Thursday, October 08, 2009

Rob's Couch vs. The Wages of Fear

For the past week or so, I've been watching an excellent movie called The Wages of Fear. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, The Wages of Fear is about four men living in a South American hellhole of a town. It's an awful, poverty-stricken place surrounded by desert; the only way out is a plane ticket no one there can afford. But when an accident sets an oil rig ablaze, the oil company that runs the town decides to hire these drifters to haul an terrifying amount of nitroglycerin out to the rig, where it can be used explode the well closed and stop the blaze. They'll pay $2,000 a man for the trip, enough for any of them to get out. But is that enough to carry a bomb on your back?

The first hour sets up the mens' lives in the town, and how they relate to each other, and why they (or anyone) would be so desperate to get out. It's slowly paced, like life in the town itself. And since this is subtitled (from both Spanish and French into English, although sometimes English is spoken, too) it took a little more attention than I was able to give it the first night we watched it, and I fell asleep on the love seat, some 45 minutes in. (It's a two-and-a-half-hour movie.)

After that night, Kathy had seen enough, so I set about to finish it on me own, after she'd gone to bed. Problem was, I'd lie down on our couch and watch this movie in the dark. The first night, I got fifteen minutes further, and realized I'd dozed off around 45 minutes after i turned off the tv, and, too paralyzed by the couch to move, stayed there until 5:30 in the morning, when I crawled into bed.

Two nights ago, I got a little farther. The ride had begun, but I drifted off again, forgetting I needed my eyes to read the subtitles. The couch wins again.

But last night, I backed up to the first treacherous part of the journey, a long, grooved part of the road (called "the Washboard") where there were only two safe ways to drive it: going 40 mph, or crawling along under 6. This is followed by other hazards -- a tight turn onto a rickety wooden platform, a boulder in the path of the road, and worse. And Clouzot twists and twists until he finds every bit of tension in the scene. None of these things sound like they'd be terrifying to watch. But make no mistake, they are.

By the time the film reaches one of the most disturbing death scenes I've ever seen, I realized that, no matter how many nights it took for me to watch the whole thing, this had become one of my favorite suspense movies. It's a slow starter, but when it hits the road, it never lets up.


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