The Tilda Swinton Suicide Watch?

by |
05/11/2009 8:26 AM |

juliatildaswinton.jpgLast summer, the L’s Cullen Gallagher and I collaborated on a piece for Moving Image Source, assessing the cinematic adaptations of Jim Thompson’s books and stories. Thompson’s most notable attribute is his first-person narrators, who are at least sociopathic and generally full-blown paranoid schizophrenic: the plotting and atmosphere of his books is dependent upon their instability, their paranoid calculations, recalculations and miscalculations. It’s a queasy pulp-fiction sensation and if you’ve never read After Dark, My Sweet you should, it only takes an afternoon.

Because of his narrators, though, the challenge of adapting Thompson — which is, really, the challenge of adapting literature in general — is to convey that interiority, that first-person psychosis.

Cullen and I agreed that even the better Thompson adaptations — Coup de torchon and The Grifters, say — capably get at the outlines of Thompson’s world, without being able to convey the full-force of his extraordinary paranoid, unstable narrators. The only Jim Thompson adaptation to really get the feel of Thompson’s narration across is Alain Corneau’s criminally underseen and underavailable A Hell of a Woman adaptation Serie noire. As we said:

Dewaere’s highly physical performance turns Thompson’s neurotic narration into a hurricane of volatile gesture. Improvising songs, dancing about with an air freshener and conversing with himself, Dewaere is the most kinetically unstable actor to have attempted a Thompson schizo. Poupart’s body is the manifestation of his psychosis — of an unspoken paranoia in conflict with the external forces of work, money, sex, home… Thompson’s distorted, venal worlds are rendered by utter nutters, constantly telling themselves stories in order to live—and eventually the order they create descends into chaos. Dewaere’s body, like Thompson’s first-person narration, is never at rest, constantly reestablishing its relationship to the world in the hope of shaping it to his liking.

Coincidentally, this is the only Jim Thompson movie to stars, as the protagonist, an actual insane person: the hotblooded and charismatic Patrick Dewaere committed suicide three years later.

When Cullen and I wrote this article we did not consider Julia, Erick Zonca’s boozy kidnapping thriller, which opened here this past weekend. This is because a) dude, were you not listening to what I just said, about it just opening here this past weekend, Jesus H. Christ, and b) it is not, technically, a Jim Thompson adaptation.

But, as I observe in my review, and as others have noted as well, it kind of totally is.

And Tilda Swinton, as the sozzled kidnapper protagonist, gives a fearless, reckless, moodswinging performance that, in my opinion, conveys the simultaneously wary and oblivious, self-preserving and self-destructive madness of a Jim Thompson narrator. The movie, to me, belongs up there with Serie noire.

So… should we worry?