Movie Scenes That Broke My Brain–Sorcerer

The Passing of the Dead, Sorcerer (1977, William F’ing Friedkin)

Ya’ll, Sorcerer got screwed.


Not just because it was released the same month as some Star War thingy, but because William Friedkin had come up against one of the most dangerous forces a filmmaker can deal with: other people’s expectations.

When Willy F conceived of Sorcerer, he was coming off the success of what many consider to be the greatest horror movie of all time, a little flight of fancy called The Exorcist. The problem was, it was TOO good. And when you’re too good at something, people start thinking that’s either all you can do or are supposed to do.

So when the title dropped, people thought Friedkin was going back to the supernatural well. Instead, he turned out a thoughtful and terrifying meditation on Fate and the meaning of existence, with nary a demon or devil in sight except the ones the four protagonists bring with them to the damaged South American village of Porvenir, a place where men go to die in our world and be born anew.

It’s a gorgeous film.

An oil field explodes, forcing four men who are running from their sins and themselves to team up to transport dynamite over 200 miles through the South American jungle in order to implode the field and stop the fire. Sounds simple, yes? Except the dynamite is ancient and sweating nitroglycerin. Death awaits every bump on the road, every sway of a bridge. The transport is harrowing to watch, full of anger and rawness as these four men finally make the choice to follow where fate has led them. If they don’t come back alive, they don’t come back the same.

But it’s the scene immediately following the explosion that grabbed me and hasn’t let go.

A riot has broken out on the streets of Porvenir as a truck carrying the bodies of those who perished in the explosion moves into the center of town. People are angry that so many lives have been lost to the oil company’s greed. And then the sound drops out as the first corpse is lifted off the truck. In utter silence we see the crowd lifting the bodies, passing them overhead to a proper resting place. We hear rising sobs, the keening of women, the wailing for the souls of the dead.

For that moment, time stands still. Sound returns, as does the anger.

For that moment, we ARE Porvenir. Friedkin made the choice to put the camera firmly in the middle of the sea of humanity that surrounds the truck, and we are immersed. We feel every bit of anguish because we are forced to look at it. The scene is beautiful and unflinching and uncomfortable. And then the riot resumes, and the terror of being trapped in an out-of-control crowd returns. The camera escapes, but only barely. We realize then that no one is safe in this world.

No one is ever safe, and the ones who return?

…well, Fate has her own ideas.


Movie Scenes That Broke My Brain–Martyrs

In the years that I’ve been married to the Fahnz, I’ve seen more interesting movies than in the years leading up to us meeting. We’ve developed a habit of discussing the stuff that really moves us–music, visuals, performances–and it made me think about what movie scenes I’ve seen in the last ten years of my life that truly stunned me.

So here begins a list, in no particular order because I don’t believe in quantifying stuff numerically, of movie scenes (from my last ten years) that broke my brain.

Anna Speaks, Martyrs (2008, Pascal Laugier)


Any time I talk about Martyrs I get bitter.

Not because it’s bad; on the contrary, it is one of the most incredible pieces of philosophy I’ve ever seen, couched neatly in the New French Extremity movement of film making and a new immersion in human horror. The notion behind the movie is that with pain comes transcendence, and that only women are capable of that level of understanding because it is women who are born to suffering. It’s an incredible allegory for the role of female agony in current society, it’s very hard to watch, and I will likely never watch it again.

But I am glad I did, just that once.

No, I get bitter because Pascal Laugier was short-listed to direct the Hellraiser reboot, and with Martyrs had proven himself more than capable of handling the true horror-based eroticism of the original Clive Barker short story. Barker himself felt that Laugier was the best possible choice, but Laugier was not as easily accepted by the money men and stepped off the film because of “creative differences” (aka he was gonna GO THERE and they didn’t want to try to sell it) in 2009.

So we sit with four Laugier films, one of which I adore because it was written in a fit of darkness and depression and challenges the idea of what it means to live in constant pain. It transcends. And yet I don’t want to describe the film that much. It’s damn near impossible to do so without sapping it of its power. Amazingly enough, the scene that defines it for me doesn’t even happen until the end, and it’s a doozy.

Imagine that you’re the head of a secret society that attempts to understand the connection between pain and transcendence. And imagine that you’ve accomplished this. A woman lies in her bed, bereft of all but the agony you’ve inflicted upon her. She whispers to you, tells you the answer for which you have tortured and sacrificed and suffered all your life. What do you do?

Go watch Martyrs. Just once. Trust me, and I’m sorry.

Leaving Monte Rio

Tom Waits is in my head.

I’d heard of him long before I discovered him. My husband has a habit of making sure there’s new stuff to listen to all the time in our house, and I’m grateful because there are so many times I’m in a specific headspace, in need of musical immersion, and nothing I find in my personal queue seems to be right. And then I dive into the media folder and float away on a lyric or two.

Hold on.

So of course I read the news. It hurts sometimes, especially when it’s something that reminds me why I’m going back to school. I’m afraid for everyone. I’m afraid of the collective trauma response that’s going to rise up and overtake us when this is all over.

Hold on.

Today I’m listening to the utter transcendence that is “Frank’s Wild Years” and basking in the power of his audacity. I want to be that free. I want to be fearless. There’s a small scared thing inside me that cowers in the face of judgment and shame.

Hold on.

In a few hours I will drive to my family’s arts conservatory to help them out with the summer recital. I do not want to listen to the news on the way there, but I will. Hiding from the reality is what gives it power. Nothing makes sense today.

But on the way home, I will listen to Tom Waits.




something that makes things visible or affords illumination

an illuminating agent or source, as the sun, a lamp, or a beacon

the radiance or illumination from a particular source

the love and care that we all need to get through this life