Feb 11, 2014

Eureka (1983)

Maybe it's because I am sometimes somewhat of a contrarian, but I have to admit that I think Eureka (1983)—an epic cinematic work that takes its name from the Edgar Allan Poe essay of the same name that was shelved for two years and would only receive sporadic theatric distribution in a handful of cities upon its release in 1985—is not only the most underrated and unjustly scorned film by British auteur Nicholas Roeg (Walkabout, The Man Who Fell to Earth), but also a masterwork and arguably the filmmaker’s celluloid magnum opus that demonstrates the auteur almost achieved what so few other filmmakers have: a celluloid Gesamtkunstwerk. As analyzed by Roeg himself, “I was initially interested in a character who wanted to satisfy an all-consuming desire...'that's what I want'...but when he gets it, what happens after his brief ecstatic moment? Nothing more than left over life to kill,” Eureka is loosely based on the still unsolved murder of American-born British Canadian gold miner, entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist Sir Harry Oakes, 1st Baronet, who was brutally battered and burned to death in 1943 in his lavish Bahamas-based mansion. As depicted in Eureka, many different people are suspected of wanting Oakes dead, including his son-in-law, longtime business partner, and Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky (who did not like the fact that the rich man resisted his attempts to build casinos on the Bahamas islands). As critics have noted, Eureka is essentially Roeg’s thematic equivalent to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) as a work depicting a stinking rich quasi-antihero who has all the money in the world yet cannot seem to find happiness and ultimately becomes a rather bitter and lonely fellow instead. A totally unclassifiable work that star Gene Hackman stated of, “It's not an adventure story, although it has all the elements; it's not a straight mystery, although it has a lot of mystery involved in it; it's not a drama of a family, and yet it has that too. It also has a variety of locations - everything it takes to make a really interesting movie,” Eureka is part action-thriller, part gangster flick/film noir, part psychoanalytic horror story, part erotically-charged forbidden romance, and part anti-murder-mystery, but most importantly, it is an allegorical odyssey about greed and its innate relation to (mis)fortune, as well as a daunting depiction of shared 'souls' between parents and progeny. Adapted by Roeg’s sometimes collaborator Paul Mayersberg (The Man Who Fell to Earth, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence) from the book King’s X (1972) aka Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes? by American lawyer/FBI agent Marshall Houts, Eureka is a seemingly nihilistic film that concludes with the protagonist’s death in what Harlan Kennedy of American Cinema Papers described in 1983 as a “bizarre Walpurgisnacht,” yet quite ironically the murdered protagonist ultimately gets everything he wants in the end, thus demonstrating the director’s talent for deconstructing the most complex of human souls.

 The first 30 minutes or so of Eureka could stand alone as its own individual film. The year is 1925 and American gold digger Jack McCann (Gene Hackman) has spent no less than 15 years searching for gold in a miserable and deadly environment that has driven weaker men to suicide (Jack watches stoically as a man literally blows his brains out). After ditching his “spawn of a Danish whore” explorer partner, Jack finds a nice little translucent rock, which he later shows to his pagan-like mistress Frieda (Helena Kallianiotes), who prophesizes regarding the rock, “this stone found you. It has your name on it. Not outside, but inside. It’s your destiny. But everybody pays. Everybody pays!,” and, indeed, pay he does. A man who lives by the admirable, if not self-righteous, maxim, “I’ve never earned a nickel from another man’s sweat!,” Jack ultimately falls into a mountain of gold but his mistress Frieda symbolically dies when he comes to deliver the good news. As a man who believes “gold smells stronger than a woman” and whose girlfriend states of him “with you, the gold is everything,” Jack decided long ago that material gain was more important to him than anything else, so when he obtains all the wealth in the world, he no longer has anything to truly live for as a Faustian man who was born to climb mountains but whose wealth causes him to live an uncomfortably comfortable lifestyle of laziness and luxury. Flash forward two decades later and Jack is now a married father who is essentially the unofficial king of the Bahamas. For such a rich man, Jack seems quite bitter as demonstrated by his remark “Once I had it all. Now I only have everything,” but considering his British wife Helen (Jane Lapotaire) is a ditzy dipsomaniac and his daughter Tracy (Theresa Russell) is married to a degenerate dandy named Claude Maillot Von Horn (Rutger Hauer), he has a rather hectic life where everything he loves is also the source of his stress and disillusionment with life. On top that, Jack’s business partner Charles Perkins (Ed Lauter) and two mafia bosses, Jew Mayakofsky (Joe Pesci) and Italian-American Aurelio D’Amato (Mickey Rourke), are scheming to get rid of the old ‘dinosaur’ as they have grandiose greed-driven dreams for the Bahamas that the lapsed gold digger does not agree with. Undoubtedly, Jack has the most contempt for his pretty playboy son-in-law Claude as he has not only stolen his daughter but he also wants his soul. A perennial dilettante who, despite looking more Nordic than an Arno Breker statue, dabbles in the kabbalah like some moronic Hollywood celebrity, Claude is a mirror-admiring narcissist and self-admitted coward who is morbidly envious of Jack to the point where he attempts to belittle the man and his achievements at his own dinner table, stating in front of a number of guests, “You didn’t earn the gold, Jack; you took it from nature. You raped the earth.” In the same scene, Claude demonstrates his true corrosive character by swallowing a piece of Jack’s gold, thus performing an act of reverse alchemy by turning gold into shit. 

 A hopeless cynic, Jack states in the company of his guests Claude, Charles Perkins, Mayakofsky, and D’Amato, “Business…Thieves among thieves…pirates stealing from each other,” thereupon figuratively digging his own grave with the sort of stoic confidence of a man who is not afraid to die. After various hostile confrontations with his adversaries, Jack is battered, blowtorched, and covered in feathers in what is undoubtedly a singularly brutal death yet quite ironically he gets what he wants in the end. With his much desired death after two decades of being incapacitated by wealth and luxury, Jack can also rest in peace knowing the wop-yid mafia has left to go somewhere to peddle their goods, his wife Helen has stopped drinking like a fish, and that Claude has been banned from the island and has left Tracy's life forever. Indeed, while initially charged with Jack’s death, Claude is cleared of charges after his wife Tracy reveals he is too much of an indecisive coward to go to such drastic lengths as killing someone. Indeed, Tracy and her father Jack are ‘kindred spirits’ as if she is his Jungian anima and he is her animus and thus the legacy of the gold king will live on through his little girl. Naturally, Claude was too weak of a man for daddy's girl Tracy, hence the dissolution of their relationship in the end. While Tracy loved her hubby with her whole heart just as her father put his whole heart into unearthing gold after 15 years of trying, Claude is an emotional wreck and a forsaken lost soul who will never find solace in anything, hence his pathological dilettantish dabbling in racially alien occult religious practices like kabbalah and voodoo (he takes two women, neither of whom are his wife, to a Negro voodoo orgy) and preference for nonwhites to his own people (in fact, in one scene, Jack asks Claude if the natives like him, to which he replies, “Yes. That’s true. It’s the whites who don’t like me.”). In the end, Eureka concludes somewhat euphorically with a flashback to Jack’s adventurer days, where he narrates the following words: “There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting. It’s luring me on as of old…and it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting…so much as just finding the gold. It’s the great big, broad land way up yonder. It’s the forest where silence has lease. It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder. It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.” 

 Interestingly, Eureka concludes at the end of the Second World War, thus demonstrating a new era of multicultural American hegemony has reared its ugly mongrel face in the world. Indeed, at one point in the film, Hebraic mob boss Mayakofsky, which is a character based on real-life Judaic organized criminal Meyer Lansky, states, “So who’s not an American? Everyone is an American now. The Germans? They’re Americans. In Chicago, there’s many Germans. The Japanese… Believe me, one day, they’ll all be Americans, also. Languages. That’s all the difference. This war, what is it? It’s a war between Americans who all speak different languages, so how can we lose?,” as if he knows the days of racially homogenous nation-states are over.  Of course, what Mayakofsky really means by ‘American’ is a cultureless and deracinated individual who has given up all the things that really have intrinsic value in life (i.e. art, kultur, love, tradition) for the dubious prospect of soulless material gain and nothing more epitomizes what it means to be American in the post-WWII era than the wandering Jew, who gave up his roots long ago. Somewhat bizarrely when considering his flagrant promotion of counter-culture degeneracy with Performance (1970), noble savage worship and WASP-smashing in Walkabout (1971), black-on-white miscegenation in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), and philo-Semitism and psychoanalysis fetishism in Bad Timing (1980), Roeg claims he was accused of anti-Semitism due to a scene in Eureka in which  protagonist Jack asks his son-in-law Claude if he is “a yid.” In an interview with American Cinema Papers, Roeg responded to these claims with the following: “At the dinner early in the film, Claude is wearing this shirt with cabalistic signs on it, flaunting this rather cleverer-than-thou image. And at one point, after they've talked about the five points of wisdom in the Cabala, McCann says 'And the sixth is bullshit.' And he goes on, 'There's only one Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The rest is conversation.' Well, people have come up to me and said 'Oh, anti-Semitic!' and this, that, and the other. Well, when Jack says that he's actually quoting straight from the center of the Talmud: 'There's only one Golden Rule' the Talmud says: 'Do unto others,' and then it ends, 'The rest is commentary.',” thus demonstrating the filmmaker’s somewhat obfuscated solidarity with god’s chosen tribe. 

 In the same interview with American Cinema Papers, Roeg remarked, “One reason the film isn't a murder thriller…is that McCann doesn't die. That's to say, what he is, what he represents is absolutely continued in Tracy.” Undoubtedly, what makes this especially interesting is that the character of Jack lives on through a daughter and not a son, as it is symbolic of white WASP male decline and the rise of feminism, not to mention multiculturalism (as represented by the Sicilian and Jewish mafia bosses). Indeed, the character of Jack, who literally climbed mountains to achieve his nihilistic dream yet is not happy upon achieving it, epitomizes European ‘Faustian’ man to an almost a stereotypical degree and thus can be seen as a symbol of the so-called ‘old dead white man’ aka the original American (and world) elite. Of course, the character of dandy Claude—a proto-counter-culture type who suffers from xenophilia and senseless hedonism, not to mention lack of true identity, purpose, and testicular fortitude—is symbolic of the postmodern ‘progressive’ pussy white man. Undoubtedly, judging solely by the themes of his films alone, I think auteur Nicholas Roeg has the most in common with the character Claude, although his adventurous filmmaking career certainly demonstrates he has much in common with Faustian man Jack.  After all, only a true son of Europe (not to mention a man who used to work as a cinematographer for old school celluloid epic maestro David Lean) could have assembled a film so laboriously ambitious as Eureka and I am not the least bit surprised that the money-grubbing studio bosses at MGM/UA found the film too esoteric for the masses.

-Ty E

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