September 27, 2007

Bug: I'll Dig It Out And Show You

I just saw the movie Bug, William Friedkin’s film based on the play by Tracy Letts. I guess if you don’t want to hear anything about this film, you shouldn’t read this post. I don’t really know if this is a spoiler or not.

Reviews described this film as “two people’s descent into madness.” It’s a horror film, definitely, but not a monster movie or a slasher film. It’s more in the mold of Psycho, at least in that it deals with inner demons unleashed.

Ashley Judd is Agnes, a lonely woman with a sad past and an abusive ex-husband (Harry Connick Jr.). Michael Shannon is Peter, a man on the run from something. They find each other, and you can easily see that it’s going to be bad, but it isn’t completely clear how it’s going to get bad. The “bug” of the title refers to the infestation they find in the apartment which serves as the stage for the entire drama.

A movie about a growing madness wouldn’t be any good if the people didn’t seem to be somewhat sane at the beginning of the film. I think most people, if they met him, would have their doubts about Peter; he gives off an unbalanced, perhaps even dangerous vibe. I have met people like that. There are people who are different (harmless weirdos) and then there are people who have something more going on. They don’t speak much, and when they do speak their words don’t comfort you at all.

So it falls to Agnes to be the sane one. She’s lonely, but she does have at least one friend, namely R.C., who first brings Peter to the apartment. As the film progresses, Agnes reveals the depth of her inner damage. Eventually there is a moment where Agnes starts down the dangerous path where Peter is leading.

When R.C. notices Agnes is in trouble, she moves to separate her from Peter. Peter’s erratic behavior is alarming at this point, and any sane person would not want any part of him. But even he insists that he won’t stop Agnes form leaving. She’s an adult. She can make her own decisions.

Being sane, you and I share a point of view with R.C., as she has a moment of realization. The situation is beyond anyone’s control. If you’ve ever had a friend need help you couldn’t give, you know that’s bad. But a friend who needs help and can’t even grasp that need, or is blind to it, is something overwhelming. Faced with Agnes’ transformation (or R.C.’s misjudgment of her friend), R.C. is forced to leave in confusion and frustration.

This is a dark film, and the performances are especially convincing if you’ve been unlucky enough to know people who are able to spin “facts” out of thin air to feed their delusions in real time.

Many films are populated with interesting damaged characters. Psychic damage in a character’s background makes for interesting plot possibilities. As we negotiate the bumps and setbacks along the road of life, a traumatic incident can make a person more vulnerable to exploitation. In Agnes’ case, she’s got a lot going on under the surface, but it is her abusive ex-husband who has primed her by breaking her personality and teaching her how to submit to submit to someone else’s will. But instead of an abuser’s will, she substitutes Peter’s strong personality.

I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but it reminds me of how so-called-psychics take advantage of people who are grieving. Con artists target people who have suffered a loss because they are easier marks.

I wouldn’t necessarily describe Bug as a cautionary tale. It is more of a slow motion train wreck of insanity.

Posted by James at September 27, 2007 8:08 AM
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Hmmm. I opted not to see this because it seemed squeemy and gory to me and I wasn't in the mood for squeemy and gory. Now the story sounds interesting, although I'm still not in the mood for squeemy and gory. I love a good psychological thriller though. Decisions, decisions...

Posted by: leslie at September 27, 2007 10:34 AM

I'm not exactly sure why I chose not to describe this movie as a psychological thriller, but it certainly could be called that. It doesn't have the complexity of what I expect from a psychological thriller, but then _Psycho_ doesn't really have much complexity to it, either.

Posted by: James at September 27, 2007 11:15 AM

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