Holy Smoke Film Details
Overview: Ruth’s been brainwashed by a guru in Delhi, India. Her parents in Sydney hire a specialist in reversing this. Ruth is tricked to return to Australia and is isolated in an outback cabin with the specialist. It gets messy.
Tagline: He had only one thing on his mind… but so did she!
Review: I knew right away that many popular critics would dislike HOLY SMOKE. They’re typically representative of common thought – though perhaps more arrogant and more resistant to personal analysis. Like Nietzsche, Jane Campion challenges each of us to self-assess and allows no one to escape scrutiny. By the same token, Campion offers understanding for everyone. HOLY SMOKE doesn’t take the superficial road – the “good vs evil” approach to issues, like the characters in the film do, although I believe it would have enjoyed better critical reception had it done exactly that. The beauty and artistic brilliance by which Campion has dramatized the universal conditions of self-righteousness, hypocrisy and the various justifications to preserve one’s comfort of the familiar, is also what I believe caused critics and many viewers discomfort. To me, that very reaction pushes the ironic validity of HOLY SMOKE even further. I had seen Campion’s THE PIANO (also featuring Harvey Keitel as the male lead)- a hauntingly beautiful and tragic story of passion that finds its way through the unique gift of a woman and the interest of a man in what she has to give. I was inspired to write a long letter of appreciation and thanks to Jane Campion for her awareness and honesty, her bluntness, her artistry and her guts. Depending on one’s point of view, she either empowers or threatens. Her loving treatment of women, who traditionally have been taken for granted – their individual desires, interests and abilities largely disregarded – is evident in her art. But she doesn’t stop there. She also shows true compassion and understanding for those whose rigidity and lack of self-awareness cause tragedy. I saw HOLY SMOKE when it first came to theaters and I was mesmerized. Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet are brave artists who challenge themselves beyond where many would dare to go. From the double meaning of the title HOLY SMOKE (I focused more on the use of religion as a diversionary tool that often clouds reality with smokescreens of piety and righteousness) to the true perversions of our lies (mostly the lies we tell ourselves for comfort), HOLY SMOKE stays right on track. The creativity and individuality we sacrifice (including our own and those of our loved ones) in order to maintain appearances are real. The contortions we go through to become someone else or to escape our own realities with socially acceptable vices (cigarettes, alcohol, bleaching, tanning, etc.), and the desperate acts we perform in order to fit in or to be accepted are exposed within each scene. But we are so used to accepting these things in our every-day lives, it’s easy to miss some of the references in the film. Either that, or we are too uncomfortable to admit it for ourselves. So while some viewers/critics stop wanting to think when Ruth Barron (Winslet) urinates on herself (an event that turns the tables on her captor by literally forcing the question of who is in control) – I wonder why people wouldn’t be more concerned about the intolerable situation Ruth is faced with. I imagine this scene allows for the dismissal of the film as obscene or “over-the-top.” But with that I was able to sit up and take note of this woman’s inner strength. (An aside: I can’t help but recall stories of women who prevent rape by defecating during the attempted crime. But how many of us would consider that too rude or impolite, if faced with the same situation? Women are conditioned to accept these things or to blame themselves, but Ruth defies her captor’s rules). While some may be put off or confused by witnessing such a macho man as PJ Waters allowing young Ruth to dress him in lipstick and a dress, I find the literate beauty of these scenes as evidence of Campion’s insight into the human condition. Not only does the film slowly unveil the hidden realities of PJs state of being and affirm Ruth’s strength even when apparently under the control of others, the scenes offer a cathartic effect – especially, perhaps, for women, but also for anyone who struggles to break the mold or challenge the status quo. The notion that macho behavior is really a cover-up for fear of not being manly enough, is creatively expressed in HOLY SMOKE. Campion (through Winslet’s powerful portrayal of Ruth and Keitel’s gripping characterization of PJ) exposes lies, deceits and the true perversions that come from repression of any challenges to the status quo at all costs. If I were to isolate related theses for HOLY SMOKE, they would be: “Who defines what is acceptable or not acceptable, and why? What is right and what is wrong? What is womanly and what is manly?” If all we have to go on is our own life experience (and we know we struggle with doubts every day in our own lives), can we really decide for others what is best? Yet aren’t we also so quick to judge and feel self-righteous about the lives of others – especially those that most challenge our own experiences and understanding? Too often it is easier to criticize and want to control the lives of others than to look inward, critically assessing our own weaknesses and deepest personal fears. I am uncertain about how I feel about the very ending. I like to believe that such a man (or any human) can grow from such experiences, but I think it would be even more likely PJ would have been so defensive of his masculinity that he would have killed himself first. That sense is the only detail that keeps me from giving HOLY SMOKE” a perfect score, though I’m sure Campion considered all this, too. I would love to have the discussion with her about her decision! Still, a small issue within a wonderful and brave film.
Country: USA, Australia
Language: English, Hindi
Duration: 115 min
Genre: Comedy, Drama
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