Out Of The Furnace – Scott Cooper (2013 Usa)

Out Of The Furnace – Scott Cooper (2013 Usa)

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Out of the Furnace – Scott Cooper
(2013 USA) Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson

Viewed: 4 Feb 2014 ; Empire Cinema
Newcastle upon Tyne; Ticket: £3.95

Disneyland invert

The opening sequence of Cooper’s Out of
the Furnace takes place in a drive in movie and introduces us to
Woody Harrelson’s character Harlan. Harlan gets annoyed at something
or other (much of the detail in the film is elusively blurred). In
response to his stirred up emotions, he rams a hot dog (“Goddam
food makes me sick!”) down the throat of his lady consort, before
beating to a pulp the gentleman who has protested too much. Woody’s
visceral reaction to whatever it was that upset his guts is so
extreme its statement of excess becomes funny. It announces that
‘Out of the Furnace’ is going to lead us deep into the Hillbilly
swamplands of parody; an opening preemptive clip that’s bourn out in
the movie’s development

Cooper’s film expresses America as a
kind of inverted Disneyland.

And in this inverted Disneyland Woody
Harrelson plays the part of a demonic Jiminy Cricket. The voice of
the anti-conscience. Perhaps it is the creation of this dark Gothic
archetype that explains the allure of the film to its audience.
Harlan as the internalised voice that psychically legitimises the
violence of the enraged Id. In infantalised cultures defined by an
imperative for immediate gratification (and celebrated in the adverts
that precede the movie) frustration is intolerable. The urgency of
desire legitimises violence towards anything or anyone who is
perceived as a barrier to desire. As Harlan says when he first
meets and gives Rodney the look: “I got a problem with everyone”.

Harrelson’s performance as an
internalised psychopath comprises the film’s core. Even when not up
on screen like a shadow he’s still present. Hard eyes (hardening of
the muscles around the eyes is a trick Harrelson does very well) with
lips and skin stretched face, he exudes an implacable necessary
desire for doing only what he wants to do. Harlan’s psychopathic
counter conscience is offset with Russell and Rodney, the ‘good’
brothers, in a scripting device that splits off multiple
personalities into discrete characters. The rustbelt Pennsylvanian
setting of the film, photographed as a beautifully contrived
dilapidation, is no more than a picaresque back drop against which to
set the play out of the internalised personality forces at play in
American culture: Destruction and Accommodations.

The limitation of Cooper’s Out of the
Furnace (Furnace – presumably a metaphor of America, or a play on
Griffith’s intertitle line in Intolerance: Out of the Cradle
Endlessly Rocking?) is that from his narrative he is able to produce
no more than a parody of the American Gothic genre.

The dialogue lurches from cliché to
cliché comprising one liners we’ve heard before in some other movie.
The scripting elements: the damaged war vet, the bare knuckle
fighting, dying old father, all tread well worn narrative paths
without deviating from the familiar. The scripting device that
exploits the idea the Mountain Men reflects the ultimate parody of
distancing. It spatially removes the schizoid psychopathic cultural
forces, destruction and accommodation, from close-up (Zimmerman’s
slaying of Martin – Florida 2012: Dunn’s slaying of Davis – Florida
2913. Both these killings appear to have been triggered by the
infantile rage of the killer when their will was opposed by young
blacks. Both killers took legal refuge in Florida’s Stand Your
Ground Statute.) to faraway. The Mountain Men become distant
phantoms removed from day to day life. ( ‘Some of them never bin down
from those hills’). Out of the Furnaces’s Mountain Men are caste as
sort of Zombie creatures, removed from mainstream psychic conditions,
who prosper in their own middens. Of course this device of the
‘other’ (Hillbillies, Mountain Men, Swamp Men) has been prodigiously
over exploited by Hollywood from Boorman’s Deliverance and a host of
movies since. Cooper again brings nothing new to the idea, only
replication and repetition.

The final sequence of film abrogates
any moral claims Cooper might make for his movie. Folded into the
film is a subplot with a racial dimension. In one of the opening
scenes in the movie Russell has a black girl friend. During the
stretch he serves for drunken driving, she leaves him for the town’s
black police chief. Although apparently in love with Russell, she
choses black middle class respectability over white trash life style.
The sexual competition between the two men is suggested but muted in
the script. The image projected by Out of the Furnace is one of a
matured interrace relations in which racist white attitudes have been
completely eroded by liberal progressive states of mind. The problem
is that this liberal optimism is countervailed by the film’s core
proposition of the schizoid character of the white American. And in
the penultimate scene, where Russell is chasing and gunning down
Harlan, the black cop in pursuit orders Russell to put down his gun
and not shoot. Russell disobeys and kills Harlan. This resolution
is dishonest and points to the difficulties white film makers have
with race. The filmmakers lose their nerve and the plot. The only
moral outcome for the plot was for the black cop to have killed
Russell and Harlan to have escaped. The reality of the American
Psyche is suppressed rage, which in the film is represented by
Harrelson’s Harlan. This demented schizo force is the one that
eludes escapes and elides with the good, and the logic is that it
should escape. Every slock horror film script writer and director
knows this and intuitively understands the logic, even in parody,
that this is what has to be. Cooper for whatever reason doesn’t get
Adrin Neatrour

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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