Brian DePalma Film Club: The Fury

by Sara Gran
Cover of "The Fury"

Cover of The Fury

The Brian DePalma film club officially commences NOW (!!), with a discussion of a strange little gem from the seventies, THE FURY. As per our previous discussion, a lot of DePalma’s best and worst is on display here; the interest in supernatural abilities, the Hitchcockian psychosexual stuff, the fascination with power/powerlessness. Amy Irving (Gillian), surreally beautiful as a teenager with psychic abilities, is psychically linked to Robin, a teenager who also has strong abilities.  Robin is kind-of sort-of kidnapped by a government agency that wants to use his powers for evil. And so Robin’s father (Kirk Douglas)  goes to look for him and et cetera and …well, let’s cut to the chase: DePalma’s strong suit in general, and in this movie in particular, is not a cohesive well-thought out plot. So let’s just say there’s two young, attractive, highly sexual/sexualized psychic teens both preyed on and protected by a cadre of older, not wiser, folks.

A few recurring DePalma interests are exalted here. One is telekinesis. This was made after Carrie, and it feels a bit like–well, I’ll call it a second-course movie. Writers & filmmakers, I think you’ll recognize this feeling: you write a book (or whatever) on, say, mourning doves. And you think you’ve explored mourning doves from every angle, but when you’re done, somehow, you’re still just not done with the doves. You’ve got doves on the mind. So, even though you swore it’s the last thing you would ever do, you write another book about doves. (Does that make sense to anyone but me?) This is not at all a bad thing. Some of our best work is the second course! Regardless, DePalma’s interest in the supernatural seems focused on its use as a tool of power, rather than as a tool of, say spiritual enlightenment.

Another recurring DePalma image on display here is, hmm, let’s call him the Very Very Bad Man. Maybe someone can help me with this, but someone wrote something (that’s the part I need help with!) about David Lynch and noted that in nearly every Lynch film there’s  a man who is completely insane and entirely out-of-control, and derives oodles of power from such. Think of Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet, or Mr. Eddy in Lost Highway (“I’m sorry about that, Pete, but tailgating is one thing I cannot tolerate”).   DePalma’s films often have a man–the Very Very Bad Man–who could be related to those men, although he is a bit more controlled and takes less of a center stage: John Lithgow in Blow Out, “The Indian” in Body Double. In The Fury the Very Very Bad Man is a skinny, sleazy little character who works for the institute and helps them ensnare the lovely Amy Irving. He only shows up for a few scenes but you can practically smell his evil through the screen. But these two men are related, I think–cousins, if not brothers.

Another recurring theme here is the use of sex as a weapon and a tool of control. In any DePalma movie, is there ever an expression of sexuality that isn’t evil (well, maybe at the end of Body Double)? Robin’s handler at his special institute uses sex to control and confine Robin. But–and this is another DePalma theme–in the end, Robin is pushed too far. His father finally finds him, but the sweet boy his father has worked the whole film to rescue is gone. Robin has become a monster–manipulative in the psychological sense, in that he brattily insists on getting his way, but also literally, as he uses his powers to send people flying around the house.  It’s a big cheesy, corny, predicable–and deeply heartbreaking–finale. The special effects are, by today’s standards, silly and distracting, and Robin himself has become a bit of a cliche. But that’s exactly what’s so heartbreaking–Robin was brought to life so beautifully early in the film, and his relationship with his father was so real and honest, that the tragedy of Robin is exactly that–that he has turned into a cliche, a selfish little brat who cares about no one but himself. And ultimately, I think that’s the point.

Incidentally, there’s a lot of great actors in this film: John Cassavettes as a bad guy (Roger Ebert: “Cassavetes always makes a suitably hateful villain (he plays the bad guys as if they’re distracted by inner thoughts of even worse things they could be doing).”), Denis Franz as an ill-fated cop partnered with, drumrole Bill’s partner from Henderson’s Home Plus from Big Love (A stupendous bit of star-spotting by my boyfriend, by the way!).

All in all, an interesting bridge between seventies DePalma and eighties DePalma. I think next up will be ladies’ choice–and since Megan’s the only lady around here (ba-dum-DUM), that means her!

What did you think? His best or his worst or neither? Share your thoughts below and newcomers, don’t hesitate to jump in!

16 Responses to “Brian DePalma Film Club: The Fury”

  1. My mate Anne says it’s Robin, not Colin.

    • She’s probably right! Not only am I half deaf (too many teenaged rock shows!) but I get everyone’s name wrong in movies. And, readers be forewarned, I never understand the plot either. So feel free to assume I’m wrong on all the details, because I probably am:)

  2. I need to watch this again–I think it’s been at least five years and I am hazy but I remember being immediately transfixed by Kirk Douglas’s escape scene. I do think there’s lots of non-evil sexuality in DePalma–in fact, the suppression/repression of natural sexuality (in Carrie, in Sisters, in Dressed to Kill, etc.) seems to be what frustrates him most, which may be the same thing, I guess!
    The very, very bad man–that’s so right! Even in his more realistic movies (not realistic like Casualties of War, but….) the bad guys have this almost extravagant, even mythological badness to them, like fairy tale villains. That extremity really appeals to me! I thik it’s part of what gives his movies this dreamlike quality….
    I hadn’t thought of the Lynch connection but it seems so interesting. Tonally so different–De Palma is so much more ironic—but there are deep connections…my…
    BTW, Dennis Franz is in Body Double, Dressed to Kill, Scarface and Blow Out (!)

    • Interesting point about sex, Megan, I’ll look out for that! There do some to be some lynch-depalma connections, don’t there? For one they both have such a strong influence from HItchcock & classic noir. And do they seem to like the same colors (deep red, blue-velvet-blue) or am I imaging that? And they both seem to have a thing for following an idea out to it’s extremes. And (hmm, lots to say on this I now realize!), they both seem way more interested in moments than plot. What else?

  3. Hey Sara this is such a great breakdown!! Rewatching this weekend

  4. The Fury and Body Double, though dated, are still mesmerising and have me since a teen. The Black Dahlia is fucking despicable, sacrilege.

  5. have haunted me, I meant, not ‘have me’

  6. The Fury is a very uneven film, but I love it for two sequences. The first is when Gillian arrives at the institute. She walks up stairs and the minute she touches the bannister touched by Robin has a vision of his incarceration. We see it as a remarkably fluid back projection to her static figure. Of course she is not aware that she is bleeding one of her carers to death in the process. The other marvel in this film is when Gillian escapes from the institute with Carrie Snodgrass’s assistance. It’s an amazing piece of De Palmian bravura camera work, slow mo, music, tragedy and blood letting. Definitely worth seeing…

  7. Personally I think this is De Palma’s second trash stylized masterpiece after the insane and nutty BLOW OUT. Psychic thrillers with sinister shady government agencies have always being one of my favourite genres with films such as SCANNERS in particular. THE FURY is not a perfect film. Dennis Franz small role is pretty cheesy. The relationship between father and son in THE FURY can be seen as De Palma’s relationship with Alfred Hitchcock. At the end of THE FURY father and son are violently torn from each other as De Palma becomes torn from his idol Hitchcock. One can see the same familiarity in MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE with Jim Phelps and Ethan Hunt as De Palma and Hitchcock are torn apart from each other on the roof-top of the TGV bullet-train. The mise-en-scene in THE FURY captures through the cinematography and editing of shady government agencies who are beyond the law and can get away with everything.The editing is extremely complex in THE FURY in the way De Palma communicates psychic connection and psychic ability in the film. The editing alone needs a whole semster of studies in understanding the nature of the film. Like CARRIE with THE FURY De Palma perfectly captures the confusion and rage of teenagers with psychic powers as they unleash their personal armageddon on their tormentors. De Palma was to have directed THE DEMOLISHED MAN straight after THE FURY but 20TH Century Fox cancelled the film at the last minute. THE DEMOLISHED MAN is the definitive futuristic sci-fi psychic thriller that would have been De Palma’s masterpiece. THE DEMOLISHED MAN is perfectly suited to De Palma’s concepts and sensiblitity after films such as CARRIE and in particular THE FURY. If De Palma makes THE DEMOLISHED MAN with todays technology and with a movie star such as Leonardo Di Caprio then De Palma would smash the box-office record of his MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE movie. De Palma making THE DEMOLISHED MAN with Di Caprio after the great and stunning INCEPTION is box-office gold!!

    • Interesting notion of the father & son representing Hitchcock & DePalma, thanks! Not being a film person I hadn’t noticed the editing. But I really did not like Inception, for a number of reasons–I was talking with someone (the wonderful Peter Wild) on facebook about it and I think it was Peter who pointed out that it tries too hard to be smart. Trying almost never works: you have to find what’s beautiful/smart/funny about the thing to begin with and shine a light on it, if that makes any sense–IMHO, of course!

      I do like DiCaprio though and I think a DePalma/DiCaprio pairing could be phenomenal!, great idea!

  8. Rewatched it last night. Have to agree with Dmetri about the two best scenes in the film(The scene in the couple’s and the old lady’s apartment is very funny) . The long slo-mo scene is of course a classic Brian De Palma scene and very violent and Greek. Overall, it’s an entertaining film, first half a chase film and the second half sci-fi. It’s slows a bit down after Kirk’s escape, though the latter part is the more interesting. Amy Irving is excellent, while Kirk feels a bit odd at times. The climax of the film is well executed, though the epilogue is a bit over the top (a flying head etc.) It seemes The Fury is being remade as we speak and I fear it will be another one of these cheesy horror remakes (which btw I haven’t seen, so this is predjudice) but I would have loved another take from De Palma. The Fury is neither his worst nor his best. It’s both interesting and entertaining. It’s no Carrie, but as you’ve mentioned, there would be no Fury if not for Carrie.

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