Discomfort of Strangers

January 1, 2009


Time on my hands again, and I’m watching more films I’ve had on my list.  The Comfort of Strangers, with a screenplay by Pinter, is one. Is this title a reference to “The Glass Menagerie,” the kindness of strangers..?  And why is Venice so popular a setting for ominous, creepy stories?  I’m thinking of Mann’s Death in Venice, Roeg’s film, Don’t Look Now, as well as this one.  I’m sure there are others.  Is it a northern European thing?  The seedy useless relic of a defunct empire as symbol of the hollowness and decay of all that is orderly and civilized?  I don’t buy it.

Comfort was, I think, a ridiculous film, saved only by the scenery and the sheer over-the-top quality of Christopher Walken’s performance.  It relies on the old standby of modern entertainment that lacks character motivation, the psychopath.  Any soap opera or TV movie can be made dramatic as long as there’s a killer maniac on the loose, especially if he’s charming.  We don’t deal with Satan anymore, so we have to make do with people twisted by their sadistic upbringing in our dramas.

This film reminds me of Straw Dogs by Peckinpah, another story of male softness and civilized courtesy overwhelmed by the brutal “reality” of life beneath the veneer of culture.  It’s a pretty tired idea, and I wonder why it appeals to writers.  My guess is that it says more about the insecurities of the artist than about the cultural standards it seeks to upset and question.  Showing a wily and unstoppable murderer preying upon innocent tourists brings a frisson, but I found Colin’s character totally unbelievable.  I would expect that any man who appears as he did in the film would not have let Robert punch him in the stomach, and then go to dinner with him.  Are we supposed to believe that he was such a wimp that he wouldn’t even demand of his girfriend that they leave immediately?  I don’t think so…