“It is a game of odds: if she plays the odds well she is released into mastery; if she plays badly she forfeits her life.”
- Vivian Gornick, from her essay, “On Trial For Acting Like a Man”
Candid photos are a con. There are women, of whom I know a few, who consider them stolen goods. Why, they wonder, are “natural” moments worth more than a bid at control? If snapping into character is one way of experiencing clout, of controlling factors such as good lighting, bad lighting, one’s good side, one’s bad side—all self-styled, of course—then these mini manipulations are not merely protective: they’re muscle. Our province. Find me a woman who, no matter how indifferent she is to having her picture taken, hasn’t faked a candid. As writer Rachel Syme recently noted in her opus on the “radical potential” of the Selfie, the form provides “a blessed course-correct … a chance to refocus the narrative that others might want to tell about you.”
Still, unstudied with some scheme, candid photos tell—or, rather, confess—wonderfully chance stories. That is, of course, for those of us who dawdle in that sort of thing. Who valorize half-moments, perceive poems in movie stills yet balk when asked to describe that same movie’s plot. Who spot the one woman in every group photo—at a birthday, perhaps hers—invariably tucking her hair behind her ear, long-faced and not yet ready to lend her smile to the mood.
To see so much in so little, to compulsively portion the main attraction into morsel-sized payoffs, can grow tedious, and yet here we are: eternally a little elsewhere, making a point of missing the point. Like a troupe of enthusiastic slowpokes intent on facing our telescopes away from the action, persuaded by the windows in museums more so than the art, and always, as if by habit, imparting narrative to a stranger’s candid moment; fictionalizing her private breath before she blinks once, turns on, and designs herself. Before she dips her chin and tenses into, by virtue of a photo’s invention, someone counterfeit: how she’d like to be perceived. Sexy, assured, refusing. Capable of filleting you with her half-grin. In deep revel. Teenaged and impatient. Happy, even.
These are the thoughts that cross my mind as I scroll through, of all things, a Cannes Film Festival photocall two decades old, taken outside and set against the French Riviera’s azure scope, where no matter the season the weather is, I’d like to think, ideal for drying laundry on a clothesline. A breeze contrived for ironing out wrinkles.
It’s May, 1995. Gus Van Sant and Nicole Kidman are at Cannes to promote his fifth feature, the satirical black comedy To Die For. Following the back-to-back successes of Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho, and the much lesser loved critical and commercial flop Only Cowgirls Get the Blues, To Die For marked Van Sant’s return and a major turn in Kidman’s career. Written by Buck Henry (The Graduate), the film was based on Joyce Maynard’s novel, which was itself loosely inspired by the events leading up to the trial of Pamela Smart, a New Hampshire woman who’d planned on having a career in broadcasting but in 1991 was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring with her 15-year-old lover to kill her husband. Highly televised, the two-week trial was further dramatized by tabloid headlines such as “Grieving Spouse vs. Black Widow,” detailing the days leading up to her sentence, down to the bow Smart wore in her blonde hair each day at the Rockingham County Superior Court. It was, some argue, a trial by media, and together with The Real World and Court TV, marked the beginning of reality television as we’ve come to know it, predating another famous murder trial which gave rise to the Kardashian family’s dynasty—a dynasty that, despite reality TV’s nominal candidness, hinges wholly on retaining control. The more you have of it, the greater your jurisdiction.
At To Die For’s Cannes photocall, where the film was screening out of competition and ahead of its fall release, one picture in particular of Van Sant and Kidman comes to mind. I’ve always loved how directors appear unlikely-paired when standing next to their leads. How mutual respect between two people can, on occasion, look terribly awkward. Pasted together like a collage. While it’s usually a matter of height, clothes, gloss, grooming, there is, too, that quality movie stars possess: their very own aspect ratio. Luster sourced from some place secret. An exclusive deal with the elements.
Dressed in his Portland best—a blue and white plaid shirt—Van Sant pauses to take a photo with his own camera of what I imagine is a mob of press photographers all shouting, Gus! Nicole! Monsieur Van Sant! Mademoiselle Keeed-mahn! While he focuses his lens, Kidman looks on, appearing stately in a blush-pink double-breasted jacket. She flashes—or perhaps lets slip—a toothy deferential smile, and briefly, she becomes kid Kidman. Unmonitored and relaxed. Owing to Van Sant’s paparazzi hijinks, she can momentarily acquit herself from the Nicole Kidman fostered for and by the public.
Though just as fast, as if reminded of the spectacle of celebrity and its dues, her face refastens. In every photo that follows, Kidman narrows her blue eyes, pouts or grins with her jaw clenched as if dismissing a deep chill that’s suddenly overcome her. Any chance of a candid moment has evaporated. It’s hard to tell if Kidman is casting a spell or has fallen under one. Some faces are simply cut like that. Perfectly feline, built to screw with our perception of who’s in charge.
In this way, that picture of Van Sant and Kidman provides a terrific glimpse into To Die For’s main theme: the discrete manners that shift who we are or how we present ourselves when being observed. These deviations might be small, like the rigidity of our posture or the speed of our voices. But they can also be more elaborate, like the entire tenor of our personality or the moral caliber of our actions. When being observed, do we act better or worse? Are these amendments aspirational or recourse? It’s inescapable. From the moment we sense another’s gaze, we calibrate. Something cinches and our imagined self gains consciousness.
As with most films that have acquired over time a cult-like following—that keep those who are observant feeling hectic, like we’ve been in on something dissident and scandalously good all along—To Die For is, twenty years out, both prescient and all the more relevant.
“You’re not anybody in America unless you’re on TV,” says Kidman’s character Suzanne Stone, an ambitious weather girl at the local cable news station, whose dreams of becoming the next Diane Sawyer or Connie Chung mean getting rid of her clod of a husband, Larry Maretto (Matt Dillon). He’d prefer she focused on having mini-Marettos. On cultivating the family portrait. And so, with the help of her teenaged lover, Jimmy (Joaquin Phoenix), whose incentives are the wiles of first love as he’s conceived them—that, and blowjobs—and accompanied by his delinquent friends, Russell and Lydia (Casey Affleck, Alison Folland), the four plot Larry’s murder as if it were an extracurricular activity. The kind of thing you might do, if you were a Van Sant teen spookily scored by death metal and Danny Elfman, between school and home when loitering at the food court or local junkyard no longer appeal.
While Larry is obsessed with his beautiful wife—Matt Dillon’s skull head, thick brow, and Muppet expressions are optimal for performing “doting dolt”—the rest of his family has yet to convert. In an interview for Bomb Magazine in 1993, Van Sant remarked that part of his interest in Henry’s adaptation of Maynard’s novel was the setting. “It reminded me of my hometown of Darien, Connecticut. I’ve always been intrigued by this class difference between the Italian kids in that community and the WASPy daughters of the New York bedroom commuters. The tough Italian kids end up dating the blonde IBM president’s daughters, and it’s this mismatch of backgrounds.”
Seeing that Suzanne has disallowed the trappings of new-wife domesticity, her ambition becomes contentious. “If you wanted a babysitter,” she tells Larry, “you should have married Mary Poppins.” When his parents prod, she informs them, matter of fact, that pregnancy would make it impossible to cover a royal wedding. Her response is typical Suzanne. Deployed from a catalog of near-statutes that seem irrefutable despite being off the mark because she delivers them firmly, with fire. Therein lies her talent. She has an incredible constitution, metabolizing criticism and career obstacles with the sureness of an alien who’s read every manual on How To Be Human In A Pop Culture World.
Which is, it’s worth noting, one tenet of reality television today, along with: dumb-true statements (compelling in their way), flaky mottos, torched conventions, a glut of self-love (also compelling its way), and people on TV talking about other people on TV. While these organizing principles were once a footnote in celebrity’s rubric, they are now what govern it.
Or maybe Suzanne’s speech pattern—however synthetic—has little to do with delivery. Her stagy aberrance is, I’d like to think, an expression of refusal. Of understanding that a fundamental part of being a woman means that we are expected, time and again, to field questions about what it means to be a woman. And since Suzanne recognizes that being a woman sometimes feels nearest to extortion, that these questions are never simply questions but finessed accusations or absolutes posed with bogus inflection, she refuses to dignify them.
As Rebecca Solnit wrote recently in Harper’s, recounting a talk she gave on Virginia Woolf a few years ago where during the Q&A some members of the audience interrogated Woolf’s motives for being childless (a line of questioning Solnit herself is familiar with): “These are questions that push you into the herd or nip at you for diverging from it […] questions whose aim is enforcement and punishment.” Solnit goes on to wonder if these inquiries are the consequence of our culture’s fixation with happiness—a distracting preoccupation that does little to examine if we’ll ever be truly acquainted with the feeling. Endlessly polling our personal and professional lives becomes, in its place, an empty custom of keeping receipts. “Happiness is understood to be a matter of having a great many ducks lined up in a row—spouse, offspring, private property, erotic experiences,” writes Solnit. “Even though a millisecond of reflection will bring to mind countless people who have all those things and are still miserable.” The quick-ending or slowly eroding marriage, considered of course by Richard Yates, Tolstoy, Wharton, Henry James, Flaubert, Atwood, often reflects the same outcome: with each new plan or resolution, new house, new kid, domestic stopgap or accommodation, or exquisite and often provisional display of coping, a dimming occurs.
When a woman withholds, like Suzanne does, her motives are quickly misread. Her ego is sized. Irrespective of how plain, her intentions are considered two-faced. Without saying much, she has somehow incriminated herself.
In To Die For, we witness what Suzanne’s misery can carry out. That seduction and corruption are, in kind, one and the same. And in her case, rooted in Suzanne’s efficient, single-minded drive. It’s her escape. But ambition doesn’t only involve initiative: it counts for the wickedly creative ways women dodge the question, “Are you happy?” After all, knowing the truth can make you an excellent liar. The tabloid femme fatale is not only an embodiment of sexual manipulation, but also the depiction of a woman’s basic need to recover original loss.
Early this fall, I spoke to Van Sant over the phone. While my intention was to discuss the film’s production and perhaps catch some anecdotal stories about To Die For’s shoot twenty years ago on location in Ontario, I was pleasantly surprised when our conversation took an entirely different turn. Over the course of an hour, in remembering the film’s trajectory, from inception to its October 1995 release, Van Sant spoke about, and perhaps even came to realize, the enormous impact of some key women involved with To Die For, whose instincts, championing, financing, and critical praise were central to the film’s success, despite—as it often happens in Hollywood—remaining strictly behind-the-scenes players.
Beginning with Maynard’s novel, published in 1992, followed by producer Laura Ziskin’s idea to adapt it—ingeniously pairing Henry with Van Sant—to then later Amy Pascal, who with Ziskin bankrolled half of the film’s production, and finally to Janet Maslin’s rave New York Times review following the film’s Cannes screening; these women were foundational. “Now it comes together,” Van Sant tells me. “But at the time, these weren’t things I said to the press. At the time, I didn’t have that point of view at all.”
Ziskin, whose first major producing success came with Pretty Woman in 1990, was soon appointed president of Fox 2000, an off-shoot of 20th Century Fox. There, she oversaw the making of movies including As Good As It Gets (1997),The Thin Red Line (1998), and Never Been Kissed (1999). In 2002, she produced that year’s highest-grossing film,Spider-Man, and stayed with the franchise through its Tobey Maguire years. In 2011, after a seven-year battle with breast cancer, Ziskin died, three weeks before shooting began on what would be her final film, The Butler. “Looking back on it, I see a complete connection between [Ziskin] and the end result of To Die For,” says Van Sant. “Laura was integral. She was one of just a few strong woman producers in Hollywood. She had found the book. It really started from her.” Speculating on why the novel resonated with Ziskin, Van Sant adds, “She probably liked it because of aspects of her own life, like questions of how does a woman work in media and how much does her womanhood have to do with what she does.”
Then came Maslin’s knockout review. “There are times when we get exactly the satire we deserve,” she wrote in theTimes. “And this is one of them.” She called the film “irresistible,” and “expertly sharp and funny.” She lauded Kidman’s performance as “smoothly hilarious” and declared Phoenix a young actor to watch. It was the kind of comprehensive praise directors dream of receiving, and, it turned out in To Die For’s case, an out-and-out decisive boost. “At Cannes, because the critics, and particularly Janet Maslin, wrote good stuff about [To Die For],” Van Sant tells me, “the studio decided to release it for real rather than just get rid of it. Janet Maslin is one part of that reason. Again, another woman.” I ask Van Sant what he means by “for real” with regards to the film’s theatrical release. “In the States,” he tells me, “the movie tested really, really badly.” Apparently the studio, hoping to benefit from the success of movies such as Sleepless in Seattle, foolishly marketed their test screenings as, of all things, a romantic comedy. It’s no surprise audiences were mystified and seemingly upset.
The role of Suzanne was originally offered to Sleepless in Seattle star Meg Ryan. When she turned it down, actresses such as Jodie Foster, Uma Thurman, Bridget Fonda, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary-Louise Parker, and Patricia Arquette were rumored options. In meantime, while waiting for word from Arquette, whose shooting schedule for another film conflicted with To Die For’s, Kidman reached out to Van Sant. “She had tried out for it and I guess knew we were waiting for Patricia Arquette,” he tells me. “She called me and said, ‘Look, I know I’m not your first choice for this film but I’m destined to play this part.’ And she just went on this speech that won me over.” Kidman’s desire to play Suzanne, in Van Sant’s telling, mimics her character’s campaigning passion. That I’ve got the right stuff attitude. Audition-tailored vim, which in Suzanne’s case, telegraphs like a twinkle in each eye when she asserts to us, the audience, that “failure” is not a word in her vocabulary.
Suzanne’s factious relationship with Larry’s parents extends to her sister-in-law, Janice, played with deadpan wit by the brilliant Illeana Douglas. When Janice, a professional ice skater, learns she’ll be going on tour with the Ice Capades to perform as a member of the Mod Squad, with a chance of possibly being on TV, Suzanne recoils in her seat so noticeably it’s like she’s trying to suck the oxygen from the room with her eyes, holding it hostage until everyone’s attention belongs to her once more. The gesture is at once angry and calculated, but also underscores Suzanne’s most profound discomfort: the dark chambered unease she feels with herself. When Suzanne Stone isn’t the primary focus, in what capacity does she exist?
I am reminded of an essay by Vivian Gornick on female narcissism. In it, Gornick considers the character of Lily Bart from Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. “Her beauty,” she writes, is “her glittering weapon.” While Lily and Suzanne belong to completely separate worlds—class being the most glaring disparity, despite Suzanne’s WASPish attitude towards Larry’s Italian-American family—they do however share an insatiable interest in themselves. But is it purely self-absorption or, rather, the latitude self-absorption affords them: to prioritize their own pursuits and perhaps even pageant loneliness as arrogance. “Lily’s narcissism is a blind, a smokescreen behind which has always stood this fear of being,” notes Gornick. “The malice of narcissism stems from the rage of the thwarted self: the courage simply to be would have long ago dried up the flow of anger.”
In Janice, Suzanne has a challenger and a critic—the foil who’s also a stand-in for us, the audience. Douglas’s portrayal of Janice becomes the film’s voice of reason, revealing some familiar truths. For instance, that when a woman withholds, like Suzanne does, her motives are quickly misread. Her ego is sized. Irrespective of how plain, her intentions are considered two-faced. Without saying much, she has somehow incriminated herself.
When it comes to women who outrival, “execution” and “equipment” are terms that frequently crop up in an attempt to undermine. Precision is, in turn, code for not being a natural, yet that hard work is celebrated so long as it’s served seamlessly.
At the beginning of the film, during one of its many mockumentary interviews, Janice reproaches Suzanne for being “C-O-L-D.” Not the four-letter “C”-word we might have expected, but one that is far more depictive. Granted, Larry is dead and Janice knows Suzanne had something to do with it. But even before his murder, these two women were destined to spar, no matter the stakes: sisters-in-law, blonde and brunette, local TV weather girl vs. Ice Capades skater. Their ambitions, in a manner of speaking, are evenly matched, calling for a degree of cosmetic sparkle in order to perform, regardless of how unnatural that sparkle might feel to them.
In 1995, Suzanne’s pronouncement—“You’re not anybody in America unless you’re on TV”—might have seemed unsophisticated instead of entirely prophetic. Mantras often do. Their spiel-like construction has a way of revealing a person’s inner rookie, and in Suzanne’s case, exposes her inclination towards formula-steered success. She comes off as someone sponsored, coin-operated like a sound bite dispenser. “On TV is where we learn about who we really are,” she says. “Because what’s the point of doing anything worthwhile if nobody’s watching?”
It makes sense that Suzanne communicates in absolutes she’s heard, for instance, at a media conference in Florida where she woos a TV exec played by George Segal. When your parents believe you to be flawless, effectively eulogize you from birth, and when your boss treats you like a doll, and when your husband expects dinner, sex, babies, and when your small town of Little Hope, New Hampshire, is perfectly contented by its drowsy limits, it’s no wonder that the first person—be it a slimy media gatekeeper or a dumbstruck teen—to make you feel seen beyond who you are (for your wants, drive, long game) inspires quick indoctrination. Because regard isn’t solely a measure of attention given to someone: it requires detection. And that sort of antennaed reverence elicits from Suzanne, who is bored and in the mood to manipulate, a feeling of consequence. Influence, for her, is much the same as being televised, and playing to another’s person power, be it access or youth, is, she knows, one manner of extending her own.
Suzanne’s strong desire for success amounts to perpetual vying. She does nothing to conceal it. She shows up for what was essentially a Girl Friday interview and leaves having wheedled the job of weather girl. Like this, Kidman’s performance of Suzanne approximates the swift and satisfying motion of a checkmark incarnate. “I always knew who I wanted to be,” she says, as if it weren’t already obvious. Like the passionate housewife in every Real Housewives franchise whose entrepreneurial spirit guarantees she’ll be the one to land a spin-off come spring. The wedding special, too.
Still, ambition isn’t her only preoccupation. Suzanne’s resistance to dormancy is critical. Which is to say, the more self-built she becomes, the more thrust she can establish. Because consenting to a certain quality of life, to a nice husband who sees no problem with plastic plants, to the suburban rapture of wall-to-wall carpeting and a small dog, is far different, say, than living that same life as if you’d been purchased to function within its parameters. In one scene, Van Sant time-lapses day into night by simply having Suzanne twirl in her living room. Her bright-lit home becomes shadowy in a matter of seconds. It’s as though, with nothing more than the tips of her toes, Suzanne wheels the world’s axis. It’s a brilliantly portentous display of just how far she hopes to exert her reach, some day very soon.
But first comes fun. Seducing Jimmy provides levity: a hankering. She listens to heavy metal once more. She experiences its racket. They dance in her bedroom like two people engaged in a ritual, summoning something. Phoenix and Kidman look—like Van Sant and Kidman at Cannes—collaged from separate films. The combination is wild and unwieldy because there is no chemistry, only debauched conquest. It works. It’s an opportunity to lose some of that skin-deep stuff and enjoy Suzanne’s breadth. Van Sant’s, too. In one particularly vivid sequence, Suzanne and Jimmy are on a date, squished together in a photo booth and pulling faces for the camera. They look deranged: two versions of “having fun” operating at completely different dials.
As Zadie Smith once wrote about Phoenix’s on-screen presence: “[He fills it] with his ungainly bulk … he looks as if he’s struggling with himself.” No matter the role, that statement applies. His stilled, hushed voice is wonderfully at odds with how his body noodles and slumps. In To Die For, Phoenix’s eyes move like loose marbles rolling around in his arrow-shaped head while Suzanne’s stare stays mostly fixed: Tracy Flick baited by Ann-Margret, or is it the other way around? As Roger Ebert noted in his 1995 review of the film, she “seems to be reading her dialogue from a TelePrompTer that scrolls up the insides of her eyeballs.” While Jimmy is a mess, albeit a serenely eerie one, he wears his brooding forSuzanne, like he’s carrying her books. Like they’ve come to some settlement since Suzanne cognizes the limits to how much gloom she can wear on her face. After all, there are people in town anticipating, all too eagerly, her crack-up.
In Joyce Maynard’s novel, Suzanne’s childhood dance teacher makes a point of noting that Suzanne had no rhythm growing up, characterizing her as a technician more so than a dancer: “Every step executed just right.” Harmless enough. However, when it comes to women who outrival, “execution” and “equipment” are terms that frequently crop up in an attempt to undermine. Precision is, in turn, code for not being a natural, yet that hard work is celebrated so long as it’s served seamlessly. More so, calling a young woman a perfectionist is sometimes backhanded praise, and accomplishments are provisional and contingent on one recurring phrase, popular in childhood and used, for example, by Suzanne’s mother: If she sets her mind to it. The idea being that if she focuses really hard and becomes, essentially, a human funnel of energy, wit, and emphasis, nothing is impossible.
In a 1998 New York Times profile of Maynard, the writer Larissa MacFarquhar notes, “Maynard doesn’t see herself as a ‘literary’ author. She calls herself a ‘journeyman writer,’ and an ‘entrepreneur.’” Something about these titles reminds me of Suzanne’s boldness. Maybe it’s Maynard’s reimagining of what she does, as defined by her instead of by the world. Or maybe those go-getting qualities ascribed to being an entrepreneur seem very Suzanne Stone.
“This kind of aggressiveness and ambition is lauded in men and regarded as somewhat unseemly in women,” Maynard tells me over the phone. “As a writer, I can detect pretty swiftly the connection between the story I’m writing and what piece of me I’m exploring. And I thought with To Die For that I was for once, not doing that at all, that the character seemed to be as far away from me as one could be. She didn’t look like me. She didn’t have my background. I was not a murderer. But in fact, exploring a person who had grown up watching television and had this ambition, though mine was never an ambition to be famous for the sake of being famous, I certainly was hungry to get out of my small town and be acknowledged for my work.”
Suzanne is more contestant than contender. She’s pulled together to a point, applying her concealer only as far as her jawline and dressing in splashy outfits that costume designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor, Van Sant tells me, took sly pleasure in conceiving. Aqua shirts, violet-blues, polka dots, and yellow gingham suits. Baby-doll dresses, Barbie heels, fuzzy sweaters, animal prints. Suzanne looks waterproof. A mall mannequin, possessed. An Avon saleswoman on acid. “[The costumes] were connected to [Pasztor’s] darkness,” Van Sant says. “Partly, in a sense, to her own experiences growing up in Romania. She had very dark political views, especially while we were shooting To Die For. They started getting darker and darker, and finally, she just left the U.S. She got angry with a lot of political points in history, including her own country’s. So on set, she was doing her own thing, her own interpretation. It was interesting.”
What Kidman does so convincingly—guided in part by Henry’s tight, sardonic script—is saturate the screen with incongruence. To look bored while wearing neon paisley at a backyard barbecue is, somehow, delightfully sinister. To appear taken by someone yet numbed to his being is a matter of clever conservancy. More directly, Suzanne emotionally divests because she sees her life not as it’s happening but with an atomic understanding of what will occur if she does not maintain control of it. Little furies build. She tends to them.
Suzanne has charge and yet, despite always being on, there’s rarely a moment when she isn’t slightly off. Even her pep is potent. When she doesn’t get what she wants, she sulks. When she does, she giggles. The sound is strange. Like a deflating helium balloon squealing as it shoots up only to dip and shrivel. Are these qualities trained? Devious? Has she gone mad? Is she evil? Would it matter if she weren’t beautiful? “How swiftly a woman can be portrayed as a villain,” Maynard mentions during our conversation, “if she is not living her life in the service of men.”
In one scene following Larry’s murder, Suzanne is standing on the town’s courthouse steps surrounded by reporters. She looks sovereign, as though she is presiding over the huddle instead of at its mercy. Has she designed this spectacle? Destined it? Is she a widow, the accused, or the victim? Why does the whole affair seem orchestrated?
“When I wrote the book, I was living in New Hampshire. I remember the night that Pamela Smart came on television very shortly after the murder of her husband,” Maynard tells me. “This is much before she was arrested. She was just weeping and saying, ‘If anybody knows anything about who committed this crime, please come forward.’ And I did see it as a performance, whether she was guilty or innocent. People just behave differently with the camera on them.”
Like John Gregory Dunne wrote in his essay, “The Simpsons,” describing the events of June 17th, 1994, when A.C. Cowlings drove his white Bronco through southern California’s freeways with his teammate OJ Simpson in the back seat holding a gun to his head, it was a “stately choreography reminiscent of water ballets from M-G-M’s old Esther Williams musicals.” Escorted by the police and watched by 95 million viewers, reality had crossed into the imaginary. It was pure cinema, the “slowest chase in television history,” writes Dunne, “that no director would dare stage.” The slow-speed, sixty-mile chase paused the entire city of Los Angeles. Domino’s Pizza reported record sales. NBC cut away from Game Five of the NBA Finals. Audiences were glued to their screens. “Choreography,” to use Dunne’s term, perfectly captures the chase’s dazzling effect. When reality nears synchronized bigness, it suddenly becomes fiction. A new threshold was reached—or was it that the formula was now, from this point forward, mangled? Someone famous could, too, receive his fifteen minutes.
While satire often calls for dark comedy effected by one-note characters, Kidman’s rendering of Suzanne is, I’d venture, satirical, yes, but mostly: woman. She’s multitudes, instinct, intention, and body. She’s all those things and then, just as swiftly, none of those things. She’s a pair of shoulders pushed back the second the camera operator says, “You’re on!” She provokes not for the sake of it—or maybe, a little—but mainly out of obligation. Terrified of being ordinary, of its complaisance or worse, of a life on layaway, Suzanne will do whatever she can to avoid such a fate. As the film’s title suggests, the cost is of zero consequence. Until of course it is.