Blu-ray Review: “STOKER”, A Fantastic Coming-of-Age Film
A special breed, the best coming-of-age films are awash in cinematic power that evoke visceral remembrance of adolescence and a time when every emotion was true elation, the most fluttering of butterflies or absolutely gut-wrenching. It’s in adolescence when everything feels a matter of life and death, making this extremity of feeling ripe for exploration through genre. In that sense, and in many others, Park Chan-wook’s first English language feature STOKER is perfect. It’s lead, the young India (Mia Wasikowska) on the cusp of womanhood, navigating a journey of heightened senses, family mystery and eventual murder, is a warped, lurid portrait of coming-of-age. She faces loss, of both a loved one and an idol, and gains herself in the process. In the end, India boasts a sense of self, is assured of her body and is equipped with a thrilling drive.
STOKER opens once India’s already gained this sense of self, and it is here she speaks the most significant words of the film. It is a transfixing sequence, with freezes seemingly tailored to our breath being taken right away. India guides us through her wardrobe, her genetic makeup. Her mother’s blouse, her father’s belt, shoes gifted by her uncle. The three personalities clash within her throughout STOKER to craft the outfit she wears so well by film’s end.
We then revert to the inward-facing India’s eighteenth birthday, and there is a hard division between childhood and what will come next. Her window to the world, her father, is dead. Surely quiet and introspective before, she is now disaffected and disillusioned with the world around her, especially a mother on her own plane of existence. The arrival of mysterious and sly Uncle Charlie awakens something else, however. Everything India’s father taught her — awareness, patience, assurance — will come into play, but a different maturation is prompted by Charlie. It is sexual and violent, but more importantly it is something every growing girl or boy must learn: disappointment, or the feeling that someone we admire can be everything and nothing they’re cracked up to be.
Once Charlie (Matthew Goode) enters the lives of India and her wistful mother Evie (an amazing Nicole Kidman), a fluid, twisting back-and-forth dance begins. The three are locked in predatory games, vying for attention, following, listening, watching, stealing looks, exchanging stares throughout the artful, timeless home. Nearly every sumptuous shot, and certainly every masterfully composed sequence, is emotive. Evie flirts with and engages Charlie, believing a younger version of her late husband is igniting something within. Charlie is more sinister though, attempting to seduce India, sensing a companionship in their instincts and compulsions. India is weathering this tumultuous time, facing the last steps of growing up without her guide. She has mastered everything her father’s taught her though, and now it is time to face the sides of herself bestowed by Charlie and Evie.
She does try both on for size, imitating Evie’s sultry ways with a boy in the forest after witnessing such an exchange between her mother and uncle in the house. She is unaware how natural it comes, however, with the same going for her more violent inclinations. When she’s confronted with such, it is overwhelming and frightening before it is ultimately satiating and transcendent in an incredible shower scene. It is here she begins to become adult, and as she notes in the opening, “to become adult is to become free.” Just prior to that succinct, simple sentence, India poetically explains, “I am not formed by things that are of myself alone.” As the movie unravels, it seems her father understood and anticipated this. Their hunting trips were a means of mastering, curtailing and nurturing the nature she had possibly inherited from the Stoker name; Charlie, in particular.
I look a great deal like my father, and I suspect that will remain true. There are gestures and inflections of his that I notice myself performing, often without realizing. I’ve often asked myself whether these things were simply ingrained in me through lineage, or it is because I’ve seen him do so, so many times in my life. India’s father tried to nurture her away from something ingrained, but India was formed by his nature, and her mother’s unexpectedly astute perception, just as much as by Charlie from afar. By STOKER’s end, she has internalized and accepted this, allowing what’s in her nature to nurture herself and power through into something else entirely. Something that, although murderous (it is genre, after all) is incredibly inspiring.
Now available on Blu-ray and DVD, STOKER should be taken in heartily and in the highest possible quality. The collaboration between Park Chan-wook, cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, production designer Thérèse DePrez and art director Wing Lee is a stunning bit of American Gothic. The film exists in a stylish timelessness that is all consuming and endlessly watchable. Accompanying the film is a series of deleted scenes that are mostly extended versions of what’s already in the film. They are lovely, simply because of the actors’ and filmmaker’s work, however the in-film variations are tighter and ultimately more satisfying. The one wholly excised scene sees a bit more work from Jacki Weaver and contains a fantastic callback laugh. The documentary, “Stoker: A Filmmaker’s Journey” is thankfully an in-depth chronicle of Chan-wook making his English-language debut. Much more in the way of still galleries and trailers are included, as well, but are truly just bonuses for something is already a must-own.