Theme of the Month: Starting Over


By Braden Turk

Theme of the Month is an article series designed to investigate the best examples of film, television, and writing that fall under a certain category. This month focuses on starting over, or works that feature completed (or attempted) facial reconstruction as a major plot point.

1. “Eyes Without a Face” (1960)

In an ominous, secluded manor, anti-villain Dr. Génessier conducts experiments of the most horrific kind. Ridden with guilt after causing an accident that leaves his young daughter disfigured, he sets off a string of kidnappings in a desperate attempt to recreate the beauty he destroyed.

Audiences in 1960s dropped like flies. Its premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival left viewers shocked and disgusted, primarily at a graphic surgical scene where a woman’s face is cut and removed. Most critics panned the film, and one of the few writers who voiced positive opinions about it was almost fired. But its intentions were misunderstood; “Eyes Without a Face” is not an exploitation film. It definitely has all of the hallmarks of one, though: mad scientists, animal abuse, and blood, three things necessary to adapt without butchering the novel it was based on.

Simply put, “Eyes Without a Face” is a rarity. It has the unique ability to mix terror with the poetic, thanks to an expressive performance by Edith Scob and Maurice Jarre’s ethereal soundtrack (along with George Franju’s solid direction). The film treats its characters with gentleness and respect; Dr. Génessier, who should be despicable in all walks of life, is shown as sympathetic and regretful. What other movies would have ignored, “Eyes Without a Face” looks at head-on, offering a cult film that stands as tall today as it did 60 years ago.

2. “Invisible Monsters”

“Nobody’s all-the-way dead yet, but let’s just say the clock is ticking.”

“Invisible Monsters” starts in medias res with a maniacal bride swinging a shotgun by her side, a transsexual woman bleeding to death on the ground, and someone with half her face missing in the middle of it all. Yes, we’re only getting started.

Typical of other Chuck Palahniuk novels, “Invisible Monsters” is structured on a whim, jumping back and forth in its timeline over and over again. The whiplash pacing is not entirely necessary, but works when considering the more specific details of the plot. A former model, after somehow surviving a devastating shotgun blow to her face, meets transsexual woman Brandy who may or may not be the key to everything going on. Along with our narrator’s corrupt cop boyfriend, the misfit trio embarks on a cross-country journey stealing prescription medicine from houses for sale. It only figures this is coming from the same man who wrote “Fight Club.”

To describe this book is to do it no justice. “Invisible Monsters” captures a type of frazzled, kinetic energy: something that cannot be captured here. “Invisible Monsters” is full of catchy lines and memorable (albeit scattershot) characters: a great starting point for a now-famous literary figure.

3. “Seconds” (1966)

Middle-aged banker Arthur Hamilton is living a meaningless life. His relationship with his wife is stable, but without passion. He has a child, but they rarely visit. He is successful at his job, but the excitement he once felt has plateaued. When a faceless organization, only known as the “Company,” contacts him via a friend he thought was dead, Hamilton has a chance to be reborn, gaining a new identity and lifestyle. As events head towards tragedy, the vapid emptiness of the middle-class life is revealed.

A part of director John Frankenheimer’s “paranoia trilogy,” “Seconds” is less an escapist fantasy and more a meticulous dissection of the American Dream. Hamilton, known as “Tony” in his new identity, has everything the typical middle-class male is supposed to achieve. He has a good house, job, wife, and child, but all of it is incredibly dull. Even then, one would think becoming a “Reborn” with artistic talent and a beautiful beach-side home would finally satisfy even the emptiest of people, but this is not the case.

“Seconds” did not have much of an audience to appeal to. At the time, the plot was too outlandish for mainstream audiences to handle, while the indie crowd was not comfortable with then-Hollywood star Rock Hudson. Three of the principal actors were also previously on the “Blacklist,” or entertainers that were cast out from Hollywood after suspicion of having Communist sympathies.

Mirroring the allure of escapism with the undeniable impact of reality, “Seconds” is a symphony of unease, showing that a true sense of fulfillment is nothing but a dream.