For me watching the movie 8mm is kind of like eating gas station nachos. (Okay. I’m sure you know exactly where I’m going here, but if you’ve read a few of my blogs then you also know I can’t resist this stuff. So…) I actually like gas station nachos. I don’t live on them by any means but, yeah, every now and then I get the urge for some florescent orange goopy cheese and super vinegary canned jalapeno peppers over stale tortilla rounds. What can I say? Call me crazy. What I don’t like is admitting to it. It’s a little embarrassing. And sad.
Likewise, nowadays, it’s a little embarrassing to admit to liking a Nicolas Cage movie. I know I don’t have to expound on this, any discerning cinema lover has been dismayed, chagrined or amused–sometimes all three at the same time–by Cage’s performances and the movies he has chosen to perform in over the last decade. Here’s a bit of a rundown just to belabor the point: (Refer to the rather lengthy aside in the introductory paragraph here.) Ghost Rider. The Wicker Man. National Treasure. Left Behind.
And yes, I’ve seen it. Hasn’t Everybody? (I’m referring the YouTube film clip mashup entitled Nicolas Cage Losing his Shit.) “NOT THE BEES!!! THEY’RE IN MY EYES!! MY EYES!! AAAHHH!!!” (Ha ha ha!…Whew!…Hilarious…And sad.)
There’s just one problem with my whole analogy though: I’m not embarrassed about liking 8mm. Nope. Not in the least. In fact, I think 8mm is a good–albeit it significantly flawed–film that has gotten a bad rap. But even more than that, I think it is a culturally significant film, especially in our current environment.
Yep. You read that right.
And Nicolas Cage? Well, he’s always been weird. Even back in the day when he was a hot commodity in Moonstruck, Raising Arizona, Leaving Las Vegas and Adaption–all of which he was great in, by the way–he was weird. Back then people called him quirky and adorable.
He even won an Oscar being weird. Remember that? And then he was nominated for another one being even weirder.
That said, there’s a difference between being weird, i.e., quirky and adorable and going off the rails, i.e., The Wicker Man. Of late the Nicolas Cage train has derailed and is in perpetual crash and burn. No doubt.
Still, that shouldn’t diminish his prior quality contributions to acting and cinema. I think not. Like so many of us, personally and professionally, Nicolas Cage is a mixed bag.
Plus his most recent film, the yet to be released Panos Cosmatos directed Mandy, is supposed to be superb. There is talk that this is the film to resurrect Nicolas Cage’s career. I, for one, am rooting for him.
Now here’s my case for 8mm:
Tom Wells (Nicolas Cage) is a family man. His wife, Amy, (Catherine Keener) is smart, lovely and loyal. His six months’ old daughter, Cindy, is adorable. Tom works in the yard and helps Amy with the baby when he’s not traveling around the country as a surveillance expert/private investigator. He’s good at what he does, dutiful and discreet. His clientele is high profile.
One day Tom is summoned to a sprawling steel magnate’s estate in Cleveland. The magnate is recently deceased and his widow, Mrs. Christian, has made a disturbing discovery in her late husband’s safe–an 8mm film that depicts the brutal murder of a teenage girl. But is it real?
Tom watches the film privately. It’s a grainy low budget affair set in a squalid room encased with plastic sheeting. Sure enough there is a teenage girl–not an actress pretending to be a teenage girl–and if she’s pretending to be terrified, she’s doing a damn good job. She is not screaming. No. Her face is composed in abject resignation to her fate. A burly man dressed in S&M bondage gear whose face is sheathed in one of those terrifying leather masks menaces her with a knife.
Here we become the apex voyeur–we simultaneously watch the film and Tom, while he watches the film. We see no thrusting knife, no spurting, splattering blood but we see Tom as he see’s those things. We watch him cringe impotently in his seat, grimacing, recoiling; a big man shrinking in every sense of the word. Similarly there are no ear shattering screams but we do hear the girl’s anguished cries—and whir of the film running through the projector. It is a powerful, gut wrenching cinematic sequence. Not just the visual, visceral aspect of it but what it says about us and our place in an increasingly voyeuristic, surveillance, camera crazy society.
Keep in mind that Joel Schumacher directed 8mm in 1999. When Tom is asked why he chose surveillance instead of law like his brothers did, he answers that he chose it because he believes it’s the future. How eerily prophetic that proves to be eighteen years later.
In our current society, it is appallingly easy to witness murder. All you have to do is hop on YouTube or Live Leaks where you can watch hours of actual murder caught on camera if you so desire. We are constantly surveilling; constantly filming; constantly watching. But at what cost?
Tom plunges himself into a horrific, wretched underworld in order to defend the teenage girl in the film. He senses the film is most likely real. It is. That the girl is dead. She is. But still his outrage, his humanity demands that he risk everything–even his own family–to find out who she is–was, to resurrect her existence, defend her identity and protect her personhood. He does. But the cost is almost more than he bear.
The cost is what he sees. And what he will never be able to forget.