12 February 2008

I Need to Get Right with God

I find The King a truly fascinating and overlooked film from Milo Addica, who we learn plays a very convincing pizza delivery manager. William Hurt is a shiny-shirted, creatively-bearded Reverend Sandow who once knew a black-haired Yolanda. Ergo Gael Garcia Bernal’s Elvis, fresh off the good shop Athena, a washed-out boy off to find his father. His immediate, pure malevolence plainly contrasts the true preacher’s son, Paul Dano, in what I imagine was his first role as a young religious zealot.

The King’s Corpus Christi, Texas is made of the same colors as the summer Detroit suburbs of The Virgin Suicides—faded peach and scrubby white—even the church lawn greens are shocking, sickly. Preacher’s daughter Pell James (Mallorie) is not quite there but in the vein of young Sissy Spacek, opening her green eyes at the spookiest times. She is led down the path by Elvis with a line so clichéd it’s perfect:

“I have a car.”

Her answer, “What kind?” takes us to “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” without the unfortunate presence of Joyce Carol Oates, Laura Dern and, especially, Treat Williams. The inevitable Elvis-Mallorie relationship is minimally spoken—like Badlands Malick we go from her “Do you believe in God?” to “Water is so beautiful” to dripping-hem-school-girl-skirt sex.

I was moved most by two absolute showstopper scenes. In the first, Mallorie puts a fresh-cut deer head and a handful of purplish entrails into a bucket (animals WERE harmed!) and mops up with Cinderella-rote motions as her brother gestures to his bow: “don’t touch this.” In the second, the revelation of the incestuous nature of Elvis and Mallorie’s sex has opposite effects on the couple, sitting in a dilapidated burger joint: Elvis calmly folds placemats to make himself a crown and we pan to Mallorie, muttering an empty: “we’re going to hell.” Elvis merely closes his eyes and bows his head as if receiving a divine gift. And, in the wide-loving scope of his heart, Reverend Sandow invites Elvis into his home.

I particularly like that, as Elvis ingratiates himself into the family, as the narrative becomes almost unbearably perverse, the comedy is ratcheted up. We have the nicely domesticated Elvis weeding the backyard, padding to his half-sister’s room in suede slippers, generally hilarious. And after his last act of malice he walks into his father’s office and tells the man exactly what his Christian ears need to hear:

“I need to get right with God.”

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