Tuesday, July 8, 2014

PBR Film Club Examines Borgman: "I'm bored. I want to play."

In Alex van Warmerdam's bizarre, often funny, very unsettling new film Borgman, the title character is chased out of his underground lair and soon insinuates himself into the life of a conventional suburban family.  While the husband is instantly (violently) suspicious of the interloper, the wife, Marina, is quickly drawn to him, requesting his continued presence, which he tells her might be possible but only if she's willing to live with "the consequences." These "consequences" will ultimately prove quite high, with a surprisingly hefty body count.   Borgman, in many ways, is a more malevolent version of a character common in suburban literature and film: the outsider whose "subversive" views offer the repressed suburbanites a potential escape from their malaise (though sometimes the escape is death).  In Mendes' American Beauty, this character is Ricky Fitts, whose personal autonomy inspires Lester and Jane to attempt to free themselves from their suburban shackles. In Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road (and Mendes' film version) this character is John Givings, the mental patient who helps Frank and April see through the artificiality of their lives.  While Fitts and Givings don't always seem fully cognizant of their impact, Borgman is a revolutionary, but one who embraces his role as a wicked Trickster figure along the way:  "I'm bored," he says.  "I want to play."  That idea of performance and play runs throughout the film, from Borgman's mid-film identity shift to a strange production he stages in a backyard near the end.  Theatre metaphors are consistently used in Yates' novel as well, enhancing the suggestion that the suburbs are just a facade, masking whatever reality might lie behind them or, in Borgman's case, literally beneath them. With his work and "play" done, the film's haunting final passages suggest Borgman will soon descend again (and not alone) until it's time to emerge and wreak more havoc.

Here's a great poster which perfectly suggests some of these themes:

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