Zachariah: "I know."
RV!: Seven Psychopaths (2012) Dir: Martin McDonagh Date Released: October 12, 2012 Date Seen: October 13, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5
I sympathize with Martin McDonagh's hilariously fatalistic perspective, particularly after seeing so many people turn their noses up at Seven Psychopaths. I rewatched it opening weekend and loved it that much more, especially after staying through the end credits. I've read people say that this film's "meta-conceit" is shallow, that the film's all gloss and no substance. But that empty-headed criticism ignores the text of the film. This is a story about an artist that's sick of pigeonholing himself. He doesn't want to be the Tarantino knockoff that many assume he is, but he also can't help himself as that's the story that keeps writing itself. No more conventional gangsters movies, no more being that guy. It's important to note that, as with McDonagh's plays, there are no bosses and no representatives of a higher authority in Seven Psychopaths, just unhappy, amoral people policing themselves. But even that's too abstract a defense: just look at the characters and how they define themselves/are unwittingly defined, ranked from least complex to most complex.
First, there's the women. McDonagh even has his avatar Marty (Colin Farrell) admit his women are accidental to the plot of his story. Which makes it VERY easy to ignore the fact that that's not exactly true. The peripheral nature of the roles that Marty's girlfriend Kaya (Abbie Cornish), Hans's wife Myra (Linda Bright Clay), and Charlie's girlfriend Angela (Olga Kurylenko) respectively play is infrequently undermined throughout. I mean, one of them is the Ace of Spades, one of them is a serial-killing serial killer, and one gets shot up in the rain in a mock-finale. McDonagh knows that these women aren't apparently strong, but I guess admitting that he doesn't know how to intuitively change that block isn't enough for some. Sorry, but the fact that so many people wanted this movie be something that it's not pisses me off. I'm not sure if this is piece is just my way of apologizing, as a McDonagh fan, for loving this film. But the Seven Psychopaths is about a writer that is trying frantically to change his style in spite of his certainty that he can't change. That's what the last scene is: a bleakly funny admission that what we're looking at isn't just a writer dealing with a creative block, but rather a writer that's turned a creative block into a very funny vision of purgatory. Which explains why the cartoonishly airheaded prostitute, the one in the pacifist priest's story, is so funny: she's symptomatic of Marty's greater problems.
The same is true of Charlie (Woody Harrelson), the most conventional pychopath. Charlie has a violent temper and a pathological obsession with his pet dog. This understandably makes him very hard to trust. That shows in the scene where Myra talks to him: she can tell that there's something wrong with him just from the guarded way he talks to her, and the way he slowly paces before sitting down. So by the time Charlies uses his flare gun, it just confirms what we and McDonagh intuitively expect: Charlie's a killer simply because he's a very angry man. There's not much more to him than that. At the same time, Charlie's doggy love suggests that he might be capable of empathy. He's not, as the film's ending bluntly reveals. But the scene where Billy (Sam Rockwell) searches Charlie's car and doesn't find a gun? When Charlie cries because it looks like he followed Billy's orders? That's when we momentarily think: maybe there's a chance that Seven Psychopaths won't end with a shootout. There might not be a tidy, retrograde resolution after all, how refreshing! But then there is. Then after that, there's the end credit scene. But more on that momentarily.
Next, there's Billy, another character whose importance is mostly implied. For most of the film, Billy is just a goofy supporting character. He means well but, as we see in the scene where he imagines a rapturously cliched ending to Marty's movie, he has no idea what he's doing. So Billy's the most direct personification of Marty's block in Seven Psychopaths. He's got a nasty streak to him, but only lets his freak flag fly during those fantastic, expectant scenes in the desert. Billy also enables some of Marty's best and worst impulses: he puts him in contact with his psychopathic protagonists, and tries to get Marty away from Kaya, and other people that he thinks will hurt him. He's very confused, and has no filter, and that's very funny. But yeah, Billy's confusion is a pretty blunt expression of Marty's own frustrated attempts to change, to move on, to get over his block.
Then there's Marty, a character that also seems like a fairly unimportant character in his own story. Marty's drinking problem only makes his creative problems worse, but his drinking's just a tic, not a personality trait. At the same time, that's how people know him: he's a writer, he drinks. Hans even says as much: "I can smell the booze from here." And because he can't write, he drinks, and that just makes his relationship with Kaya and everyone else suffer. So to make things right, Marty needs to get unblocked. As far as generic panacea quick fixes go, this isn't at all unusual. But that's the point: as we learn in the end, sometimes conventions are satisfying. It's accordingly tempting to call Seven Psychopaths a fundamentally conventional movie. But that does McDoangh a great disservice. The trenchantly reactive nature of Marty's character makes it easy to think that there's nothing to his character. But Marty just looks a cipher. If we can agree that he's not really living in his head since he's shocked whenever he sees that his life is full of the type of nonsensical contrivance that he studiously tries to avoid in his writing, then presumably we can also agree that he's not just a blustery tabula rasa.
Finally, there's Hans and Zachariah (Tom Waits), two characters that bring religion into the picture. Lapsed faith is a staple of McDonagh's work, so these characters are understandably the most important-looking in the film. According to their faiths, Hans and Zachariah are both hopeless They know that and know that they can't change that. This grants both men the freedom to do things that more timid characters wouldn't. But neither man is happy because they both know that nothing they do can change what will happen to them in the end. So when Billy makes that comment about seeing Hans's dead wife, he momentarily perks up, and tries to help Marty. This could, maybe, in some small way make things right for Hans, but probably not. Either way, this is the note that Hans wants to go out on before he quits Marty's story. As for Zachariah, he resurfaces at the last minute, just to remind Marty that he knows what he's thinking. Nothing can change, not that much, anyway.