Monday, March 25, 2013
In a Glass Cage
I was pretty freaked out by the Stephen King novella Apt Pupil. I was no older than 12 when I read it. It's about a teenager who discovers there to be a Nazi in his neighborhood, living under a false identity. The kid blackmails the war criminal into telling him all about the atrocities he perpetrated and breaks his brain and soul in the process, ending up committing suicide by cop. A relatively crappy movie was made in the late 90's that isn't worth going into.
This movie has a very similar plot - the German is in Spain, though, and he's incapacitated from a suicide attempt and left in an iron lung. The young man in this story is hired as a nurse. It turns out he found the German's scrapbook, full of details about his work and pastime of killing and molesting young boys, and has become inspired to emulate the Nazi. He abuses the old man in the same way the old man abused children and arranges murders so as to involve the old man in the recreations of his previous handiwork.
Where Apt Pupil is superior is in having the characters express their motivations and emotions about what is happening in their lives due to their mutually parasitic relationship. I suppose you could argue that King spoonfeeds this to the reader, but it's still more effective than In a Glass Cage was. While it may be petty to expect a half-dead old man in an iron lung to emote more, he's practically lifeless. He just does what the young man tells him to do. And while it's made crystal-clear at the end of the movie that the young man was abused as a child by the old man, until that point there's no reason given for his insistence on joining forces with the Nazi - except maybe that finding the scrapbook is reason enough. The other characters at the periphery are practically ciphers as well. There's no emotional heft when no one is acting like actual people act in fucked-up situations like these.
This is not a bad movie. It's remarkably restrained considering what it shows happening, and the subject matter is disturbing. Maybe having watched Salo not 24 hours before skewed my perception of this film, considering they share central themes, most notably the cycle of abuses perpetrated on the weak by the powerful. It's too uneven to give it my unreserved recommendation...not that anyone was waiting with bated breath for that.
Tomorrow:August Underground's Mordum