Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s Flesh + Blood: The Films of Paul Verhoeven which runs from January 24th to April 4th at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
A spider traverses a neglected crucifix to find its struggling prey in one of life’s little forgotten melodramas, carried out on a shelf of religious artifacts in the bedroom of a tormented writer, creating pithy symbolic imagery from the mundane and opening Paul Verhoeven’s enigmatic pshychosexual thriller, The Fourth Man with overtones of danger and the sinister macabre fascinations of Catholicism. The writer operates in realms of narrative ambiguity, seemingly caught in one of his own anecdotes forged in the traditions of oral history where the parameters and facts of a story can change as long as the end result services truth or a sense of divine mystery. He chooses Catholicism in an era when belief in the intangible is unpopular and seemingly at odds with intellect, but believes that science and religion are both realms of the imaginative and can drive the human animal to higher means of understanding. Religious imagery manifests itself everywhere in the decreasing objective certainty of the world Gerard Reve occupies, and he sees halos in the peeling of an apple, saints in ordinary faces, and Christ in the divine body of a lover’s lover.
Verhoeven plays with the gentle paradoxes of cinema to deepen the film’s mysteries [...]
Soft diffused light and gentle focus adds to the dreamlike qualities of Gerard’s world within the frame, and no image rests in comfortable certainty as symbols from his dreams invade his reality and clues into his reality begin to overtake his dreams. The gentle clicking of a camera’s advancing frames directs his attention to the beauty at the back of a room during a speaking engagement. A wealthy patron of the literary arts has become fascinated and infatuated with this conflicted writer, and as she takes him back to her mansion the neon lights above her door offer a silent warning as Gerard has entered the lair of a spider and his fatalistic nightmares may soon become reality. Christine offers Gerard a glass of whiskey, a gentle poison to soften his senses and loosen his defenses as the two make love with the light of the moon beaming through open bedroom windows. She is a woman distracted by shadowy figures from her mysterious past and he is a man haunted by an uncertain reality, seemingly teetering at the edge of madness as the lines between fantasy and reality become decreasingly discernible.
Verhoeven plays with the gentle paradoxes of cinema to deepen the film’s mysteries; from an obfuscating keyhole’s ability to show what goes on behind closed doors, illuminating and accentuating what is intended to be concealed with a stylish frame, or found reels of film within the film and their ability to tell us only as much truth as the film’s narrative structure will permit while deepening the mystery surrounding Christine’s enigmatic and tragic past. Dreams stand on firmer ground than the film’s posited realities because our subconscious is not as practiced at deception as our conscious mind, and each object in Gerard’s fractured psyche holds significance that neither he nor the audience can decipher unless the plot demands it.
The Fourth Man is a thriller that juxtaposes the macabre and divine, dreams and reality, and truth and uncertainty to paint an ambiguous and intriguing narrative [...]
The Fourth Man is a thriller that juxtaposes the macabre and divine, dreams and reality, and truth and uncertainty to paint an ambiguous and intriguing narrative as seen through the eyes of a protagonist with either a loose grasp on reality or a firm grasp on the preternatural. Nothing is entirely certain as the film is shot with the hazy aesthetic of dreams. Fantasy and reality intermingle to reveal clues that are unreliable and fractured in untrustworthy dream logic, deepening the film’s mysteries and casting doubt into the trustworthiness of its narrator with every revelation.
[notification type="star"]82/100 ~ GREAT. The Fourth Man is a thriller that juxtaposes the macabre and divine, dreams and reality, and truth and uncertainty to paint an ambiguous and intriguing narrative as seen through the eyes of a protagonist with either a loose grasp on reality or a firm grasp on the preternatural.[/notification]