Friday, October 2, 2009

Of Unknown Origin

When his wife and son take a trip to visit family, a successful businessman (played by Peter Weller; looks like I accidentally had an actors-who-played-Robocop double feature on Friday night.) is left alone in their oversized New York apartment. With pressure building up at work, he slowly starts to crack, becoming obsessed with killing a rat that has taken up residence in his home. First it's just a matter of putting rat traps everywhere and researching rat trivia and regurgitating it to everyone he talks to. Soon enough, however, he's suiting himself up in old sports gear, crafting homemade weapons and waging a full out war against the rodent.

Although Of Unknown Origin never quite descends into full-out horror, and has a weirdly funny/upbeat ending, it was quite awesome and probably my favorite movie I've watched for the marathon so far (I'm writing this on Monday the 5th). Part of the fun is the entertaining, exaggerated yet never quite over-the-top visual style that director George P. Cosmatos brings to the material. In addition to some striking framing and much fun with reflections (something I'm always a sucker for), I very much enjoyed Cosmatos' treatment of the rat. He almost always films it in extreme, fragmented close-up, so that the rat's nasty teeth or giant claws look enormous, dominating the frame and dwarfing Weller. One stupid fucking rat is not a credible threat in a horror movie, but the point is that Weller sees the rat as such and becomes fixated on it. The result is a lot of fun to watch.

Unfortunately, the final act, when Weller finally loses his shit and tries to take the rat on mano-a-mano is a little disappointing, though still very watchable. It's a classic case of the build-up being more interesting than the pay-off; watching Weller slowly lift his veneer of normalcy is more compelling than watching him try to fight one non-evil, non-supernatural rodent.

Still, what's interesting and somewhat strange about the ending of this film is that it finally presents Weller's breakdown as being a positive experience. In the end, though he succeeds in killing the rat, Weller has jeopardized his career and destroyed his fancy looking home. He walks around his apartment, surveying the damage, he sees a vase that remained unharmed... and smashes it on the ground. In the final shot, his family returns from their trip, Weller embraces them and leads them inside. From outside, we hear his wife, understandably shocked, ask what happened. "I had a party." The end.

If I'm reading this right, Weller's war against the rat was less a breakdown of his sanity/stability and instead an event that brought him in touch with his inner savage, and lead him to reject his upper-class lifestlye as well as the white-collar, ahem, rat race that he was a part of. I was expecting Weller to end up hurting or killing someone, and instead I guess he finds self-actualization.

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