Eye of the Beholder

Eye of the Beholder, written and directed by Stephan Elliott from a
novel by Marc Behm is routine post-modern noir—which is to say that
it has no interest in the kind of tight plotting or carefully built up
motivation that characterized traditional film noir. Presumably the media
sophisticates who patronize movies these days don’t care about any of that
stuff. They are only interested in the images—many of them, in this case,
high-tech surveillance images through which the renegade British intelligence
agent known as “Eye” (Ewan MacGregor) observes the murders committed by the
beautiful and mysterious Joanna Eris (Ashley Judd)—and of course the
emotional posturing of the principal players.

For what else can you call it when the murderer’s modus operandi is to
use her charms to seduce susceptible young men, strangers to herself, and then,
at a moment when some tenderness might have been expected, stab them to death
while crying: “Merry Christmas, daddy”? So ludicrously inadequate is this
implied pseudo-psychology (Miss Eris as a small girl was abandoned by her father
on Christmas Day) as an explanation for several grisly murders that it cannot
possibly be offered to us out of mere incompetence on the part of Mr. Elliott.
No, he must have intended so to affront the audience’s sense of
plausibility and proportion. That’s what we get for our outdated, rationalist
and reactionary expectation that movies should look just the tiniest bit like
real life.

In a way this movie is just the opposite of a psychological thriller.
Instead, that is, of working backward from the murders to their putative cause
in the warped psyche of Miss Eris, Elliott is working forward from the moment of
emotional deprivation, when the child is abandoned by her father, to a sort of
revenge fantasy of the future/present that, like all fantasies, need have
nothing to do with real life. This creative direction is made even more clear to
us by the fact that Mr. Eye, whose real name is Stephen Wilson, is having
fantasies of a complementary sort. His wife and daughter have disappeared under
circumstances which are left deliberately vague but which have produced guilt
feelings in him so severe that he is the victim of constant hallucinations of
his child’s presence.

Nor is this phantasmal little girl, presumably about the age of Miss Eris
when she was abandoned, content to sit silently by and look reproachfully at her
negligent parent. She behaves like a perfect brat, as if she means to inspire
not the guilt that Eye feels but a sense of relief that she has gone. Her real
purpose is to goad him into indulging further his voyeuristic fascination with
the beautiful murderess—“Stay with her, daddy; she’s just a little girl,”
says the tyke untruthfully, perhaps so that in order to follow her he will
forsake the rest of his life as he has presumably forsaken her. The forsaken
life, such as it is, is symbolized by his devoted and motherly control officer
in British intelligence who is played by the lesbian pop-star, K.D. Lang, in a
particularly remarkable bit of miscasting.

But the killer, without even knowing of his existence, symbolically rejects
him by taking up with a blind man (Patrick Bergin)—get it? “the
Eye”?—who is the only one of her paramours she does not murder. So Eye
murders him. Obviously these are very deep symbolic waters here, and
Joanna’s abandonment fears are somehow assuaged by feeling
unobserved—hardly a hopeful augury for Mr. Eye. This emotional tangle is
finally resolved as Eye and Eris (Iris?) finally meet in person—instead of
through the former’s telescopic lenses—and she makes an unsuccessful
attempt on his life. Being the forgiving type, Eye rescues her from a car crash
in a frozen lake and tenderly whispers: “I’m just a daddy who lost his little
girl, and I guess you’re just a little girl who lost her daddy…I guess that’s
it. End of story.”

So obviously is this not “it,” nor yet the “end of story” as advertised, that
it comes to us as yet another slap in the face from the director/writer. In the
end there is no story, only a bit of emotional self-indulgence that you would be
well advised to stay away from.

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