May 16, 2012
Upon first viewing Philip Ridley’s second feature-length film The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995), I was – at best – mildly entertained, but regrettably disheartened, yet the film never left my mind. I originally watched the work a day after I first saw Ridley’s daring debut feature The Reflecting Skin (1990); a work I instantly regarded as one of my favorite films, so one could say I had exaggerated expectations before watching the director’s second feature. Recently, I took it upon myself to re-watch both The Reflecting Skin and The Passion of Darkly Noon as a double-feature. Like The Reflecting Skin, The Passion of Darkly Noon proved to be a more aesthetically potent and nobly mystifying work upon subsequent viewings. Starring Brendan Fraser, Ashley Judd, and Viggo Mortensen, The Passion of Darkly Noon is a work that boasts an all-star Hollywood cast and a seemingly straightforward plot for a thriller, yet – not unlike The Reflecting Skin – it is a film that unmitigatedly transcends preconceptions one would have for such a seemingly formulaic and straightforward work. Like Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly (1961), The Passion of Darkly Noon takes its title from passage 1 Corinthians 13 ("Now we see through a glass, darkly...") of the Bible and deals with the inevitable hopelessness of a degenerative mental disorder in an exotic rural setting. Although set in the Appalachian region of North Carolina, The Passion of Darkly Noon was actually filmed in rural Germany, thus giving the work a mystical quality comparable to that of the elysian silent German Mountains films. Akin to his previous effort The Reflecting Skin, Philip Ridley's The Passion of Darkly Noon is an audacious adult fairytale that is in good company with films like Garth Maxwell's Jack Be Nimble (1993), Nick Willing's Photographing Fairies (1997), and Jeremy Thomas' All the Little Animals (1999). Unsurprisingly, director Philip Ridley cited the child folk tales of the Brothers Grimm as a major influence on the storyline and aura of The Passion of Darkly Noon; a work of penetrating imponderabilia that is patently otherworldly from its erratic opening to its curiously hopeful (if equally tragic) ending. Like David Lynch (who Ridley is often compared to), Ridley has described his approach to filmmaking as primarily intuitive and barely intellectual, hence the quasi-spiritual nature of his work. Despite the ethereal constitution of The Passion of Darkly Noon, the film is scarcely sympathetic towards Christianity, especially of the ultra-conservative cultish sort, and, in fact, portrays an overbearing Nazarene upbringing as the nefarious and demonic source of psychosis and corrosive pathology. In part, Ridley hired the two lead actors due to their vintage all-American good looks as he felt that Brendan Fraser resembled Elvis Presley and that Ashley Judd echoed the semblance of Marilyn Monroe. While watching The Passion of Darkly Noon, it is easy to see why the director made this conscious decision, as like the character of Darkly (Fraser), Mr. Presley was a sexually-puritanical momma's boy and like Ms. Monroe, Callie (Judd) is an unorthodox temptress with a knack for seducing men of various creeds and ages. Indeed, The Passion of Darkly Noon is a diacritic slice of zestful yet zany imported American pie. Of course, like all great culinary artists, Ridley has his own secret esoteric recipe.
Darkly Moon (played by Brendan Fraser) has a couple problems. He is a virgin man-child whose only close friends/family members – his parents – have been gunned down by angry town folk. Running frantically in an attempt to save his hopelessly holy life, Darkly boy somehow ends up in the forests of Appalachia and is nearly run down by a kindly coffin-transporter named Jude (Loren Dean). Seeing that Darkly is blatantly daunted and possibly deranged, Jude brings the large lad to beauteous blonde Callie’s quaint and secluded forest-covered homestead. Upon nursing Darkly back to equilibrium, Callie takes an instant, if enigmatic, liking to the goofy boy and his peculiar brand of innocence. Unfortunately for both Darkly and Callie, the passive commando-for-Christ and his idle penis soon develop an overwhelming love for the tender woman that treated him so graciously. Callie is in love with a prick of a mute named Clay (Viggo Mortensen); a man that does not need words to express his pathological haughtiness and sexual prowess. To deal with his staggering sexual repression, Darkly commits the almighty sin of spilling his seeds in the moonlight, but this proves to an insufficient form of erotic deliverance for a man that has yet to penetrate and respire an actual furry flapper before his dismally weary, sad virginal eyes. Darkly also engages in masochistic behavior, torturing himself via barbwire and even going so far as wearing an undergarment suit of bloodletting wired spikes. It is not until Darkly meets Clay’s eccentric mother Roxy (Grace Zabriskie) randomly in the woods that he begins to consider that Callie may be an ill-boding conspiring witch that holds sinister supernatural sway over him. After seeing a 20-foot-long silver shoe randomly floating down the river, Clay begins to loss what is left of his Christian-lobotomized mind, but it is not until Clay sees bullet-ridden apparitions of his deceased parents that the loony lad must deal with cunning Callie and her dubious (and apparently diabolical) ways. In a fairytale realm, Darkly’s visions might be seemingly genuine, but it is quite apparent in The Passion of Darkly Noon that, from the get go, the poor boy is suffering from a monumental mental disturbance that is steadily disintegrating what is left of his fragile personality. Inevitably, Darkly finally experiences an atavistic transformation, henceforth ‘evolving’ into a quasi-paganized red-body-paint-wearing modern day berserker of sorts who carries a spear and is immune to pain and has nil serious qualms about storming half-naked through a fire and brimstone domain of scorching flames.
Auteur Philip Ridley has described his work The Passion of Darkly Noon as, “Marquis de Sade meets Liberace” (minus the homoerotic flamboyancy) but also as a work with its own “fairytale language” and “dream logic.” As a trained painter and all-around multifarious artist, Ridley has also admitted to realizing his films mostly in a visual fashion as opposed to a dialogue-driven manner. As a fan of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), Ridley has noted that The Passion of Darkly Noon is a work where one knows from the beginning that something awe-inspiring will inevitably befall the lead protagonist, thus leading to an impetuous climax that acts as a substitute to an actual sexual orgasm. Somewhat strikingly, Ridley considers The Passion of Darkly Noon a virtual reflective visual/thematic encyclopedia of horror cinema, as he cites everything from the films of Roger Corman to classic slasher flicks like John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980) as influences, but I certainly failed to consciously notice any of these (apparently) crucial and seamlessly blended works upon my initial viewing of the film. This may be due to the fact that Ridley intended these references as not pastiche nor parody, but as pseudo-spiritual allusions comparable to those made with traditional Christian iconography, thus, in a sense, The Passion of Darkly Noon is a work of eclectic blasphemy and artistically-refined horror cinema worship. On top of taking a quasi-pagan stance by portraying the eternal power of nature as the height of purity and depicting Christianity as a baneful source of aberrant inorganic abstraction, as well as making somewhat cynical references to the bible itself, The Passion of Darkly Noon begets a religion out of the almost wholly unholy horror genre, replacing Christ with fictional mass murderers Michael Myers/Jason Vorhees and mother Mary/Mary Magdalene with the archetypical seductive scream-queen, except to a more labyrinthine level. Of course, it would be superlatively misleading and disparaging to merely compare The Passion of Darkly Noon to works of traditional horror cinema, as it certainly transcends – both in aesthetic and thematic complexity – the mostly mundane formulas of the often formless genre. Ultimately, The Passion of Darkly Noon has more in common (at least visually) with the work of Ridley’s painter hero Frances Bacon – the subversive Anglo-Irish figurative painter – than any kitsch horror flick created by B-movie producers just to make a quick buck, as the filmmaker is foremost an uncompromising artist and secondly, a horror fan, hence his is lack of notoriety even in the horror world. Ultimately, Philip Ridley’s summed up The Passion of Darkly Noon as a tale of silver (magic, enchantment, innocence, etc) versus red (passion, blood, the darker feelings, etc), which I think is quite an apropos description, but, naturally, one will never discover the erotically-charged essence and marvelous mystique of the film unless they actually take the to watch it and reflect on the delightfulness of Darkly's invigorated lapse with sanity and the virtual forest of hair that lays quite naturally on Ashley Judd's underarm.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:08 AM
Soiled Sinema 2007 - 2013. All rights reserved. Best viewed in Firefox and Chrome.