Thursday, December 2, 2010

Is It Possible To Make a Pomo Thriller?

So my attempt to watch this movie got interrupted four times:
1. I fell asleep.
2. I watched the finale of America's Next Top Model.
3. I bought a Blu-Ray player (yay)!
4. I taught a class.
Did these interruptions matter? Not a bit, because a cohesive narrative structure that relies upon a developmental model of character, plot, motivation, etc., is not at play here. Rather than modernist, which is what I thought this movie would be from the description, this one struck me as postmodernist.

I shall defer to my brainmate, who knows pomo a lot better than I, for a definite ruling, but the fact that minutes, years, and months are all equated, characters are doubled and unnamed, and the multiple narratives are presented, none of which are privileged, struck me as a postmodernist move. No matter what we call it, I agree that these choices drained all possible suspense or menace from the movie. I went from thinking the stalker dude was a mindfucker to thinking he was a rapist to thinking the (possible) husband/gambler was abusive, to thinking the woman was a mindfucker, to thinking that that wasn't the point of the movie at all. But to sustain a thriller, I think you NEED to have a world that believes in things like history and motive and character. Do you agree, Nat? Can you think of a suspense/horror/mystery movie that abandons character and history and works? Zodiac comes to mind, but it's not nearly as formally experimental as this one.


  1. Ha! Well, first, I LOVE that we chatted on Monday about you asking for a BluRay play for Christmas and by Thursday you own one! Gandhi is on BluRay--all three million hours of it ;)

    I'm not so versed in PoMo film but this came out at the sort of crucial turning point. Literature, at least, was moving away from the Beats in the 50s and the earlier Modernism and more firmly into PoMo that would explode in the later 60s and 70s. Naked Lunch is 1959 and V is 1963 just to give some literature perspective. From what I know of film, French New Wave is basically postmodernist. And, Marienbad is firmly French New Wave.

    Now, I'd say it's BAD PoMo--the sort you'd easily teach to college kids who aren't English majors, like Paul Auster, so they can say, "Oh! That's not the way things are normally done! He broke a rule! That's postmodernism! I'm smart!"

    I do agree that history and character are crucial for thrillers because you have to have those things to be involved as a viewer and you have to be involved and connected as a viewer for the "thrill" to actually work. Motive maybe can be eliminated--the psycho could just do it for the hell of it.

    Ooooh. I'm thinking about the abandons character and history and works question but I'm coming up blank. I've also asked J so I'll get back to you on that. I'd have to see Zodiac again to remember it well enough but I thought we sort of cared about RD Jr as a character at least--or am I just projecting my undying love for him into the film?

  2. I think you're right--the focus on character in Zodiac (not just our future polygamous husband RDJ, but also Jake and the cops) is more of import than the murders themselves. I was just thinking of the lack of resolution. Did you and J come up with anything? This was actually an issue in my class--we were talking about the difficulty of writing a pomo mystery/Gothic story. Nabokov has one, and one of my students mentioned a recent DeLillo story that fits the bill. It was in a New Yorker last year. But it's definitely hard without an investment in/privileging of history AND plot AND character.

  3. We came up with nothing.

    Even DeLillo almost always (and I might even dare to say always) nods to history. I'd say The Names could count as a thriller and it definitely relies upon history and character and plot.

    I think a PoMo thriller can exist. What can't exist is an extreme PoMo thriller. That sort of PoMo that insists on having no form, no character, no history, no plot--that can't work (and often doesn't in any other medium or way either because of it's lack of anything recognizable).

    But the moderate PoMo works. That DeLillo New Yorker story, Midnight in Dosteovsky (, gives the story a bit of history with the title and other tidbits in the story (in fact, part of the story is about the characters giving history to people and things they see) and gives the characters at least a little form ("We both played chess. We both believed in God.").

    And, if we're going to talk DeLillo, the frame story to his newest novel, Point Omega is damned creepy. But, again, DeLillo loves history, character, and plot.

    And, duh!, The Crying of Lot 49!