The Walker – Paul Schrader – USA /UK 2007 Woody Harrelson, Lauren Bacall Lily Tomlin, Kristin Thomas

The Walker – Paul Schrader – USA /UK 2007 Woody Harrelson, Lauren Bacall Lily Tomlin, Kristin Thomas

Adrin Neatrour writes: Paul Schrader’s film compromises its own intention and ambitions. Schrader’s intention as I read it was to conduct an expressive exploration of the form taken by American power during the Bush administration. This intention would be actualised not through a script that directly probed the central machinations of power, but through an examination of the peripheral zones – the hangers on, the petty criminals the courtiers, courtesans and lackies – such as Carter Page. Instead of allowing Page’s hollowness to pursue its own dance its own logic to find his own lines of flight, Schrader’s script follows a sentimental humanising line of development to suggest the possibility of redemption for his protagonist.

The Walker Paul Schrader – USA /UK
2007 Woody Harrelson, Lauren Bacall Lily Tomlin, Kristin Thomas

Viewed: 6 Aug 07 Empire Cinema
Newcastle upon Tyne: Gala screening free ticket

Empty Centre

Woody Harrelson as Carter Page, is the
eponymous walker, the name given to a male consort who accompanies
high placed ‘society’ ladies to events or situations which their
husbands (if they have one) don’t want to attend. Page walks his
ladies round and round the social whirl. Schrader’s camera
(continually moving – tracking panning) registers an incessant
agitation but that does find a point of stillness in the scene in
Page’s bedroom, a sort of Egyptian tomb like space where he stores
and displays the tools of his trade: his clothes jewellery and male
sartorial appurtenances. This scene takes place early in the film.
It not only reinforces the perception of Washington as a necropolis,
but when Page divests himself of his wig, his manly mane is replaced
by stark baldness, a nakedness that points directly to the charade he
conducts. A hollowed out man in a dead hollowed out city. A man
without a centre in a town without a centre.

I think Paul Schrader’s film
compromises its own intention and ambitions.

Schrader’s intention as I read it was
to conduct an expressive exploration of the form taken by American
power during the Bush administration. This intention would be
actualised not through a script that directly probed the central
machinations of power, but through an examination of the peripheral
zones – the hangers on, the petty criminals the courtiers,
courtesans and lackies – such as Carter Page. Instead of allowing
Page’s hollowness to pursue its own dance its own logic to find his
own lines of flight, Schrader’s script follows a sentimental
humanising line of development to suggest the possibility of
redemption for his protagonist. This chosen line of development
involves a homosexual relationship which becomes increasingly
meaningful and central to the plotting in as much as it offers a
solution to Page’s problem of personal vacuity. A relationship in
which he can ‘find’ himself and confront his Oedipal demons. Of
course this is bullshit – redemption of a kind may have worked in
Taxi driver, but in The Walker it is unconvincing on its own dramatic
terms. At the point that Schrader picks him up, Carter Page is too
deeply excavated by the cancer of vanity empty desire and outward
presentation for the pat mechanism of a relationship to offer any
hope of a new start. Page is a citizen of a bloodless corrupted and
debilitated culture. To permit Page the easy relational route
through the script compromises the vision and undermines the force of
the film’s logic with no dramatic or filmic gain.

Basing the film on the periphery of
power was premised on the perception that from the point of view of
power the US at this moment is an empty centre. The empty centre of
the world. Power has abandoned Washington DC, leaving the town with
all the outward signs and indicators of power such as its
architecture the self importance of the minor players(courtiers) and
an enforcement system. But there is no substance. It is a city of
tombs memories and monuments where the living are long gone. It is a
city of the dead that is true to a Kafkaesque image of a power that
recedes eternally and becomes ever more remote except when suddenly
its close up and personal. Like the big corporation that suddenly
threatens you with a bill or the consequences of their pollution.
Remote and close. Washington has become like Japan under the
Shoganate where real power belonged to a war lord who concealed
himself behind a series of puppet institutions. Real power lay
concealed away from the vacuum of the empty centre.

The Walker works as an assemblage of
expressive settings and players Strips of action taken from the
social cultural business and criminal events that comprise life in
Washington DC. The mood of the film is caught in the opening shot:
a wallpaper shot. An endless circular pan across the wallpaper and
fittings of the card room in a grand classically apportioned house.
As the camera revolves we hear the chatter of the card players who
are eventually revealed as Carter and his ladies. The circular
nature of the shot evokes the idea of an eternal recurrence with the
wallpaper exerting a mesmerising effect (more interesting than the
dialogue which is held back) with its richly pattered geometric
surface suggesting entrapment and introducing the idea of prison or
tomb. Motifs that work its way through the Walker: entrapment; life
of the tomb, Rome in precipitous decline, the Egyptian worship of
the dead. Moods reinforced by Harrelson’s speech, remarkable not
for what he says, “I’m not a very interesting person, ” but
more for manner of his enunciation, the monotonal bass quality of his
deep Southern accent. Enunciation of death.

The shot also called up for me memory
of the opening shot of Resnais’ Last year in Marienbad. Except
Resnais’ shot tracks relentlessly forwards in its repetitions,
whereas Schraders shot rotates. And the two shots perhaps share
something of the same intention to establish a mood and lay out the
parameters of the films loci of concern. Among Resnais’ concerns
are the problem of memory with its invocation of differential
perception the perception of time in the otherness of the other.
Resnais has both his own discipline, and that of his scenarist Robbe
Grillet to ensure that he never allows plot line to sabotage the form
and content of his film. Clarity of intention and commitment to his
thesis of the nature of time and film never waver. Schrader allows
his film to be muddied by meaningless clutter of oedipal character
concerns and a weak plot line which weaken and attenuate the real
forces that the film initially sets in motion.

adrin neatrour

adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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