Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Tarsem's inspiration

If you've read my blog a lot you know that Tarsem Singh's 2000 film The Cell is a favorite of mine, the kind of favorite I revisit about once every two years. Which is pretty often, considering that two of my top four movies of all time are films I haven't seen once in the past ten years. (A discussion for another time.)

In fact, today happens to be the two-year anniversary of my last viewing of The Cell, meaning that it's definitely time for another one. And there could be no greater encouragement than having just finally seen for the first time Ridley Scott's 1985 film Legend, which now seems like an obvious source of inspiration for The Cell.

Some spoilers may follow.

The plots could not be more different. One is a fantasy in which a demon is trying to bring about eternal darkness by killing off the last of the unicorns. The other is a horror-thriller in which a psychiatrist must enter the mind of a serial killer to discover the whereabouts of his last victim.

But the imagery they use? Well, I'll let you be the judge.

Both movies feature a princess character who becomes hypnotized. In Legend she's an actual princess named Lily, played by Mia Sara. In The Cell she's the psychiatrist, Catherine (Jennifer Lopez), who is only symbolically a princess in terms of the role she takes while hypnotized in the kingdom of the killer. "Queen" might be a better description than princess. Anyway, here's how they look:

That's Mia. And here's J-Lo:

I suppose you could argue that one being influenced by the other is not a given, since the costumes are more suggestive of each other than replicas. They are both ornate "dark princess" outfits -- so what?

But then there's the evil ruler of this lair, who hypnotizes these princesses. In Legend he's named Darkness and played by Tim Curry:

And in The Cell he's played by Vincent D'Onofrio and named Carl Stargher. We need two images of him to get the full breadth of the allusion, and it definitely does seem like an illusion:

One has the pronounced nipples and chest, the other has the horns. D'Onofrio's multiple incarnations in The Cell are one of its chief pleasures.

Taken in combination, there's no doubt that Tarsem seems to have been inspired by Legend. Right? I'm not saying it's a ripoff. I'm saying it's a repurposing, and a damn effective one at that.

Both films even have another male character who is involved in a climactic ceremony -- played by Vince Vaughn and Tom Cruise -- though their functions are a bit different. Vaughn is actually having his guts twisted out of him while desperately trying to break through to Catherine, while Cruise is a bit more of an onlooker as Lily prepares to possible sacrifice the last unicorn.

And speaking of which ...

Both movies feature a horse (unicorn, same difference) in harm's way. While the unicorns are ultimately saved in Legend, things don't turn out quite as well for the horse in The Cell ...

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