So in the weird way that things work themselves around to you, a week or so ago I caught a screening of the movie Bronson. Impressed by its beefy elegance (imagine Derek Jarman had he had an eye for violence), I searched out its maker and its maker's past work. I quickly realized I was late to the show. Turns out many people had long been impressed by the films of Nicolas Winding Refn, yet I'd never even heard his name prior to two weeks ago. And, what do you know... it turns out my notions concerning Fear X were all backwards. I suppose the movie does contain elements of a detective thriller, but it is much more of a tone poem rather than a linear narrative that satisfies with a final boxed-up conclusion. In fact, I view Fear X as some kind of small emotional powerhouse for our post-9/11 world.
Coming out in 2003, the undertones of paranoia and anxiety that carry Fear X's surface murder mystery story along, indirectly connect to feelings of aimless anger, obsession, frustration, and hopelessness that many Americans felt on and after that tragic day in 2001. John Turturro plays Harry Caine, a mall security guard whose pregnant wife gets murdered in some apparent criminal cross-fire. Lack of major evidence has left the case unsolved and the bad guy(s) is still roaming around. Harry uses his small-time surveillance skills and an newly empty house to start a crusade that may just as equally serve as a distraction to Harry's heart as it is a cause for justice. But as the digging progresses, the more the wormholes splinter off into every possible direction. Whether Harry ends up in a Kubrick-Resnais-Lynch bizarro world or right next door to the truth is up to each one of us.
Unlike mystery/thrillers that offer up a cliffhanger in place of a satisfying solution, Refn's game is to push you off the cliff into some sort of zero gravity space between conditioned expectations and hopeful logic. Fear X continues to communicate all the way through its credits, carrying you on to a final blank screen with an ominous Brian Eno score, while also inviting closer scrutiny with a blurry collage of cubed surveillance footage. As it so happens, the title to Nicholas Winding Refn's film isn't silly or off-putting at all. No, it's exactly on the mark for what this movie is, a beautiful depiction of an ugly and uncomfortable state that many of us enter into without knowledge of its origins or preparation for its power. How to bottle that and put a label on it, I have no idea if anyone can, but Refn's attempt at doing so is pretty damn admirable.