Three intercut stories about outsiders, sex and violence. In "Hero," Richie, at age 7, kills his father and flies away. After the event, a documentary in cheesy lurid colors asks what ... See full summary »
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Three intercut stories about outsiders, sex and violence. In "Hero," Richie, at age 7, kills his father and flies away. After the event, a documentary in cheesy lurid colors asks what Richie was like and what led up to the shooting. In the black and white "Horror," a scientist isolates the elixir of human sexuality, drinks it, and becomes a festering, contagious murderer; a female colleague who loves him tries to help, to her peril. In "Homo," a prisoner in Fontenal prison is drawn to an inmate whom he knew some years before, at Baton juvenile institute, and whose humiliations he witnessed. This story is told in dim light, except for the bright flashbacks. Written by
Poison, the first theatrical film of Todd Haynes, is a grotesque, pessimistic, and extremely disturbing picture that is both celebration of misery and cruelty and a reflection of human tenderness and sexual freedom. The film interweaves three very different stories together into one narrative line. The film goes back and forth between each story, and each story is completely different from one another in theme, content, style, musical choice, genre, and tone. One story, titled 'Horror', is shot in the style of a 50s B-horror film and is about a scientist who manages to alienate the human sex drive into a vial of fluid. Unfortunately, he accidentally drinks the fluid and mutates into a blistering pile of pus and proceeds to go on an infectious rampage, spreading his disease to all he comes into contact with. Another story, titled 'Homo', is a sinister, gritty, muddy, and emotionally tender love story set in an underground prison of some kind in which two male prisoners slowly descend into an obsessive and violent S&M relationship. The story contains flashbacks to their traumatic youth. The remaining story, titled 'Hero', is shot in what appears to be a documentary format in which several members of a distraught community are interviewed about a recent bizarre tragedy involving a disturbed family. A little boy named Richard shoots his sexually abusive father and then flies out the window, and the entire incident was witnessed by his mother who considers her son to be an angel sent from God to watch over her.
Poison is a rather strangely enchanting film. One of the most enchanting things about it is that it never quite gives you any time to breathe. From frame one, the film plunges you into a world full of cruelty and chaotic confusion and you're left on your own to pretty much sort through the images. It's all rather elegantly pulled off. Haynes manages to capture a lot of the charm and the overall structure from each film medium his stories represent. With 'Hero' he manages to present that optimistic 50s family sitcom outlook gone slightly wrong found in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. He does this by using a lot of bright colors and simplistic architecture. The effect is unsettling, but it is also strangely hypnotic in it's own weird way. By using mostly mastershots and by allowing a little more time for talking heads, he's able to create a real creepy sense of foreboding fury that fits really well with the other two stories. With 'Homo', he uses a lot of low angles and close-ups. He also uses more natural lighting, at least in the scenes that aren't flashbacks. It's a much more testosterone driven story, and so the dark look really helps to highlight a lot of the sweatier, more vulnerable aspects of the bodies of these characters. This adds a much more psychological aspect of male sexuality to the film that carries over to the other two stories, making 'Hero' seem ever so slightly more perverted to the average viewer and making 'Horror' seem a lot more metaphorical and realistic in some ways. With 'Horror', we get the bleakest and most disturbing tale of the three. In order to create that classic horror movie feel, Todd Haynes uses a lot more fade-outs, more specific music cues, and noticeably melodramatic narration. He allows us to really feel sorry for this disturbed character, and that feeling of uncleanliness pervades the rest of the film as a result.
It seems to me that Haynes wanted to create this film in order to develop an intricate puzzle of how genre pictures can manipulate other genre pictures, the viewing experience of each picture, how watching one sort of theme in one picture can invisibly affect a separate viewing of another picture, and to recreate the style of multiple viewing itself. His personal reasons for making this film, however, seem to be much more complicated. Poison is what I would consider the quintessential gay picture. It has everything I love and hate about most gay themed films (the depressing endings, the perverted camera-work, the abundant strange behavior, the gratuitous sex), but it's self-awareness is so fun to watch that it rises above all the schlock and finds it's own path toward narrative freedom.
Above all, Poison is a masterpiece. Along with In a Glass Cage, If...., My Own Private Idaho, Mysterious Skin, and the films of Derek Jarman, it's one of the more challenging gay themed films that you're likely to see. Even if the subject matter disturbs you, there is still so much to digest in terms of imagery and in the wonderful music score. Even if you put aside all that, however, you still have one of the most unusual storytelling structures you will likely see for this kind of film. You can spend the entire film just studying the structure and you will learn so much about scene and theme composition. Even putting aside THAT, however, the ambition of the film is enough to admire. I find that there is way too much going on here that can simply be written off. The things I've noticed upon re-watching this film have chilled me to the bone, and watching it only makes me want to watch it again. It's one of those films that really hit the right notes with me. I will admit that the first time I watched it I couldn't quite comprehend it. It is a dizzying film in that sense, and I don't expect most viewers to digest a lot of the imagery on their first viewing. However, it's a film that I think really says a lot about human progress in terms of sex, imagination, violence, and physical desire. It's a powerful film with a lot of quiet emotion with an ending that left me feeling very polarized. Watching it once is simply not enough.
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