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The Day of the Locust (1975) March 31st, 2020

The last day of the month means the last chance to watch a movie leaving the Criterion Channel. All I knew going in was someone on r/criterion called the ending of The Day of the Locust Lynchian. Good enough for me.

The director John Schlesinger is virtually unknown to me. I tried to watch Honky Tonk Freeway on a flight to Utah at the end of February but I couldn’t finish it before falling asleep. However, I do have vivid memories of his 1996 Sally Field film Eye for an Eye. I was probably 9 years old when my Mother rented it from Blockbuster and am still scarred by how horrifying it was. No one ever talks about this movie so I’ll go over the significant points and hopefully you’ll understand why you shouldn’t show it to a 9 year old. Kiefer Sutherland plays Robert Doob who raped and murdered Sally Field’s character’s teenage daughter. For some reason he isn’t incarcerated and is free to spend the rest of the movie stalking and harassing Field (or vice versa) and her elementary school aged daughter. There’s a particularly awful sequence involving Doob’s possession of the youngest daughter’s underwear (I don’t yet possess the synonymic courage of Joseph N. Welch from Anatomy of a Murder.) The movie crescendos with Doob breaking into Sally’s house and trying to murder her too. Don’t worry, this movie is basically “second amendment porn” and the only way it could end is with her shooting Doob to death after he breaks into her home.

Anyway, the movie is full of graphic descriptions of violent sex crimes and a powerful sense that you’re never safe anywhere. It wants you to believe the only way to prevent everyone from raping and murdering you is by always being armed. Think about it, Sally’s daughter didn’t have a gun when she was raped and murdered. Actually, it probably wouldn’t have helped her to just have a gun, she’d also have to make sure everyone knows she has a gun. No one would rape or murder if they thought there was a chance of violence involved. Right? I’m confident I didn’t miss the point of this film. You’re either a gun-toter or a victim. The title suggests the film is actually being critical of vindictive violence but it sure seems like NRA propaganda to me. Go watch the trailer on YouTube and decide for yourself.

I hated that movie and absolutely shouldn’t have seen it but it’s the only Schlesinger film I’d seen through the end. The Day of the Locust is similarly socially critical but not of violence and the justice system but of Hollywood. It’s a film with another Sutherland and an unconventional narrative. There’s really not a plot, or a single protagonist. Over its two hour runtime my wife asked me, “what is this movie about?” more than once. In short, it’s about how vicious the entertainment industry is. You either love it, leave it, survive it or don’t. It’s not a kind place for kind people, even the talented need to be lucky.

Donald Sutherland steals the show as Homer Simpson (yes, there were double takes) a kind and attentive man who’s pushed to the point of insanity and ultimately tragedy. William Atherton is charismatic as the handsy protagonist Tod. Karen Black is fantastically insufferable as Faye the blonde bombshell. Burgess Meredith lights up the screen as Faye’s weathered snake oil selling father. The cast is superbly odd and entirely justify watching the film.

See The Day of the Locust if you like long atmospheric tragedies with love hexagons. See it if you like movies about Hollywood and movie making. See it if you’re stuck inside and want to kill a few hours. Just don’t see it on the Criterion Channel, because it’s not there anymore. Sorry.

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