THE STUNT MAN

An earlier, briefer post on The Stunt Manin a somewhat different context appeared in the previously imploded version of this blog. I’m taking this opportunity to substantially change and expand on it in the context of Christian media.

Unlike Metropolis, you can’t call The Stunt Man a Christian movie.

It is, however, a movie from which Christians (as well as others) can draw some spiritual insights.

As the poster indicates, there’s something satanic about The Stunt Man.

But it’s not satanic in the New Testament/Rosemary’s Baby/Exorcist/Omen sense.

Rather, it’s satanic in the Old Testament way:  This satan is not a destroyer or tempter so much as a tester.

In fact, in his own way, director Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole) is a moral character, it’s just that his morality is a creator’s morality where the completion of The Work (in this case, a movie he’s directing) takes precedence over all. [1]

One of the all time great mEsS-WiD-yO-hEd movies, The Stunt Man is about fugitive Cameron (Steve Railsback)[2] coming under the influence of director Eli Cross, who desperately needs a new stunt man in order to hide the fact the previous one got killed on the job.

It soon occurs to Cameron that Eli may not have any motive for keeping him alive after filming is completed, and the question as to what is real vs. what is merely perceived permeates the story.

The movie keeps turning back on itself and unpeeling layer after layer in a dazzling manner, while at the same time documenting virtually every step of the film making process.

Eli is relentless in his pursuit of artistic perfection and is more than willing to beguile his cast and crew in order to eke out every last morsel of drama from them.[3] His methods are ruthless and cruel:  In order to get the right look of shock and horror he needs from his star Nina Franklin (Barbara Hershey), he reveals to her just before the camera rolls that he’s shown the unedited “raw” footage of her love scene to her visiting parents.

Nina is devastated by this news -- and Eli captures his perfect shot.

What makes this interesting to Christian and Jewish viewers is that Eli never actively seeks to destroy his cast and crew despite putting them through a physically demanding emotional wringer.  Even the first, now-deceased stunt man was an unintended consequence of Eli’s monomania, and though one suspects Eli of insincerity, he does deliver as close to a heartfelt mea culpa as his character is capable of making.

Biblically, the Old Testament Satan is not the destructive evil monster that he is portrayed as in the New Testament and subsequent Christian writings.  Old Testament Satan is no friend of the human race, but his adversarial role is that of a lawyer or prosecutor:  He pushes and probes and seeks weaknesses to see if humans will fail, not because he wants them to fail, but because he has to ascertain their true moral characters.

Old Testament Satan is, in fact, constrained by God on occasion, and far from being cast out of God’s presence is occasionally seen as still in God’s employ.[4]

Eli tests all of the major characters in the movie:  Cast, crew, and local authorities.  Characters rarely realize they are being tested, they almost never realize why they are being tested.  Eli’s favorite technique is to present the truth in a slightly out of kilter fashion, never actually lying, but allowing his target to draw the wrong inference (which is almost always exactly what Eli wants).

In fact, one of the best scenes in the movie occurs when Eli protects Cameron from discovery by demanding the police arrest him![5]

So, a Christian film with a Christian view point?  No, not by a long shot.

A film that gives us the opportunity to question how we react to external pressures and why?

Absolutely.

A well earned R rating for language and brief nudity.

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[1]  This is not to say it’s a valid or just morality, but it is a logically consistent one.  Understand what motivates Eli and you understand all his actions.

[2]  A military deserter in Paul Brodeur’s original novel; the paramour of a local politician’s runaway daughter and now charged with assault in the movie.

[3]  And the film itself (i.e., The Stunt Man; you see what I mean about shifting layers of reality & reference?) makes is clear that Eli, while eccentric and egomaniacal, is no hack:  Everyone agrees that he is creating a work of genius even if running way over budget, beyond schedule, and endangering lives to do so.

[4]  This doubtless reflects not inconsistency on the part of the Biblical narrative but rather how the changing education & understanding of the ancient Jews couched that narrative in terms they were able to comprehend.  Any contradictions found in the Bible are of human origin.

[5]  The police, fed up by this time with Eli’s shenanigans, ignore Cameron to vent their ire on Eli.  It is a brilliant example of hiding something (or in this case, someone) in plain sight.

 

Thinkage

Faith [re-post]