Adult Movies

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Bigger Than Life

Film Review by Dean Duncan Aug 21, 2014

This must have gone off like an atomic bomb when it came out. It’s still explosive. Here the viewer definitely finds all those clichés about 50’s complacency and conformity, which in the end had to have been part of the big 50’s picture. But moderns can sure get smug about that alleged and even demonstrable complacency. And the moderns have only got the half of it. Bigger Than Life reminds us that there are always reasons for the things that happen, including the conformity that we so cruelly dismiss. It reminds us that critique must include sympathy if it is to be helpful, or even human.

James Mason! Cinematography!  Design! The whole movie! The protagonist’s descent into madness is tremendously calculated, beautifully communicated. Because of that second job that he takes on, because of his modesty and intelligence and decency, and because it’s the drugs (another atomic bomb, no doubt) that are causing all of these problems, he becomes a very sympathetic monster indeed. However, as with Mason’s analogous turn, just two years previous, in the Cukor/Judy Garland/1954 version of A Star is Born, he’s a monster all the same. Some of the mischief that he gets in is really disturbing! The episode in the dress shop is one thing (going the Vertigo makeover one better, if only because of its comparative situational plausibility)—deciding to kill your son is another! In fact, this direly Isaac-parodying child destruction is more troubling, more effective than, say, the deaths in Michael Powell’s infamous Peeping Tom (1960). The difference, once again, is that this appalling situation unfolds in a plausible, recognizable world.

The milk sequence! Playing football! That final fight! The conclusion to Nick Ray’s superb film is touching, in a wan, Exorcist III way. We’ve won, sort of, and for now. But still, outside, a storm is threatening, my very life today …