Saturday, December 06, 2008

"Sunny loved Christmas..."

"We realize that this is not just a skimpy reenactment of tabloid truths when the narrator turns out to be Sunny, the comatose yet irreverent heiress. 'Brain dead. Body better than ever,' she says as nurses tend to her lovely shell. With the wisdom we expect of the departed, Sunny asks us to weigh the evidence, both subjective and factual, against her husband. 'Is he the Devil?' she asks. 'Can the Devil get justice?'"

- Rita Kempley, The Washington Post

The former Mrs. Von Bulow has slipped this mortal coil after 28yrs in a coma that her husband Claus was accused of precipitating. The case delighted tabloids in the early 80's and inspired Reversal of Fortune, a chilly black comedy which somehow manages equal sympathy to the (potentially) wronged Sunny and the (potentially) culpable Claus. It suggests that death's door had not been propped open exactly, but it maybe it hadn't been closed as quickly as one might have hoped.

Jeremy Irons won an Oscar for playing Von Bulow and apologized later for having intruded on the family's privacy (I remember the clip and I really want to cite this, but I can't find an reference to it online- any suggestions?) It was an odd move - the enterprise obviously didn't bother him enough to turn down the part - but I can understand why he did it. The film looks at people rich enough to have no idea of how good things are for them, so anyone without a house in the Hamptons and trust funds from European aristocracy will find the experience rather abstract. It's a great movie, and it stops short of sensationalism because of this abstraction.

I've always thought that Irons met a few of the Von Bulow clan or simply realized that his arch little film still boiled down to several people who walked the earth (and one who was breathing but static), and when you know the subjects are watching, you're likely to feel the weight of their eyes.

The film closes with Sunny's oddly reassuring voice informing us that "Claus von Bülow was given a second trial, and acquitted...this is all you can know, all you can be told. When you get where I am, you will know the rest." That line is the invention of screenwriter Nicholas Kazan, who must be feeling rather odd on the day that at least half of this prophecy is fulfilled. Sunny must know, Claus knows his side. Both stories must jibe at some point. All I know is what I see in the movies.

(raising an imaginary glass of Kristal towards the late Mrs. Von Bulow) Here's to knowledge.


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