Deep End (1971)

4 02 2010

For the record, I actually watched this before Fish Tank. I only say that because while they are both very different films, they do have a lot in common. Again, we have a coming of age story and again, the protagonist is 15 years old. Aside from that, and the fact that these films are the first and second instances of such a film in which I can’t completely relate to the protagonist, they really couldn’t be more different. If anything, they are fascinating films to compare and contrast. Both reinforce the misconception that a coming of age story must be about a witty, smart, and extremely likable individual that is alienated by his surroundings. If anything, both of these films are likely to alienate the legions of idiots who buy anticipate everyone of these films being a vague adaptation of Catcher in the Rye. Nothing against Salinger (it’s one of my favorite books still, in all honesty) but Holden Caulfield has become synonymous with both rebellion and angst.

The protagonist here, Mike, is everything Caulfield isn’t. Mike isn’t clever, he’s not self-conscious, he’s not observant. Mostly, he’s just really clumsy and awkward, which are probably his only similarity with Salinger’s canonized hero. Mike gets his first job at a bathhouse. He is immediately smitten (to say the least) with his co-worker, Susan, an outgoing redhead who, on the surface, anticipates every “pixie girl” of these stories. She uses the job as a host, so to speak, to be a glorified prostitute. She anticipates Mike to do the same, but as he is ever so clumsy (really can’t reinforce this enough) he brushes off the advances of all the customers, no matter how strong they come on.

Meanwhile, when he’s not working, he’s busy strengthening his obsession with Susan by stalking her and her fiance. Perhaps the film’s closest thing to a fault is the fact that Mike seems almost calm and collected when he’s doing his urban sleuthing, but I’d say that’s still a bit of a stretch. His nerves are still visible. Take, for example, the film’s most comedic sequence, in which he waits outside a swinger’s club for Sue and her partner. While waiting he tries to keep his cool by repeatedly buying hot dogs from a local vendor. It sounds merely confusing in words, but it works out perfectly in film, almost to the point that it boasts a Mike Leigh-level of discomfort and awkwardness for both the characters and the audience.

As Mike dives deeper and deeper into Sue’s life, we begins to realize she isn’t all that innocent or charming. Mike resists the evidence, though, and is confident in his original perception of her. Ultimately, he gets what he wants – a physical experience with Sue, but it is short-lived and what follows is one of the most unforgettable finales in all of cinema. On the other hand, I’m not sure if I even like the conclusion, as it, perhaps “goes too far.” If Fish Tank was a film driven by l tragedies redeemed  by concluding in a way that was open-ended and inconsequential, then Deep End is the opposite. It’s built with awkward and personal sequences, which form into one of the loudest climaxes in all of cinema. It can’t really ruin the rest of the movie, since I’m not sure if it is a good or bad ending but I had to stamp an abrupt question mark on the end. It’s a wonderful film, which I can’t recommend highly enough, but I’m not exactly sure if I am willing to embrace it like I have many of my other favorites. For now, it’s like a weird, kitchen-sink forerunner to The Wayward Cloud and that’s definitely a good thing.



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