By Lisa Fremont
The talented Jennifer Lynch has brought us a few of the most delectable, little morsels of film. I still clearly remember how I felt the first time that I saw Boxing Helena. It is such a beautiful, yet twisted, kind of love story and, bonus, it was during Julian Sands and Sherilyn Fenn’s heyday. (I still have a huge crush on that man.) We didn’t hear from Lynch again until Surveillance. I can almost recall the exact way that my stomach twisted during the opening sequence of this film. Jennifer Chambers Lynch is clearly her father’s daughter, but her movies are her own.
When watching one of her films you are peripherally aware that she is related to David Lynch, but it is also very clear that she has her own unique voice. I believe that a lot of this is due to the fact that these are stories written and directed by a woman. Boxing Helena is a story from Philippe Caland with the screenplay from Lynch. Surveillance is written by Lynch and Kent Harper and Chained is Lynch’s screenplay, based on a screenplay written by Damian O’Donnell. The female perspective that she has brought to all of these stories is what really sets them apart. I have had Chained in my Amazon library since the day it was requested that I review it. However, knowing my emotional reactions to Jennifer Lynch films, I waited and waited until the moment felt right. The only thing that I knew going into this movie was that men, specifically, had very strong opinions about it. I didn’t really think about this fact until after I had let the movie digest in my mind, but we will get to that later.
Chained brings us the story of Bob, a cab driver who uses his occupation to pick up women, take them to his isolated house and then torture, rape and kill them. Played by Vincent D’Onofrio, Bob is your classic serial killer. He is very basic looking; you would never give him a second glance. He is civil and polite and, perhaps, a wee bit under educated. In life, we never really think about the fact that our cab driver, the person whom we have deemed worthy of getting us to our destination safely, has a lot of power over us when we are in their vehicle.
Bob picks up Sarah Fittler and her son from the movie theatre. She usually takes the bus, but her husband insists the cab will be safer. When Bob passes Sarah’s freeway exit, she begins to panic and then the doors lock and her cell service dies. As Sarah sits in the backseat yelling and pleading, Bob never utters a word. He just keeps driving.
The problem Bob runs into with Sarah is the fact that her son was with her. He hadn’t planned on having this kid, but now he has him and he is going to put him to good use. He will call him Rabbit and he will be expected to keep the house clean, unlock the door when Bob is bringing home another victim and then make sure he cuts out the newspaper articles about his victims and keep them organized in scrapbooks. The only food that Rabbit will eat is the food that Bob does not finish. Years go by and Rabbit is still maintaining Bob’s house, disposing of victims and keeping a scrapbook. When Rabbit is older, an incident that occurs in Bob’s taxi compels him to come home and try to introduce Rabbit into his logic. He claims that people are just pictures on the outside and pieces on the inside. Rabbit is to study an anatomy book to learn how to take people apart. Bob tells Rabbit to study and then maybe you can leave the house and find a girl; he wants Rabbit to have a taste of what he does. Will Rabbit go along with this or will he refuse? This is the question. How many years can you live with someone who does nothing but try to indoctrinate you into their way of living before you see their logic?
So, what fresh hell did Bob experience that led him to this life? The answer is truly ugly, despicable and heartbreaking. D’Nofrio plays Bob with a subtle hint of low intelligence, and palpable malevolence that, somehow, makes you feel a teeny tiny bit bad for him when you learn of his history. Bob wants so badly for Rabbit to see his ways and follow in his footsteps. What will our dear Rabbit choose?
It has been my interpretation that men, specifically, have a more visceral reaction to this movie than women do. Much like Martyrs, it seems as though this movie has a profound impact on every viewer, but even more so with one specific sex. Where Martyrs dealt with the emotional and cultural responsibilities placed on women, Chained seems to deal with the fear of being kept, controlled, manipulated and expected to be a “man” on someone else’s terms. Each gender has been dealt a different and specific set of cards that challenge us and our ideals on a daily basis. What kind of man allows himself to be chained to a wall for years, do everything commanded of him and just stay even as his age and strength mature? Surely, if he were a “real man”, he would try to escape any chance he got and ,if unsuccessful at that, then surely he would relish the opportunity to overpower and overcome the “weaker” sex. When Bob brings home Angie, the girl that Rabbit has chosen to be his first, will he take the opportunity to finally be the one in power? Will Rabbit be a man or will he remain a timid captive to a homicidal maniac? Chained will keep you guessing right up to the twist that you really never saw coming.
This is not a movie for the faint of heart; not because of violence or gore, but because of the mental and emotional punch. It is a dark and heartbreaking story and I loved every single second of it. Upon a second viewing, it is that much more impactful. Despite my best wishes and intentions, I became fully invested in both Bob and Rabbit. For different reasons,not all of them logical, part of me wanted to see both men have a happy ending; whatever that would like in a Jennifer Lynch film. The moral conundrums, ethical questions and each person’s chosen way to deal with past abuse is all very interesting. I found that this movie stayed with me for days while I tried to understand each character’s logic. There are so many unfortunate choices made in this movie and none of them seem right, but what other options did everyone have? Everything about Chained, the way it looks, the pace, the way it feels, even the lack of a soundtrack come together to make a perfect piece of uncomfortable and thought provoking cinema.