f: stoker

Stoker

Bram Stoker goes up to the counter and orders “anything red.” His barista is noticeably disturbed, but decides that he is so curious about Stoker’s life and habits that he will follow him to his home, move in with him, and attempt to learn more about his undoubtedly fascinating life. Bram Stoker is delighted. The barista is seen again months later with dead eyes and puncture wounds on his neck.

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Music as Metaphor

In the video above, India sits at the piano, playing a soft melody to herself. In this moment, she is alone, reflecting on her predicament. She has a violent darkness in her that at this moment, causes her more sadness than anything else. This is her meditation.

Charlie enters, the looming figure that is representative of this darkness made flesh. Charlie is outwardly violent, unashamedly manipulative, and takes immense joy in his cruelty. Throughout the film, he attempts to indoctrinate India into this ideology. He interrupts her melody with the kind of deep, foreboding chords you would expect, which India futilely attempts to rebuff with her original, soft melody. The following scene perfectly illustrates the relationship between the two characters without a word being said.

While India is still technically in control of the song, Charlie is controlling it’s tone and atmosphere with these dark bass notes. Much like in life, he is trying to get under her skin, and seduce her into his psychosis. Note how he ever-so-gently let’s their hands touch 19 seconds in, daring her to get closer to him, daring her to let him lead. Perhaps excited by this touch, India gives in, and at this point the song becomes a duet.

This is music as metaphor.

Closing her eyes, India allows the music to naturally progress, lowering her defenses, entertaining the idea of harmony. Charlie brilliantly picks up on this moment of weakness, and utilities it to completely take control, changing the music dramatically as well as closing the gap between them physically. She loses all her autonomy in the song, and for a moment plays nothing. She should not have thought cooperation would come so easily.

Unwilling to accept this, she herself makes a bold move; changing the mood of the song. She enters with a lighter, much more playful flourish, as if this is all a game or competition. Look at how she looks at Charlie; she wants to know just how much she can control him, to what extent she can lead (or equally, to what extent he’ll let her lead). She studies his face intensely, desperately curious how he will react. she has been baited, and by engaging Charlie rather than ignoring him, she is already letting him take control. This is especially pertinent given how light and and playful the song has become.

That said, listen to what happens when their eyes meet; however playful, the notes start to sting.

India realises her mistake, and yet again tries to rectify it. However, it is too late, in this moment they connected, and a sad, dark honesty comes out in the song. India knows she is like Charlie, sh knows it but she hates it, and right now she cannot deny it. Charlie realises that he has more power over India now by allowing her to take the lead, and allows her the spiral downwards around the 1:25 mark. He knows what it will lead to; the ostinato.

This is the moment when India and Charlie are truly working together; India allows herself not to lead or follow, but to work in unison with this monster. This is when she has fallen completely under his spell, and she allows herself to. Charlie understands this, and the physical barrier between them completely breaks down. The music grows somewhat sadder as India feels the lust and longing in her grow from this physical contact. She knows what Charlie is. She knows what she is. She cannot help what she wants. This is the closest the two get to having a sex scene in the film, and honestly, it’s an infinitely more effective way of conveying their relationship to one another. Charlie moves out from behind India, knowing his seduction has worked. India closes her eyes, her legs tense, and she is lost in the song.

The song abruptly stops, and there is a clear look of both exhaustion, horror and realisation on India’s face. She pants and takes the silence in. Charlie leans in to kiss her, and also disappears behind her in the shot. When she turns to him, she see’s he was never actually there.

This is the power he holds over her.

Stoker is a fantastic film from one of my favourite working Directors, and I feel this scene perfectly illustrates the idea of music as metaphor in cinema.