Stoker is, in certain broad strokes, a macabre family drama, but the Stoker of the title is without question India Stoker, and that is why I own this movie. It’s gorgeous, rich with stunning and lightly strange production values, but the movie is not just an exercise in formalism. This is India’s story. The visuals are telling her narrative. She is the heart of the picture and the plot, the supporting characters deliberately kept just that: supporting. And a movie that stays with a girl the whole way through, and not an easily palatable girl at that, is honestly still a refreshing product from today’s film industry.
India is so central to Stoker that her heightened, layered perception of the world is what crafts the texture of the movie itself. The editing flickers like thoughts in places, bleeding across time and space, like when India tips a hanging lamp in the basement to swing across her path, and the beam of light is thrown on the faces of her mother and uncle above in the kitchen just moments before. We see and hear the way India does, and India, bless her, is morbid as hell. She seems to turn the surreal circumstances of her life into her own weird violent fairytale, and so the movie is that too. When we are suddenly given a date partway into the run time, it’s almost bewildering, loose as we were in the stylishly timeless storybook reality of the Stoker property. Following India to high school in the next scene feels almost like the dull, workaday cruelties of the world are intruding on us — how India feels, of course.
Because India, cool as she is toward others, performing emotion for them when necessary but hardly ever voluntarily, feels things profoundly. Sensation is one of the offerings of the world, and she takes it. And this blooms into another refreshingly unusual feature of this murdery Bildungsroman: India’s very individualistic sort of erotic awakening, unabashedly about her own self-discovery, where a partner is rather incidental, even indirect. Again, the story is about her. Though not without influences — India is as hyper-aware of how she is shaped against her fascinating, fucked up family as she is the delicate spider crawling up the inside of her leg.
“Just as the skirt needs the wind to billow,” she tells us in the opening scene, “I’m not formed by things that are of myself alone.” But still: “This is me.” At the end we are returned to that moment, and now know just what she means.
Some interesting things about the production of Stoker:
A sound mixer friend of mine happened to see the raw footage coming in from Tennessee, and was amazed at how vivid the colors were in-film, before the color correctors ever got their hands on it. Chung-Hoon Chung and Chan-Wook Park truly make an incredible pair.
The score is by Clint Mansell, loved for his soundtracks for Moon and Black Swan, but the piano pieces played by the characters were composed by, get this: Philip Glass.
Curiously, the screenplay was written by actor Wentworth Miller (yep, that guy from Prison Break), who had originally passed the script under a pen name and didn’t even play any of the parts himself. I now deeply want him to collaborate with Bryan Fuller and/or Don Mancini on something, as they seem to share an “aesthetically inclined gay guy really interested in sensitive yet shocking horror stories” sensibility.
Speaking of Bryan Fuller, there must have been something in the water a few years ago, because the India Stoker/Abigail Hobbs parallels run the absolute gamut. I won’t list them all (there are so many!) due to spoilers, but if you’ve seen both, WOW right?
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