No Such Thing

2002, Movie, R, 103 mins


It's always wise to expect the unexpected from writer-director Hal Hartley, so it should come as no surprise that his take on fairy tales and monsters should be so decidedly idiosyncratic. What is surprising is how little Hartley has to say on the subject. A monster (Robert John Burke) has taken up residence in an abandoned military base high in the frozen Icelandic north, and he's making life hell for the nearby residents. Every so often, the creature leaves the solitude of his rusty lair to terrorize the locals, but his heart's not in it anymore: He's been alive since time immemorial, and he's just plain tired. "I'm not the monster I used to be," he muses. One of the creature's recent meals was a three-man news crew, sent to investigate rumors of "its" existence by a cynical tabloid TV news producer (Helen Mirren) who knows the value of really sensational, preferably bad news. When the monster sends back a taunting audio tape detailing the crew's fate, budding journalist Beatrice (Sarah Polley) volunteers to go looking for them. She doesn't get far before her plane crashes into the Atlantic. Miraculously, Beatrice survives, but she's so badly injured she spends the next six months in an Icelandic hospital. When she's sufficiently recovered, Beatrice checks herself out and continues her search across the frigid countryside accompanied by her doctor (Julie Christie). When angelic, pure-of-heart Beatrice and the bloodthirsty monster finally meet, it becomes clear that Hartley is reworking the old legend of Beauty and the Beast. But Hartley also tosses in a little Gothic despair — the monster feels cursed by immortality and wants only to die — and structures it like KING KONG: The creature is brought back to New York, where he's exploited, humiliated and very nearly destroyed. Mirren's take on media piranhas is great fun, and while the monster may be a foul-mouthed Grendel with scaly flesh, broken horns and a taste for human flesh, he's every inch a Hartley anti-hero: witty, urbane and riddled with existential angst. But the film is little more than a stylish exercise in revisionism whose point — we create, then destroy our own monsters in order to assure ourselves we're human — is no doubt true, but serves as a rather thin moral to such a knowing fable. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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