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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

Second sight: getting Déjà Vu


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TOO MUCH COULD BE SAID about the parlous state of contemporary movie reviewing, but two crickets take the cake for 2006, with Christoph Huber and Mark Peranson‘s dense, knowing, estimable auteurist analysis of Tony Scott’s grossly underrated Déjà Vu in Cinema Scope 29. Zowie! Zoinks! “Regularly dismissed by critics as an ADD action hack director, Tony Scott’s sixth collaboration with Jerry Bruckheimer has a title that can be taken as a provocation: Déjà Vu seems to invite glib puns about the recurrence of heated fast cuts and heavily filtered celluloid, of slick surfaces and pretzel plot twists wrapped around eye-popping explosions. Yes it delivers, but never mind that the director, for all his constant flash and stylishness, has long moved on from mere action work towards ambivalent psychological thrillers, employing an expressionist visual style corresponding to heightened emotions: his themes and structures [that] cry out for old-school auteurist appreciation. Maybe the comparative restraint and metaphysical bent of Scott’s masterpiece, a surveillance-era post-Hitchcock concoction that dares to begin with a nine-minute bravura sequence of dialogue-free “pure cinema,” will help viewers see past the prejudices—though the incomprehension that greeted the magnificent, if meddlesome biopic-atomizer Domino a year ago, makes it doubtful… [The] case of the fantastic machine used for investigation in Déjà Vu that turns (even more top-secret) surveillance footage to a window back in time for plot purposes, [is vital yet] clearly is foremost present as an equivalent of The Movies—it’s even named Snow White. Pointedly, Tony extends the idea to the visual media shaping contemporary experience, TV and internet broadcasts. The ridiculous quasi-science banter “explaining” Snow White expressly stresses the analogy: space (like time) may be folded in on itself, but it sure is flat, like a screen. And in a Tony Scott film, no screen is as great as the Jumbotron… Yet size serves to emphasize here: the growing romantic attachment of the loner Carlin as he follows the footage of a dead woman’s life, while discussions about the nature and ethics of movies, themselves windows to the past, ensue among agents and scientists, with the huge image presiding over the room. And of course the looming size of the screen approximates the condition of present-day viewing: a similar intrusion on privacy, as envisioned in Rear Window (1954), was a first-hand, cozy neighbourhood affair. Over 50 years later,Déjà Vureframes it to fit the current era of second-hand, Jumbotron “reality.”


As an allegory about filmmaking and morality this may be as blatant as Minority Report (2002), but it’s more successful on every level: despite all the high-tech lure the grandstanding is undercut from the beginning… Scott’s collaborative team must content themselves with following the data-flow of “a single trailing moment of now in the past,” praying the camera is in the right place at the right time… Déjà Vu is upfront about the questionable nature of the whole government-funded enterprise; this is not about clearing your name (as in Spielberg). Saving the woman being watched, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), is not the goal, rather trailing her past will help the agents solve a terrorist bombing with echoes of both 9/11 and Oklahoma City. The projected futility of the investigation’s outcome for Claire makes Carlin’s obsession with her all the more poignant, but like in Vertigo the voyeuristic and necrophiliac aspects of his romantic feelings are foregrounded. “I got the weird feeling I’m being watched,” reads Claire’s diary after an uncomfortable Jumbotron-surveyed shower, and soon Carlin doubts the quantum physicists’ assurances that Snow White’s link from the present to the past is strictly a one-way affair. More effective is his touching prior assertion to Claire: “Don’t you remember we held hands once?” It is also quite sinister, since this happened during her autopsy.” [Much more vital, chewy goodness at the link.]

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