Jonathan Glazer has only made a handful of films (so far), which proves the world is not a just place. Glazer has many strengths and one of them is his ability to examine how one’s past can feel like a ghost coming to kill you. It is an idea I found interesting in each of his films.
3. Sexy Beast (2000)
Like Glazer would later explore in more depth in Birth, Sexy Beast is so much about how haunting one’s past can be. Ray Winstone’s past ties to the British criminal underworld comes back from the dead and seeks him out like a ghost.
He has created this oasis for himself in Spain – he is living what many consider the ideal peaceful retirement all working stiffs hope to do. He lies down by the pool all day. He has got his best lady. He has got his friends. And he gets to do this every day, seemingly for the rest of his life.
But then his old boss (Ben Kingsley) shows up from England because there is a job they need him to do. Glazer takes this classic premise and makes it his own. Glazer skillfully holds back info from the audience and masterfully gives us morsels strategically throughout the whole film to maximize the tension.
While his debut feature film was not as profound as his next two works, Sexy Beast is just tremendous overall and well worth watching.
2. Under the Skin (2013)
Read Willow Maclay’s Under the Skin’s Transgender Allegory. She is better at writing about movies than me (and most people).
Under the Skin is something that far too few movies are – a true experience. You genuinely feel like when you watch it that you are watching something sincerely unique both in terms what happens and how it happens on the screen. Glazer manages to use this film of an alien inhabiting a human body to capture the experience of what it feels like to be alive in so many ways. The utter confusion and feeling of being lost and alone. The way it can feel like you are just stumbling from obstacle to obstacle all the while learning about yourself without realizing it. And then if you’re not careful life will just destroy you. Like many great films, there are so many ways to engage with this film. It is one I hope to explore more and more in the years to come.
1. Birth (2004)
Birth is just a remarkable exploration of some of the biggest emotions and ideas that humans have to confront such as death, loss, grief, and being haunted by the past. The concept of the film is absolutely insane but in that way that great art can only get away with.
A ten-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) is claiming to be the reincarnation of Nicole Kidman’s deceased husband (who died…ten years ago). Since her husband’s death, Kidman has done a commendable job of rebuilding her life and creating a status quo that seems more than emotionally acceptable. Bright shows up and disrupts everything.
Now, emotionally, it does not really matter whether or not Bright is truly the reincarnation. His ability to completely disrupt Kidman’s life reveals how fragile her emotional state was at the time. True loss causes a level of grief that can be genuinely inescapable. Our past can be like a ghost haunting us and can drive our present selves mad.
That idea was best captured when her soon-to-be new husband, Danny Huston, finally snaps after trying to be calm and collected about this situation. Huston just started attacking Bright and eventually started spanking him in front of everyone. Given how much of the movie is people trying to remain calm in the face of the absurd, the scene stands out not just for the contrast but for the truth it speaks to.