning of the film, we learn that the film’s meta-pessimistic protagonist Charles (played by twink-ish non-actor Antoine Monnier, who is the great-grandson of post-impressionist painter Henri Matisse) is already dead as indicated by two different contradicting newspaper articles that read: “YOUNG MAN COMMITS SUICIDE IN PERE-LACHAISE” and “PERE-LACHAISE ‘SUICIDE’ WAS MURDER.” By the end of the film, the viewer learns that technically both newspaper headlines are correct, though neither really reveals the absurdly tragic circumstances surrounding the young man's death. After revealing the questionable death of the protagonist, the film cuts to an inter-title reading “SIX MONTHS EARLIER…” and then introduces hermetic world of the exceedingly epicene protagonist Charles and his similarly depressed and socially alienated comrades. Notably, in one of the very first scenes in the film, Charles mocks a self-stylized far-left revolutionary who gives a pathetic speech where he idiotically declares, “I proclaim destruction. Everyone can destroy. It’s easy. We can sway hundreds of thousands of people with slogans.” No longer impressed by insipid left-wing slogans and mindless acts of destruction, Charles believes “There is no point” and that people that engaged in such mindlessly deleterious behavior are simply “idiots.” Charles' best ‘frenemy’ Michel (Henri de Maublanc), who still believes in left-wing causes, does not approve of the critique and snidely states to Charles, “You want to know everything and end up doing nothing.”  To Michel's credit, Charles is indeed a major underachiever and pessimistic that seems to regulate most of his time to complaining and fantasizing about suicide.  In that sense, Charles is like a much cooler and more sophisticated frog equivalent to the eponymous protagonist of Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude (1971), though he thankfully never succumbs to gerontophilia or discovers happiness via an insufferably spunky elderly proto-hippie holocaust survivor.

Aside from their political differences, Michel is in love with Charles’ longtime girlfriend Alberte (Tina Irissari) who, unbeknownst to the protagonist, seems to reciprocate his feelings. To make matters even more romantically complex, Charles is also fucking a happy-go-lucky chick named Edwige (Laetitia Carcano), who is being used for nude photos and stupid political acts by the same lame unnamed political revolutionary from the beginning of the film that the protagonist rightly loathes.  Indeed, among other things, Edwige engages in inserting pornographic imagery of herself inside holy writings at a local Catholic church where the leftists regularly hangout and harass bishops. For example, a young female revolutionary bitches at the bishop, “You’re so civilized, so cultured, you and your bishops. Is that why your music is insipid and your hymns inane? All those words and gestures you invented are so insignificant they’re humiliating. God doesn’t reveal himself through mediocrity.” As if foreseeing the sort of post-spiritual leftist Christian churches that exist nowadays in Europe and pollute the minds of its followers by endorsing the colonization of the continent by young hostile Muslim hordes, another revolutionary remarks, “…like it or not, the Christianity of the future will be without religion.” The only thing that Charles seems to enjoy is sex, which is a topic he discusses with an inordinate degree of excitement. Not unlike many people his age, Charles also has a hard time distinguishing between love and lust, though by the end of his short life it becomes clear he only ever really truly experienced the latter. 

 Notably, the great poesy pessimistic philosopher Emil Cioran once described his adopted hometown of Paris as an “apocalyptic garage,” which is a somewhat generous way to describe the aesthetically oppressive, socially alienating, and spiritually necrotizing frog capital that is depicted in Bresson's film. Undoubtedly, Charles might have had second thoughts about suicide were he to have read wonderful insights from Cioran like, “It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late” and “What saved me is the idea of suicide. Without the idea of suicide I would have surely killed myself. What allowed me to keep on living was knowing I had this option, always in sight... But really, without it I could have never endured life.” Of course, as the film’s senselessly tragic conclusion reveals, Charles lacks the gall and will power to personally pull the tragic and kill himself and thus resigns his fate to one of the most loathsome of barely human creatures. Indeed, were it not for the grotesque morally bankruptcy of his friend Valentin (Nicolas Deguy)—an extra jaded junky that spends most of his time bedridden when he is not out stealing from churches—Charles would probably not have ended his life so prematurely, as he is far too passive and chronically indecisive to commit such a permanent task.

Undoubtedly, one of the most tragic aspects of Charles’ suicide-by-junky is that his entire inner circle is well aware of his psychological decline and morbid obsession with self-slaughter. In fact, when Charles even goes so far as asking his anti-pal Michel, “Do you think I could kill myself?,” he receives the somewhat arrogant response, “Not for a moment. Because if we were really done for, as you say we are, if there really was no hope, I’d still want to live in spite of everything.”  Additionally, Charles confesses to a female friend that he made a failed attempt at drowning himself in her bathtub, but she does not seem to take him serious. It is ultimately Charles’ two female lovers that are the most proactive in trying to stop him from committing suicide, but their actions are fairly impotent. For example, when his main girlfriend Alberte receives the horrified shock that Charles is carrying around a small bottle of cyanide in a bag, she simply throws it away but ultimately lacks the strength to confront her beloved about the curious find. In fact, Alberte even finds a rather incriminating scribbling from one of Charles' journals where he has copied a citation from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s final novel The Brothers Karamazov (1880) that reads, “When will I kill myself, if not now?,” but she lacks the strength to mention it to anyone aside from her secret lover Michel of all people. Somewhat ironically, it is his semi-secret lover Edwige’s recommendation that Charles see a quack psychoanalyst that leads him on a concrete path to self-annihilation.

 To Charles' credit, he makes various small attempts to get over his all-consuming death wish.  For example, despite his side relationship with Edwige, Charles decides to ask his longtime girlfriend Alberte if she will marry him and she actually accepts his proposal even though she seems to love Michel more.  Notably, almost immediately after agreeing to marry him, Alberte begins crying in bed after sharing carnal knowledge with Charles.  As to whether Albert breaks down because she knows he relationship with Charles is doomed or because she loves Michel more is anyone's guess, but there is no doubt she is having a hard time living a semi-polyamorous lifestyle.  Indeed, like with their impotent left-wing activism, the characters in the film seem to believe that sexual freedom will somehow lead to happiness and some sort of utopia when, in reality, these things have only made them more miserable and disillusioned with life.  Needless to say, Charles and Alberte's engagement goes nowhere.

 In what is undoubtedly one of the most deceptively ingenious and thematically revealing scenes of the entire film, Charles more or less lays out his entire nihilistic Weltanschauung for a rather repugnant money-grubbing psychoanalyst named Dr. Mime (Régis Hanrion), who obviously has nil sincere interest in curing the troubled young man. Clearly a proponent of quasi-Freudian psychobabble of the neurosis-inducing sort, Dr. Mime—a man whose arrogance is only rivaled by his horribly hidden greed—believes childhood spankings and bad dreams are to blame for Charles’ decided disillusionment with life, but as the protagonist tell him himself in a line of dialogue that illustrates the central theme of the film, “But Doctor, I’m not ill. My illness is seeing too clearly.” Indeed, as Charles has concluded, no truly sane individual can feel content and happy in a sick and insipid world where baby seals are clubbed to death for profit, communism and its equally odious offshoots have replaced religion, lust is synonymous with love, hippies are considered cool, gender has been erased, being bedridden with heroin withdrawal is a full-time job, and the world faces the very real threat of total nuclear war followed by an atomic winter, but as Cioran once wrote, “Only a monster can allow himself the luxury of seeing things as they are,” hence why the protagonist is considered a weirdo even by his best friends and girlfriend(s).

When asked by the insufferably supercilious Dr. Mime, “Isn’t being right compensation for being alive?,” Charles replies, “In losing my life, here’s what I’d lose,” grabs a crumbled up advertisement from one of his pants pocket, and then absurdly recites with an absurd lack of enthusiasm that really underscores his great disgust for life and modernity, “Family planning, package holidays—cultural, sporting, linguistic. The cultivated man’s library. All sports. How to adopt a child. Parent-teacher associations. Education. Teaching 0 to 4 years, 7 to 14 years, 14 to 17 years. Preparation for marriage. Military duties. Europe. Decorations—honorary insignia. The single woman. Paid sick leave, unpaid sick leave. The successful man. Tax benefits for the elderly. Local taxes. Hire purchase. Radio and television rentals. Credit cards. Home repairs. Index-linking. VAT and consumers.” Needless to say, Charles does not learn much from the psychoanalyst, at least until he complains in regard to suicide, “Doctor. I don’t think I will ever be able to . . . Do the deed. To think I would suddenly stop thinking, seeing, hearing” and Dr. Mime unwittingly gives him the ‘cure’ he needs by retorting, “That’s why the ancient Romans entrusted a servant or friend with the task.”  Indeed, while Charles might lack the nerve to blow his own brains out, he is at least confidant that he has a friend that is unscrupulous enough to do it for him for a meager fee.  Somewhat ironically and rather humorously, Edwige convinces Charles' friends that the therapy is a great success after talking on the phone with Dr. Mime while session is still going on. Due to his unbelievable negligence and clear disinterest in his patient's mental health, Dr. Mime might be best described as a sort of ‘passive villain’ and a figure that not even anti-Freudian chosenite Thomas Szasz could have dreamed up.

Since there are surely no authentic ancient Romans living in contemporary Paris, Charles must settle for his junky comrade Valentin when it comes to his friend-assisted suicide. While Valentin is a lazy bum that lies in bed all day when he is not robbing church or shooting junk into his scrawny arm, he does become somewhat intrigued when Charles asks him to do a “favor” that is “Worthy of the ancient Romans” and then offers him all of his remaining cash to get the deadly deed done. Before heading to Père Lachaise Cemetery to be voluntarily executed by his most innately iniquitous of comrades, Charles celebrates with a small glass of wine to calm his nerves while Valentin, who clearly has no concern for the life of his friend, maintains a disturbingly dead expression on his greasy frog face. While he initially seems excited about dying, Charles somewhat somberly states while strolling through the graveyard, “I thought at a time like this I’d have sublime thoughts.”  Indeed, even right before receiving his long awaited dream of dying, Charles is decidedly disappointed with life. When Charles then attempts to start a conversation by stating, “Shall I tell you?,” Valentin coldly cuts him off by shooting from behind, thereupon extinguishing the protagonist's life with a single bullet to the head.

Undoubtedly, had Charles been hanging out with more high quality friends he would probably still be alive, but of course the devastatingly dejected protagonist was already too irreparably alienated from any person of real value in his life, hence his desperate need to rely of the services of a junky fuck-up. While it might have been more superficially fitting had Charles died next to the gravesite of Rimbaud fan-boy Jim Morrison, Charles body collapses near the grave of French Communist Party (PCF) leader Maurice Thorez in a symbolic scenario that can be interpreted in many ways, though I think that it is safe to say that it reflects the nihilistic navel-gazing, slave-morality-induced moping, and sort of spiritual death that comes with becoming a far-leftist shill.  Since left-wing ideologies, especially those of the post-WWII French sort, are oftentimes inspired by sheer resentment, failure, self-loathing, and ethno-masochism, it is ultimately no big surprise that someone like Charles ended up the way he did as he really only followed the next logical step of the trendy political persuasion of his zeitgeist.  After all, not even a stoic pessimistic like Bresson could predict that future French leftists would endorse the collectively suicidal path of inviting hordes of Muslims to France that would eventually turn Paris into a virtual third world hellhole where terrorist attacks are a relatively common occurrence, no-go-zones (or what pussy frog politicians call ‘sensitive urban zones’) are the norm, and a mostly unreported rape epidemic brings new meaning to the classic phrase ‘City of Love.’

 Borrowing its title from a line in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s final novel The Brothers Karamazov (1880), The Devil, Probably arguably has an ironic title as the devil is nothing more than an all-too-convenient scapegoat for humanity; or, more accurately, Beelzebub is simply a reflection of man and only those individuals that are scared of the truth would blame the infernal Führer for the sins of man. Indeed, Cioran probably said it best when he wrote in his classic text Précis de decomposition (1949) aka A Short History of Decay, “Because he overflows with life, the Devil has no altar: man recognizes himself too readily in him to worship him; he detests him for good reason; he repudiates himself, and maintains the indigent attributes of God. But the Devil never complains and never aspires to found a religion: are we not here to safeguard him from inanition and oblivion?” While he might not be anything resembling a devil of any sort, the protagonist Charles is a sort of modern post-hippie Christ of his own suffering who, despite his philosophical purity and relative keen lucidity in regard to the metaphysical affliction of his age, sacrifices himself to the very same post-religious nihilism that made him suicidal in the first place. In that sense, the devil wins in the end.  After all, Charles not only commits the unpardonable sin of suicide, but also accepts the ultimate form of defeat in a forsaken world where those virtuous individuals that known better should feel all the more obligated to fight against the devils of the world, even if said fighting is ultimately in vain.  Indeed, Teutonic ultra-pessimist Oswald Spengler certainly said it best when he wrote in his short work Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life (1932), “We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost position, without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who, during the eruption of Vesuvius, died at his post because they forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. That is what it means to be a thoroughbred. The honorable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man.”  Needless to say, I was not surprised to learn after watching The Devil, Probably that Bresson included the following aphorism in his text Notes on the Cinematographer (1975), “These horrible days—when shooting film disgusts me, when I am exhausted, powerless in the face of so many obstacles—are part of my method of work.”   Undoubtedly as a pessimistic artist that struggled to create challenging cinematic works in an era that was surely undeserving of such monumental experiments in cinematic form, Bresson certainly demonstrated a certain Spenglerian greatness.

 As for as European degeneracy is concerned, post-’68 France arguably reflects the height of it, thus it is quite fortunate that Bresson—undoubtedly one of the greatest filmmakers that has ever lived—had the gall to assault it with his scathing sardonic wit. Although not coined at the time the film was released, the youth of The Devil, Probably surely suffer from what French New Right figure Louis Pauwels described as “Mental AIDS.” Indeed, as fellow french New Right figure Guillaume Faye once wrote on the subject, “AIDS comes from a retrovirus that destroys an organism’s immune system. ‘Mental AIDS’ is an infection of a psychological nature that affects virtually all the ‘elites’—the political class, the media class, show business, the ‘cultural’ community, ‘artists,’ filmmakers—inclining them to oppose the interests of their own people and to advocate degenerate values as if they were actually ones of regeneration.”  Naturally, these ideas are nothing new as revealed by the great Irish poet W. B. Yeats wise words in regard to the degenerative power of leftist politics, “What's equality? – Muck in the yard: Historic nations grow, From above to below.” While protagonist Charles of Bresson's film has gone full-blown nihilist yet somehow also finally realizes that his values lack values, the same can certainly not be said of his idiotic comrades.  Indeed, these characters somehow think they are working to fix the world by engaging in degenerate sex, destruction for destruction’s sake, communism, feminism, and other infantile societal diseases despite the fact that these things are only speeding up the demise of their nation as present-day France (and especially Paris) clearly demonstrates.  Like their present-day equivalents, most Parisian youth in Bresson's film lack what the ancient Greeks called ‘thymos’ and instead are consumed with a sort of wholly corrosive passive-aggressive resentment.  As for protagonist Charles, who is clearly more perceptive than his friends, he suffers from a sort of inverted thymos that has caused him to become consumed with so much melancholy and Weltschmerz that he simply cannot bear the pain of living anymore.  Needless to say, Bresson was one of the few French filmmakers working during the 1970s that did not suffer from ‘Mental AIDS,’ hence one of the many reasons why his late period films are so important and singular in the context of all of European cinema history.

Notably, not unlike the protagonist of Bresson's film, Spengler believed that the Abendland—the West—was in its final stage of civilization and that urban areas represented this social and cultural decay the most.  Indeed, in describing ‘The Soul of the City,’ Spengler explained with great pessimistic lucidity, “Now the giant city sucks the country dry, insatiably and incessantly demanding and devouring fresh streams of men, till it wearies and dies. … Primitive folk can loosen themselves from the soil and wander, but the intellectual nomad never. … Home is for him any one of these giant cities, but even the nearest village is alien territory. … Even disgust at this pretentiousness, weariness of the thousand-hued glitter, the taedium vitae that in the end overcomes many, does not set them free. They take the City with them into the mountains or on the sea. They have lost the country within themselves and will never regain it outside.”  While Spengler was a proud German conservative, there is no doubt that protagonist Charles—a young man that literally cannot live with the fact that his estranged father makes tons of money destroying forests—would concur with this sentiment.

Although just speculation, I think that simply judging by the ideas disseminated in The Devil, Probably that Bresson would have found a kindred spirit in Finnish deep ecologist Pentti Linkola who, in critiquing the self-described ‘religion of death’ of democracy, noted in his revolutionary text Can Life Prevail?: A Revolutionary Approach to the Environmental Crisis (2004), “Never before in history have the distinguishing values of a culture been things as concretely destructive for life and the quality of life as democracy, individual freedom and human rights — not to mention money. Freedom here means the freedom to consume, to exploit, to read upon others. All rights, even the most seemingly beautiful — women's rights, children's rights, rights for the disabled — only express one thing: ME, ME, ME. Pure selfishness has been given a new name: ‘self-realisation’, now considered the noblest of all morals. Words like responsibility, duty, humility, self-sacrifice, nurturing and care are always spat upon, if they still happen to be mentioned. For all their mistakes, even such recently buried ideologies as fascism and socialism, both of which emphasized communal values and contained restrictive norms, were on a higher ethical level.”  While sort of self-stylized leftist quasi-ecologists, the characters of Bresson's film are unequivocally plagued with the sort of ME-ME-ME democratic disease that Linkola speaks of, hence the complete and utter futility of their cause.  Indeed, free love and gay rights seem rather petty and ultimately quite irrelevant in the grand scheme of things when the entire world is virtually in flames.

 Notably, Bresson once confessed in regard to The Devil, Probably that, “This film is my most horrifying, but not the most despairing.  I wouldn't call any of my films despairing.” On the other hand, as Joseph Cunneen noted in his text Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film (2003) in regard to the film, “One needs to remember, in any case, that though Bresson made the movie as a warning against dangerous directions in contemporary society, he is not arguing a thesis or presenting an alternate plan or action. He remains, above all, an artist continuing his research on what cinematography can express in a way that no other art can.” Personally, I found the film quite delightfully despairing and I would not surprise if it had the power to drive certain people to suicide just as Werner Herzog’s similarly darkly humorous and grotesquely tragic Stroszek (1977) proved to be the right film for Joy Division front man Ian Curtis to watch before hanging himself. On the subject on self-extermination and its relation to the film, Cioran provides the following insights, “When we are young we look for heroes. I have had mine: Kleist, Karoline von Günderrode, Nerval, Otto Weininger. . . . Intoxicated by their suicides, I was certain that they alone had gone to the end, that they drew, in death, the right conclusion from their thwarted or fulfilled loves, from their broken minds or philosophic pain […] But as the years went by, I lost the pride of youth: each day, like a lesson in humility, I reminded myself that I was still alive, that I was betraying my dreams among men rotten with . . . life. Exasperated by the expectation of no longer existing, I considered it a duty to cleave my flesh when dawn broke after a night of love, and that it was a nameless degradation to sully by memory an excess of sighs […] Even now, I have more esteem for a concierge who hangs himself than for a living poet. Man is provisionally exempt from suicide: that is his one glory, his one excuse. But he is not aware of it, and calls cowardice the courage of those who dared to raise themselves by death above themselves. We are bound together by a tacit pact to go on to the last breath: this pact which cements our solidarity dooms us nonetheless—our entire race is stricken by its infamy. Without suicide, no salvation. Strange! that death, though eternal, has not become part of our ‘behavior’: sole reality, it cannot become a vogue. Thus, as living men, we are all retarded . . .” Judging by Cioran’s words and Bresson’s film, it seems that certain types of suicides have always been reserved for a sort of ‘degenerate spiritual elite.’ Undoubtedly Bresson’s protégé Louis Malle certainly had this romantic view in mind when he put his blood, sweat, and tears into Le feu follet (1963) aka The Fire Within, which is notable adapted from a novel by literary fascist turned suicide victim Pierre Drieu La Rochelle.

When asked by an interviewer at L'Express what he was like as a young man in comparison to the nihilistic youth of his film, Bresson—an extremely private man with a somewhat mysterious past—responded with, “As if I could tell you!  Violent?  Absolutist?  Excessive?  Lots of alcohol and tobacco.  Now I don't drink or smoke.”  While they are quite different in other ways, I think it is safe to say that The Devil, Probably protagonist Charles is a sort of youthful stand-in for Bresson, as if the auteur was trying to imagine how miserable it would be for him to be a young man during the 1970s.  In fact, in an interview with American auteur Paul Schrader featured in his book Transcendental Style in Film (1972), Bresson's would make an argument for suicide that is quite similar to Charles', stating that, “there is something which makes suicide possible—not just possible but even necessary: it is the vision of void, the feeling of void which is impossible to bear.  You want anything to stop your life. . . .this way of wanting to die is many things: it is a disgust with life, with people around you, with living only for money.  To see everything which is good to live for disappear, when you see that you cannot fall in love with people, not only with a woman, but all the people around you, you find yourself alone with people.  I can imagine living in disgust with so many things which are against you around you, and then you feel like suicide.”  Indeed, while it is easy to see Charles as a spoiled brat with both mommy and daddy issues, his suicide almost seems like an unavoidable bodily reaction, like having a wet dream while still a virgin or belching after eating a greasy chili dog.  Either way, Charles was in many ways long dead before the bullet entered his skull.

While The Devil, Probably is certainly a singular cinematic that could never truly even be superficially mimicked, it has influenced at least one underrated masterpiece that I can think of.  Indeed, aside from featuring the same exact virtually intolerable stock footage of baby seals being beaten to death, De Witte waan (1984) aka White Madness directed by criminally neglected Dutch auteur Adriaan Ditvoorst also revolves around a hopelessly foredoomed suicidal young man that lives off the grid and hangs out with junkies.  Both of these films, like both Bresson and Ditvoorst's cinematic works in general, are destined to only be appreciated by a tragically blessed few, but as Cioran wrote in A Short History of Decay, “How could we bear the weight and sheer depth of works and masterpieces, if to their texture certain impertinent and delicious minds had not added the fringes of subtle scorn and ready ironies?  And how could we endure the codes, the customs, the paragraphs of the heart which inertia and propriety have superimposed upon futile and intelligent vies, if it were not for those playful beings whose refinement puts them at once at the apex and in the margin of society?”  Of course, to admit to being an admirer of The Devil, Probably is to also virtually admit that one fantasies about suicide and the death of civilization, or at least one would expect nothing less from the film's most loyal of proponents.  On the other hand, the film can simply be admired for its strangely cozily hermetic depiction of the misspent lives and beauty of youth, thus it can be argued that it follows in the tradition.  After all, when Rimbaud wrote in regard to his poetry, “I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still” he could have been describing what Bresson accomplished with the oftentimes misused artistic medium of film.

-Ty E

Sep 25, 2017


While the western is as distinctly American as a Robert E. Lee statue or a philandering Baptist negro preacher, many enterprising foreign auteur filmmakers have tackled and, in some cases, even improved on the fairly formulaic genre. Indeed, whether it be Luis Trenker's surprisingly good Nazi era western Der Kaiser von Kalifornien (1936) aka The Emperor of California, Italian auteur Sergio Leone elevating the genre to virtual high art with his ‘Dollars Trilogy,’ underrated guido anarchist Giulio Questi incorporating gothic horror and gay fascist blackshirts in Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (1967), Hebraic Chilean Alejandro Jodorowsky's hyper hermetic Mexican midnight movie El Topo (1970), Swedish auteur Jan Troell's rather modest yet original Zandy's Bride (1974), iconoclastic Brit Alex Cox ‘punking’ the cowboy cinema with Straight to Hell (1987) and Walker (1987), Teutonic enfant terrible Rainer Werner Fassbinder making his own distinctly debauched take on the spaghetti western with Whity (1971), the various lame commie ‘Ostern’ (aka ‘Red Western) flicks of the Soviet Eastern Bloc, South African auteur Aryan Kaganof’s ghostly genocide-laden avant-garde short Western 4.33 (2002), or Argentine auteur Lisandro Alonso’s Danish flavored Viggo Mortensen vehicle Jauja (2014), the western—a genre Clint Eastwood once quite rightly stated of, “I have always felt that the Western movie is one of the few art forms that Americans can lay claim to. Next to jazz”—has certainly been reshaped, raped, and molested by filmmakers from virtually every first world nation in the world aside from the Netherlands, at least until relatively recently with the release of the somewhat underrated, if not flawed, epic Brimstone (2016) directed by rather rotund Dutch auteur Martin Koolhoven (Suzy Q, Oorlogswinter aka Winter in Wartime). Billed by some, including Koolhoven himself, as “the very first Dutch Western,” the film is technically a Dutch-French-German-Belgian-Swedish-British-American coproduction and features a largely international cast with mostly English speaking roles, yet it is also the film that probably comes closest to capturing the apocalyptic Calvinistic spirit of Dutch Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder paintings like The Triumph of Death (1562). In short, the film could not have been directed by a Hollywood filmmaker, which might seem far-fetched to some considering it stars baby diva Dakota Fanning, Australian action heartthrob Guy Pearce, and Game of Thrones stars Kit Harington and Carice van Houten, among various other non-arthouse oriented celebrities.  In short, the film is far too idiosyncratic, subversive, and just plain ‘feel bad’ to have been directed by some Hollywood hack or produced by some money-grubbing Tinseltown pimp producer.

 Undoubtedly, Koolhoven—a relatively young auteur that has clearly suffered a certain degree of Americanization as far as cultural and cinematic influences are concerned—is a filmmaker that I certainly have somewhat mixed feelings about. Although he began his filmmaking career on an inordinately strong note with the sweetly sick suburban melodrama-cum-satire Suzy Q (1999) and the decidedly dark, cruelly comedic and quasi-Lynchian oneiric arthouse thriller AmnesiA (2001) starring a delectably young and nubile Carice van Houten and Fedja van Huêt in a dual-role as twins and he would go on to direct admirable flicks like the rather grim quasi-Dogme 95 project Het Zuiden (2004) aka South, Koolhoven has also done his fair share of superlatively cringe-worthy hack work. In fact, Koolhoven demonstrated with infantile mainstream comedies like Het Schnitzelparadijs (2005) aka Schnitzel Paradise—a degenerate Rome and Juliet story about a brown Muslim’s quest to defile a blonde Dutch Aryanness that apparently made a lot of money in the Netherlands—and 'n Beetje Verliefd (2006) aka Happy Family that he is a shameless cuckold that has no problem disposing his artistic integrity to make insipid pro-miscegenation twaddle for stupid and naïve adolescent girls that might be dumb enough to believe that Moroccans make for cool boyfriends. Unfortunately, Brimstone also suffers from a slight yet unmistakable rancid Cultural Marxist stench, but luckily the film is so misanthropic and just plain fucked up that any left-wing message it contains is virtually neutralized. Vaguely feministic in the sense that it features an absurdly rough and tough dame portrayed by lapsed child star Dakota Fanning, the film is a sort of grotesque neo-revisionist western where the Wild West is portrayed as a virtual hell-on-earth where going to church and whorehouses are the most popular recreational activities and where Calvinist virgins can be turned into seasoned whores virtually overnight.  In short, Koolhoven does not seem to believe in heroes and practically views the Old West as one big gigantic plantation where a couple evil cowboys and religious men treat the rest of humanity like slaves and cattle.

 While I was initially dubious of Brimstone due to Koolhoven’s uniquely uneven oeuvre and the fact that it is the Dutch director's first English language film, I knew I had to watch it after reading a couple reviews from clearly offended mainstream American film critics. Indeed, seeing the film as a sort of “endurance test,” many of these lamestream critics seem to just lack the testicular fortitude (or, in many cases, testicles in general) to consume any sort of cinema that transcends sort of sociopathic Tarantinoesque pop violence, but I must admit that even I was somewhat taken aback when I read Glenn Kenny’s review at rogerebert.com where he reveals that he was so hopelessly offended and triggered by the film that he states regarding director Koolhoven, “I wonder if President Trump can extend that travel ban to The Netherlands.” While Brimstone features a heroine that could almost be described as an ‘all-competent ingénue’ were it not for her final fate, it seems the film’s propensity for girl power posturing is not enough to satiate the dry vags of the feeble feminists and limp dick cucks that just cannot bear to see a girl treated as anything less than an immaculate jewel that needs to be daintily polished and displayed in the most flattering of fashions.  Another excellent example of the hysteria against the film is a review from some emotionally bloated bitch boy named Zach Budgor at pastemagazine.com who go so far as complaining in regard to Brimstone that, “Calling it ‘problematic’ seems colossally inadequate” and then bitches, “Beneath all the pretensions, this is just a movie about Guy Pearce desperately wanting to fuck his daughter.”  Of course, Calvinist predatory father-daughter incest is a subject that, for better or worse, has more substance and intrigue than anything that Tarantino has ever touched.  Notably, this is not Koolhoven's first film that deals with father-daughter incest, as the Dutch auteur's aberrant made-for-TV cult flick Suzy Q also features a perverted patriarch with serious daughter issues, albeit depicted in a considerably less sensational fashion.

Although oftentimes overlooked due to America’s dominant Anglo-Saxon roots, the Dutch played a pivotal role in influencing the cultural and political climate of early America. For example, a 1657 religious clash between Peter Stuyvesant—the last Dutch director-general of the colony of New Netherland from 1647 until it was ceded provisionally to the English in 1664 and renamed New York—and Quakers led by John Bowne resulted in the Flushing Remonstrance, which ultimately served as the basis for religious freedom in America. While it is somewhat hard for me to imagine Dutch cowboys (incidentally, auteur Sam Peckinpah’s paternal family, which was involved with the Old West, originated from the Frisian Islands), the covert influence of Calvinism on the western genre is unmistakable and certainly put to intriguing use in Koolhoven’s Brimstone where a singularly wicked Dutch Reformed Church reverend act as a sort of symbolic devil of sorts in the still untamed land of the great American frontier. As depicted in the film, the Dutch immigrants have come to the U.S. because they believe that their motherland has become fair too spiritually degenerate and they truly believed that their new homeland is thee literal ‘Promised Land.’ Scorning his fiercely frigid wife due to the fact that their daughter still prays in Dutch, the Reverend, like so many of his contemporary kinsmen, is rather serious about ridding himself of his Dutch identity (incidentally, many of the original Dutch-Americans maintained their native tongue as demonstrated by the eighth President of the United States Martin van Buren who, despite by a sixth generation American, spoke Dutch as his first language). In that sense, the film reveals the American tendency toward deracination and eventual cultural retardation. Indeed, the good Reverend aggressively advocates the eradication of his first language in both his church and household, yet he and his flock are easily the most literate and cultivated people in the film, thus demonstrating the innate absurdity of the so-called melting pot. 

 Undoubtedly, one of the most intriguing aspects of Brimstone is that Koolhoven was able to incorporate the Calvinist angle in a surprisingly cinematic fashion, or as he explained in an interview with creativescreenwriting.com, “There is an idea of predetermination in Calvinism, and I wanted to hint in the movie that things are in a way predetermined. Just as an example, if a character gets shot in the head, at some previous point in the movie that character will touch their head. If somebody gets knifed in the stomach, they’ll touch their stomach earlier in the film.” Of course, the idea of predetermination becomes rather perverse when one considers the film features incestuous father-daughter rape, patricide, suicide, white child sex slavery, infanticide, unjustified whore lynchings, archaic glossectomies, etc. Needless to say, the film does not exactly feature a positive portrayal of Calvinism, but I doubt Koolhoven is any sort of religious scholar despite his religious upbringing as his film features the same sort of one-dimensional critique of Christianity that one would expect from the average Hollywood Hebraic hack. Luckily, Koolhoven is not as arrogant as the average Tinseltown Christ-killer and his anti-Calvinist tendencies do not seem to be motivated by mere atavistic hatred or resentment like the average chosenite. Notably, underrated Dutch auteur Adriaan Ditvoorst did a much better job criticizing Christianity with his sardonic anti-Biblical epic De mantel der Liefde (1978) aka The Mantle of Love, but I digress.  Personally, I think Koolhoven has repressed spiritual longings and Brimstone feels like a warped expression of that.  Unfortunately, Koolhoven lacks the nuance of a fellow lapsed Calvinist like Paul Schrader, who at least lends a certain humanity to the Dutch-American religious community depicted in his rather visceral flick Hardcore (1979).

 An undeniably ambitious and meticulously constructed 148-minute epic with a surprisingly provocative non-linear narrative that is divided into four Biblical chapters, Brimstone tells the somber yet sordid and sadomasochistic tale of a tongueless young mother named ‘Liz’ (Dakota Fanning in arguably the greatest and most mature role of her entire career) and why the mere voice of a false prophet Calvinist reverend (Guy Pearce) that randomly reappears in her completely consumes her soul with dread and disgust. Indeed, it is only long after he has committed a couple grisly killings and two of the four chapters of the film have passed that the viewer finally discovers the Reverend’s true connection to Liz and why he is so ruthlessly and wickedly determined to abduct the heroine and make her pay for her supposed sins so that he can ostensibly redeem himself from his own pathetic purgatorial existence.  At the beginning of the film when she is first introduced, Liz seems to be somewhat happy, albeit mute, as she works as a midwife with her little daughter Sam—a virtual ‘mini-me’ that practically worships her vocally-challenged mother in the sweetest sort of way—who she uses sign language with when communicating to women in labor. Although her 14-year-old stepson Matthew (Jack Hollington) somewhat resents her since she has replaced his own deceased mother, Liz has a loving, if not somewhat naive and somewhat weak, husband named Eli (William Houston). Despite her seemingly happy home life, Liz has a somewhat vague haunted expression, as if she is doing everything she can to hide the internal pain that plagues her soul.  As the viewer learns as the film progresses, Liz is a survivor in the truest sense, though, rather unfortunately, everyone she seems to love and care about is killed in quite horrendous ways by the all-jealous and all-vengeance Reverend.  Surely accursed yet completely undeserving of her seemingly perennially nightmarish plight, the heroine is indubitably is a virtual symbolic punching bag in terms of the brutality and lack of fairness and justice in the world.

 Unfortunately, Liz’s life of relative normalcy almost immediately becomes a nefarious nightmare when the good Reverend unexpectedly arrives at her local church and begins his cryptically self-denigrating ‘fire and brimstone’ homiletics routine about the perils of false prophets. Indeed, literally the same day that the Reverend—a well groomed authoritarian type with a fairy large and intimidating scar on his face—shows up at church, a pregnant woman goes into labor inside of said church and Liz must make a horrific choice in regard to the pregnancy and ultimately takes upon herself to kill the baby by crushing its skull so that the mother does not die in childbirth.  While Liz immediately accuses the Reverend of somehow orchestrating the tragedy, her husband Eli simply cannot believe that the (un)holy man has the assumedly supernatural means or harsh amorality to carryout such a depraved act. Not long after the tragic incident, the dead baby’s heartbroken father, Nathan (Bill Tangradi), shows up late at night at the family's farm while drunk on whisky, sets a wagon on fire, and then begins shooting at Liz’s house in a desperate attempt to kill her. Ultimately, the Reverend shows up and acts the part of a noble hero by coercing Nathan into going home.  While Eli believes the Reverend is a hero, Liz certainly knows better.

 Against Liz’s wishes, Eli invites the Reverend into his home to thank him while the heroine hides in another room with a petrified expression on her almost ghostly, porcelain-like face. When Eli temporarily leaves the room, the Reverend, who can sense the heroine's presence, reveals his true feelings for Liz by stating as she lurks behind a wall, “I know you’re there, and I know you can hear me. You may have no tongue, but there is nothing wrong with your ears. Why do doubts rise in your heart? Why are you troubled? How do you sleep at night? How does it feel to be a murderess? Do you know why I am here? I’m here to punish you. Do you love this family? I’ve looked at your daughter. She’s almost a young woman already.” Needless to say, the Reverend’s words positively petrify Liz, but it is not until much later in the film that the viewer comes to understand why the heroine is so abjectly afraid of the menacing man of god.  On top of quite symbolically slaughtering the family’s flock of sheep to such a savage degree that he rips an unborn lamb out of one of the beasts' wombs, the Reverend eventually disembowels Eli and then makes him suffer in hellish agony by wrapping his intestines around his neck like a noose. Before his son Matthew puts him out of his misery by blowing him away with a shotgun, Eli tells Liz to take the kids and flee to his father’s home in the mountains. Of course, the Reverend follows, but the viewer has to watch two flashback chapters before the films picks up where it began in the first chapter. 

 As the film progresses, the viewer eventually discovers that Liz is actually the extra estranged daughter of the Reverend and that she is living under a fake identity that she borrowed from a dead friend. In fact, Liz, whose real name is ‘Joanna,’ was so adamant about changing her identity and starting a completely new life for herself that she dared to personally cutout her own tongue so that she could assume the identity of her tongueless prostitute pal ‘Elizabeth Brundy’ (Carla Juri), who had her tongue dismembered by the girls' mutual ultra sleazy cowboy pimp Frank (Paul Anderson). Although born into a devout Calvinist family, Joanna aka ‘Liz’ eventually ran away from home and was forced into prostitution after a series of tragic and just downright disgusting and depraved events, including the violent suicide of her meek mother Anna (Carice van Houten), the coldblooded murder of her outlaw would-be-lover Samuel (Kit Harington), and incestuous rape at the hand of her own depraved daddy, among other things. Notably, all of these horrible things happened to Liz when she was practically still a little girl shortly after her period in a scenario that brings sick irony to the Reverend sermon, “The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate. And then the Lord God said to the woman: ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’”

As if he could instinctively smell the scent of her first drop of menstrual blood, the Reverend became completely sexually enamored with Liz after she had her first period and soon came to the conclusion that he should marry and procreate with his daughter.  Unfortunately for the Rev, Liz is a fighter that learned from the pathological passivity of her mother to never submit to the depraved desires of an overbearing brute.  While the suicide of her mother gave the Reverend the perfect opportunity to make her his wife, Liz ultimately decided to runaway from home and take the risk of fending for herself in the quite dangerous and morally bankrupt realm of cowboy country, hence her first occupation as a prostitute.  Spending her best teenage years as a pussy-peddler at a cathouse with the fitting name ‘The Inferno,’ Liz encounters some of the most unsavory, brutal, pervert, and just plain degenerate men in the Old West, but none of these foul fellows are quite as cruel as her own distinctly fucked up father.  As someone that was deflowered by her own daddy, Liz is naturally able to tolerate a couple cruddy cowpokes creaming in her cunt.  In fact, she is depicted as being quite bored by sex with johns.

 Using the words of Paul the Apostle “If any man thinks that he is behaving himself unseemly toward his virgin daughter, if she pass the flower of her age, and if need so requires, let him do what he will; he is not sinning; let them marry” as a rather creepy and desperate yet nonetheless seemingly biblically sound rationalization, the Reverend intended to make his daughter Joanna/Liz as his wife, but he was only able to rape her once before she managed to get away and thus was never able to consummate the incestuous marriage. On top of raping her, the Reverend murdered Liz’s first true love Samuel—a kindhearted convict and killer that she secretly hid in her family's barn for a number of days, if not weeks—after he dared to attempt to stop the (un)holy man from ritualistically raping his daughter on a church altar. Needless to say, becoming a prostitute was a small price for Liz to pay after being raped by her preposterously prideful progenitor. Of course, it was while Liz was working at ‘The Inferno’ whorehouse that her father was finally able to catch up with her after a number of years of looking for her in the hope of finally consummating their marriage.  Needless to say, Liz was not exactly interested in becoming her father's lawful fucktoy.  Indeed, instead of being defiled by her daddy a second time, Liz, who has turned into quite the bad bitch after a number of years of commercial sexual debasement, opts to slit his throat and set him on fire, hence her almost otherworldly dread and fear when he somehow returns many years later as depicted at the beginning of the film in an assumedly all-powerful undead form. On top of being a spiritually schizophrenic puritanical zombie of sorts, the Reverend is all the more murderous, displays a supernatural level of strength, and is seemingly immortal, or at least until he dares to fuck with Liz’s tiny blonde daughter Sam.  While the Rev manages to demonstrate he is a master sniper by shooting and killing Liz's stepson from a great distance in the middle of a blizzard, he is not exactly as efficient when it comes to dealing with his own severely emotionally damaged daughter.

 Near the very end of the film, the Reverend poetically declares whilst in literal flames just before his daughter delivers what may or may not be a fatal blow via gunshot, “People think it’s the flames that make hell unbearable. It’s not. It’s the absence of love.” This quote and a couple other quotes from the film reveal that the Reverend is not simply a perniciously perverted monster, but a grotesquely tragic figure who, despite his many glaring flaws, is a hopeless romantic at heart who is forsaken with falling in love with his own teenage daughter. In fact, the film’s portrayal of the Rev inspired film critic Glenn Kenny to reveal his lack of testicular fortitude and moan, “In any event, by the finale, it is entirely clear that the Reverend is the character with whom Koolhoven actually identifies. Gross. I wonder if President Trump can extend that travel ban to The Netherlands.” Personally, I can only hope that Koolhoven most closely identifies with the Rev as it would be rather pathetic, impotent, and emasculating if he felt close to the heroine, but I sincerely doubt it as the character is far too contrived to be an expression of the auteur’s somewhat dubious soul.  Indeed, while Liz unquestionably takes up most of the screen time, the Reverend is ultimately the most nuanced and unforgettable character in the entire film, as a ludicrously lovelorn figure comparable to Vincent Price's eponymous character in Robert Fuest's The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), albeit way more fucked up. While Koolhoven has stated in various interviews that he wanted to do something new with the western genre by depicting the supposed inordinate misery that women suffered in the American West in comparison to their male counterparts, I somehow doubt that he, like many so many other male feminists, really gives a serious shit about female suffering, especially since certain scenes in Brimstone border on torture porn and they oftentimes have a fetishistic S&M/BDSM quality that would certainly get some women wet and some men hard, but I digress.

 Naturally, it is only fitting that the heroine of Koolhoven's film is an (ex)prostitute because, as Georges Bataille once wrote, “With prostitution, the prostitute was dedicated to a life of transgression. The sacred or forbidden aspect of sexual activity remained apparent in her, for her whole life was dedicated to violating the taboo.”  Somewhat ironically, the prostitute is a revered figure in classic westerns as indicated by the timeless whore-with-a-heart-of-gold archetype, so it is somewhat curious that Koolhoven would portray pussy-peddlers as a much loathed figures that are frequently mutilated and hanged by overly eager bloodthirsty hicks.  In Koolhoven's mind, women only become prostitutes as a result of some form of male abuse, as if women completely lack agency. Of course, it is no coincidence that Brimstone—a film that prides itself on breaking taboos—was directed by a lapsed Calvinist, as it is symbolic of the very real spiritual degeneracy of the Netherlands as a whole and how the nation went from Puritanism to legal pot and prostitution virtually over night, just as the equally degenerate Germans went from attempting to ridding themselves of racial aliens during the Third Reich to attempting to commit virtual collective suicide via low birth rates and mass immigration.  Indeed, for or better or worse, there is no question that the film was directed by a spiritually sick man with a busted moral compass and no amount of insincere feminist posturing is going to change that.  Undoubtedly, it might be better to describe Brimstone as the ‘first anti-Calvinist western’ instead of the ‘first Dutch western,’ as the film is first and foremost as rather resentful work of contra Calvinism that just features too many cowboys to feel even remotely Dutch.

 Somewhat unfortunately, in his rather revealing interview with creativescreenwriting.com, Koolhoven expressed a special affinity for proudly pozzed pop filmmaker Quentin Tarantino and his intricately cuckolded negrophile anti-westerns, or as the Dutch auteur himself explained, “DJANGO UNCHAINED looks at that period through different eyes, showing the black experience, and my movie looks at the era through female eyes. They’re both movies that look at history in a different way. It’s not something that I really thought about as I was writing BRIMSTONE, but at some point I realized that even though I made a movie that is completely different from DJANGO UNCHAINED, I think they are in some ways spiritually connected.” Of course, in a certain sense, Koolhoven is right as his film, not unlike Tarantino's celluloid cow turd, is a product of its particular pathetic zeitgeist and thus an unwittingly damning expression of the spiritual degeneracy, gross emasculation, moral retardation, and senseless nihilism of the contemporary Dutch male. Undoubtedly, it is the ultimate disgrace to the genre that a perverted part-injun podophile and proud ethno-masochist like Tarantino would direct a Western—a style created by proud white Americans that reflects, quite literally, true and virtuous white supremacy of the classic nation-building sort—as he personally lacks any of the qualities of the traditional western hero, hence his nasty knack for nappy-headed degeneration and groveling feet fetishism.

Naturally, as the bastard broad of a sexually promiscuous single mother that would expose her son to various black boyfriends during a time when only the most irredeemable white trash proles engaged in such dysgenic behavior, Tarantino would grew up to be the virtual spiritual nemesis of western genre maestro John Ford.  While Django Unchained (2012)—a film that is a grotesque insult to the classic Sergio Corbucci spaghetti western Django (1966) that it borrows its name from—is indubitably vapidly buffoonish neo-blaxploitation porn for anti-white bloodlusting negroes and racially schizophrenic white liberals and wiggers—Tarantino would completely outdo himself in terms of self-flagellating faggotry with his follow-up ‘neo-western’ The Hateful Eight (2015), which is notable for featuring loudmouth alpha-spade Samuel L. Jackson forcing a Confederate soldier to suck his STD-ridden prick just before killing him in a scenario that can only be described as negro power style sod sadism. Undoubtedly, for reviewers to complain about the supposed ‘twisted brutality’ of Brimstone yet no so much as make a peep about the truly otherworldly masochistic cuckolded fantasies featured in celebrated shabbos goy Tarantino’s melanin-marinated westerns just goes to show the sort of collective moral insanity and racial retardation that plagues the conspicuously kosher mainstream. Additionally, while Koolhoven’s flick might have been directed by a degenerate man that clearly has hang-ups in regard to both his own gender and ancestral faith, the film never succumbs to the cartoonish gynocentrism of Tarantino's two volume foot fetish fantasy Kill Bill (2003).  Indeed, Koolhoven's film might feature various examples of female strength that border on the patently absurd, it also features a lot of female weakness and concludes on a bittersweet note that reminds that viewer that, quite unlike the Hebrew-helmed Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), even female heroines are not invincible and that this planet has always been and will always be a man's world.

 Although Koolhoven clearly intended to directed his own equivalent to Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (1924) in terms of sheer cinematic grandeur and misanthropic magnitude, Brimstone is ultimately a flawed cinematic curiosity that is, in my humble opinion, slightly inferior to the director’s rather ambitious early feature AmnesiA. In terms of epic flawed westerns directed by assumed megalomaniacs that people either seem to love or love to hate, the film certainly deserves to be compared to Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1980). Don’t get me wrong, I think the film is considerably overlooked in the United States where it barely played in theaters and received scathing reviews from a number of mainstream film critics, but it might be a little bit of puffery to compare it to a genuine masterpiece like Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955), even if it shares superficial similarities, as it is simply not a film of the same artistic caliber. Indeed, aside from being somewhat flawed in the narrative sense and featuring rather awkward dialogue and delivery of lines (it should be noted that Koolhoven, who speaks fairly good English, originally wrote the script in Dutch and then later had it translated into English), the film suffers the virtually artistically fatal flaw of lame leftist virtue signaling, namely of the innately inane quasi-feministic sort.  As an anti-Marxist Pasolini fan, I can certainly overlook the politics of a flick if it is artistically genuine, but the anti-Christian and feminist posturing of Brimstone just does not feel completely authentic, as if the director included such repugnant elements in the hope of receiving praise from the right film critics. While a totally preposterous piece of prosaic pussy juice, Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff (2010), quite unlike Koolhoven's film, at least has a certain undeniable authenticity about it as far as feminists westerns are concerned.

Not unlike Tarantino, albeit to a less critical degree, Koolhoven seems to be a moral savage that has drank the cultural Marxist Kool-Aid and feels it necessary to emasculate himself in a less than sincere fashion by creating a world where all powerful men are evil and virtually all women of victims of said men, as if the West was not won mostly via the blood, sweat, and tears of courageous men that were quite literally willing to risk their lives to make a better life for their wives and children. Naturally, it is a sad irony that is a seemingly spiritually castrated man would tackle a genre that is notorious for being fueled by pure and unadulterated testosterone, but then again Brimstone still has its odd virtues and can certainly celebrated for, if nothing else, its decidedly darkly romantic tone.  In a sense, the film is an artistic tragedy of sorts as it is so close to being a great film, thus making its flaws all the more unbearable to accept.

In terms of its anti-Calvinist angle and somewhat frivolous and phony feminist subtext, Brimstone can certainly be compared to Robert Eggers' somewhat more immaculate horror flick The Witch (2015).  Unfortunately, both films were clearly created by spiritually castrated ‘nu-males’ that somehow see it as a necessity to use their genre films as a means to criticize the patriarchy while depicting teenage girls as the most enlightened of beings.  Personally, I just think these beta boys worship the nice and fresh cunts of hot teenage girls.  Either way, nothing screams beta-male more than directing a film where strong and masculine males are depicted in an excessively negative light, as only a resentful wuss would be compelled to do such a thing.

 Although Irish poet William Butler Yeats once insightfully wrote, “Sex and death are the only things that can interest a serious mind,” one has to wonder if death is more arousing to Koolhoven than sex as Brimstone is indubitably at its most erotically-charged during its death and torture scenes. Indeed, whether it be a man being strangled by his own intestines or some sadistic hick almost chocking to death a whore during a session of capitalist coitus, the film takes both a fetishistic and ritualistic approach to death while at the same time portraying sex oftentimes in an oftentimes grotesque and uniquely unpleasant fashion, thus revealing the director's somewhat warped latent Calvinist tendencies. In short, as Brimstone and some of his other films demonstrate, Koolhoven seems to be compelled by a ‘Todestrieb,’ as if his films are the visceral expression of atavistic impulses associated with being descended from a long line of anti-sex Calvinists.  In that sense, Koolhoven's film can certainly be compared to Dutch auteur Jos Stelling's excellent directorial debut Mariken van Nieumeghen (1974) Mariken from Nieumeghen.

Undoubtedly, the following words from Nietzchean anarchist Georges Bataille seem to offer some insight into the overly sensual murders of Koolhoven’s film, “Erotic activity, by dissolving the separate beings that participate in it, reveals their fundamental continuity, like the waves of a stormy sea. In sacrifice, the victim is divested not only of clothes but of life (or is destroyed in some way if it is an inanimate object). The victim dies and the spectators share in what his death reveals. This is what religious historians call the element of sacredness. This sacredness is the revelation of continuity through the death of a discontinuous being to those who watch it as a solemn rite. A violent death disrupts the creature’s discontinuity; what remains, what the tense onlookers experience in the succeeding silence, is the continuity of all existence with which the victim is now one. Only a spectacular killing, carried out as the solemn and collective nature of religion dictates, has the power to reveal what normally escapes notice […] Everything leads us to the conclusion that in essence the sacramental quality of primitive sacrifices is analogous to the comparable element in contemporary religions.” Although just speculation, I have a feeling that the rather visceral and sacrifice-like murders depicted in the film are a degenerate subconscious attempt by Koolhoven—an atheist that had a religious upbringing—to express certain latent spiritual tendencies. Needless to say, Koolhoven would probably benefit from readopting his Calvinist faith and laying off too much exploitation trash lest he devolve into a spiritually deformed creature that is as hopelessly morally and aesthetically bankrupt as Tarantino. 

 While Brimstone would have the viewer believe that the Old West was a virtual hell-on-earth for all women, the fact remains that, even during that time, Western women were the freest and most privileged women in the entire world. Indeed, it is no coincidence that a long dead kraut fart like Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) would complain of “…our old French notions of gallantry and our preposterous system of reverence – that highest product of Teutonico-Christian stupidity.” After all, only the metaphysical affliction of feminism and its related comorbid spiritual diseases could inspire the esoteric white knighting depicted Brimstone. In fact, the thing I found most disturbing about the film is that it was produced by a male mind, even if it is not all that strange for a male mind to create scenarios where a very young and nubile dame like Dakota Fanning is forced into sexually compromising positions (though she is never actually depicted nude). As far as westerns are concerned, Hollywood golden age maverick John Ford would have probably deeply loathed the film, or so one would assume from his less than pretentious remark, “I like, as a director and a spectator, simple, direct, frank films. Nothing disgusts me more than snobbism, mannerism, technical gratuity... and, most of all, intellectualism.” Speaking of Ford, he practically perfectly described the Reverend’s curse and a central theme of the film when he once stated, “Love is the tyrant of the heart; it darkens reason, confounds discretion; deaf to Counsel it runs a headlong course to desperate madness.” Plagued by perennial aimless peregrinations in a metaphysical purgatory of the heart, the Reverend is nothing if not the most hopeless of hopeless romantics and a character that reveals that auteur Koolhoven is a passionate man that makes passionate films, even when they are tragically tainted with lame leftist posturing.  Despite its flaws, Brimstone is indubitably unforgettable and a cinematic work that merits subsequent viewing.  Undoubtedly, were Koolhoven to be ‘red-pilled’ and receive so much needed lessons from the writings of Nietzsche, Spengler, Evola, and Weininger, he could probably become a great auteur, but for known he seems to be plagued by tactical nihilist tendencies that compel him to subvert primordial archetypes, hence his weakness as an artist.  After all, there seems to be an innately repellent quality in the artistic creations of someone that seems to be ashamed of their own genitals, just as their is something quite loathsome about someone that goes to great pains to besmirch and defile their own ancestral faith and culture.  If one learns anything by watching Brimstone, it is that Koolhoven seems petrified by the concept of the Old West and he, quite unlike so many generations of American males, really does not have an innate understanding of the romantic quality of being a cowboy and gunning down redskins.

-Ty E