Jun 10, 2013


Long before flaming homo Hebrew Joel Schumacher (Falling Down, The Lost Boys) expressed his fantasy of seeing Nicholas Cage and Joaquin Phoenix in a quasi-homoerotic relationship in his sleazy crime-thriller 8mm (1999)—the story of a private investigator who delves deep in the underworld of snuff films—screenwriter turned film auteur Paul Schrader (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, The Comfort of Strangers) directed Hardcore (1979), the almost gratuitously sleazy yet surprisingly spiritual celluloid tale of an extremely religious Calvinist businessman who enters the unhinged underworld of pornos, prostitutes, pimps, and snuff films in search of his missing daughter who was last seen in an amateur porn film with a twinkish homo hustler. A work rather similar to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), a work penned by Schrader, in its depiction of a sexually repressed outsider of the exceedingly lonely sort who enters a savage urban underworld with the noble intention of saving an underage girl from further moral and sexual degradation, Hardcore is assuredly one of the few and uncompromising films of its time in its relatively honest and politically incorrect depiction of the sort of degeneration of the body and soul that has plagued the West ever since the advent of the counter-culture movements and the sexual revolution, which guaranteed personal freedom of the self-indulgent and hedonist sort, but at the price of one's ancestral faith. Directed by a lapsed member of the Calvinist Christian Reformed Church who did not see his first movie until he was 17-years-old due to his rather strict and repressed upbringing, Hardcore also does not exactly give a flattering depiction of the religious community it portrays, so much so that the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan proclaimed that Schrader’s work gave an “unfavorable depiction of middle America.” More than anything, however, Hardcore demonstrates how impotent and ineffective religion is today in the face of a secular society addicted to sex and self-gratification of the needlessly and heedlessly nihilistic sort. Starring ‘all-American’ actor George C. Scott (Patton, Dr. Strangelove), a fellow who hated writer/director Paul Schrader so much that he threatened to quit the film and made the then-novice director promise he would never direct a film again (thankfully, he decided to break that promise), Hardcore is probably the only film ever made to demonstrate that sex is considered rather worthless and shallow for both stern Calvinists and debauched prostitutes. 

 Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott) is a rather repressed yet successful divorced businessman of the Calvinist faith who works and prays hard, but has a hard time expressing emotions to his darling teenage daughter Kristen (Ilah Davis), who he alone raised. When Kristen disappears without a trace on a seemingly harmless church-sponsored trip to California, Jake wastes no time in hiring a private investigator named Andy Mast (Peter Boyle) after the police prove to be rather worthless in their search. Naturally, Jake becomes quite disgusted with Mast’s vulgarity, but the real sickening icing on the decadent cake comes when the private investigator turns up a gritty 8mm amateur porn flick entitled “Slaves of Love” featuring the Calvinist businessman’s daughter in a variety of compromised sexual positions with a blond fag that looks like an anorexic version of Peter Berlin.  Rather absurdly, Mast has Jake unwitting view the porn flick with his little girl, which inspires the Calvinist to cry out, “Turn it off! Turn if off! TURN IT OFF!” while in a state of macabre metaphysical torture.  Naturally, Jake assumes his good conservative daughter was kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery of sorts and that she did not merely runaway as the police and Mast have insinuated, so he begins to dig deep into the world of a degenerate subculture where sex, sins, and souls are sold. When Jake catches his perverted P.I. Mast messing around with a less than pretty porn star, he fires his horribly horny ass and makes his way to Los Angeles, California to pose as a pornography producer in the Los Angeles Free Press so as to find better leads to the whereabouts of his daughter, hoping to run into the blond boy that boned her. Under the false pretense of auditioning young men for a fake porno film, Jake eventually runs into the blonde twink, a fairy fellow named Jism Jim, who banged his daughter for a couple bucks in the porn film and proceeds to brutally beat the little twink bitch, but not before getting information regarding Kristen (who he eloquently describes as “one crazy freaking bitch”) and the man who made the film. With the information he receives from Jism, Jake is led to a sassy porno actress/hooker named Niki (Season Hubley), who the Calvinist pays a large weekly sum to travel with him and help find his daughter in San Diego where she might be hanging around as the lecherous lady has a number of seedy underworld connections. Rather strangely, Niki and Jake become friendly with each other, largely because the Calvinist is the first man she has met who does not want to screw her and because he finds it easy to admit things to her that he could never say to Kristen, including the touching subject of his divorce. Through a degenerate fellow named Tod (Gary Graham) that Niki knows, Jake is lead to a sinister mestizo named Ratan (Marc Alaimo) who deals in snuff films, which the Calvinist has the unfortunate opportunity to view for a large lump sum, thus confirming his suspicions regarding the lunatic of a Latino's dubious character. Ultimately, Kristen is found with Ratan and Jake has no problem blowing the beaner away when he finally catches him but Mast, who has been hired by the Calvinist’s brother (who felt Jake might be a danger to himself and others because he is an “angry, unhappy man”), does the killing. To Jake’s surprise, he learns that his daughter ran away under her own free will, admitting to her father, “I’m with people who love me now. You robbed my life.” Rather magically, Kristen comes around and agrees to come home with daddy, and Hardcore concludes in a half-positive fashion, though the father-daughter relationship is certainly going to need some work. 

 Undoubtedly one of Paul Schrader’s best films, Hardcore was also a rather personal work for the Dutch-American auteur as he based the protagonist of the film on his own father, a rather strict Calvinist who obviously had a deep and arguably deleterious influence on his son who, as his films testify to, seems to suffer from an unhealthy amount of guilt. As the protagonist Jake Van Dorn mentions in Hardcore, Calvinists believe in the theological doctrine of “Total Depravity,” which teaches that as a consequence of the Fall of Man, every person is enslaved to the service of sin. Undoubtedly in Hardcore and Taxi Driver, as well as a number of other Schrader penned/directed films, it is interesting to note that the protagonist enters a virtual hell on earth where sin is a virtual currency and it is up to the protagonist to dig through the human slime and save a character from a doomed life of sinning. Interestingly, Jake Van Dorn’s daughter runs away largely because of her father’s repressive, sin-free religious nature, but it is also his deep commitment to Calvinism and the belief that he is going to heaven that gives him the seemingly superhuman strength to beat up homo hustlers, sadomasochistic pimps, and snuff producers. Whether one wants to admit it or not, most people are too weak to control their natural impulses and curiosity and need something like religion in their life to refrain 'sinning' and Hardcore certainly makes that point, but not without the criticism that with religion comes repression and a detachment from the ‘mainstream,’ especially in a relatively cosmopolitan country like America where homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, miscegenation, cross-dressing, and drug use are actively promoted by television and Hollywood. Indeed, what makes Hardcore a ‘hardcore’ film, especially as a Hollywood production, is that it exposes the fact that the root of degeneracy in America is a lack a serious traditional religiousness, especially among young whites in cities.  As the grandson of a Dutchman who was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, I doubt there will ever be a point in my life where I could ween myself off movies, especially like those in the anti-Hollywood tradition of Hardcore, a virtual celluloid gospel for the degenerate postmodern age.

-Ty E

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