What Price a Celebrity Crush on Elijah Wood? Karen Reviews Sin City!

by Karen Gsteiger

Note: Spoilers abound...plus, I have doubts about this piece's logical flow...so you are forewarned...

The problem with being 28 years old and having a celebrity crush on Elijah Wood is that if you want to keep up with his latest cinematic efforts, you have to visit websites like this or this. In fact, there's very little about this one-sided celluloid infatuation that doesn't make me feel like a 13-year-old with a subscription to Teen Beat. However, for Elijah's sake, I will voluntarily view a film featuring torture, multiple castrations, dismembering, beheadings, shootings, toilet drownings, whippings, beatings, body parts being consumed by dogs, and (implied) child rape and cannibalism. And be pleasantly surprised by the film overall.

Whenever reviewers or the MPAA or HBO voiceovers or the like refer to "sensitive viewers," they are usually referring to me. There are scores of movies that I actively avoid because I am aware of certain offenses being depicted (in case you're wondering, my big taboos are rape, vomit, and cannibalism, and at least the first two seem to appear in films at an alarming frequency these days). In fact, I was fully expecting to report to you that I only viewed a total of 15 minutes of Sin City, having cowered in my seat with my hands covering my eyes for the rest of the feature's running time, but this was simply not the case. There were actually only a few select scenes that I deemed to be too gory (more on that later). I think that the aesthetics of the film helped to lessen the trauma for me. Most of the film, as you may already know, is in black-and-white, with a few symbolic splashes of color. For the most part, blood then appears black or bright white or (in the case of Yellow Bastard), a sick neon yellow.

The violence in the film is also mostly of the Monty Python/Wile E. Coyote variety. Can't say that I was expecting to find a man being dragged by a car face-down on the asphalt to be amusing, but hey, deep down, I too have a depraved sense of humor. I think it had a lot to do with Mickey Rourke's delivery of the line, "I don't know about you, but I'm having a blast." In another scene, a baddie hit by an arrow exclaims with mild surprise, "Hey!" He then stands there, fairly unaffected, and discusses his need for a doctor in a scene reminiscent of a memorable Lancelot-Concorde exchange in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Now I'm going to make a confession that makes me a Bad Movie Geek, but I found this site to be invaluable, The Movie Spoiler, which provides a VERY thorough blow-by-blow summary of the film. So yeah, yeah, I "spoiled" the movie for myself, and call the freaking film police, but as I pointed out above, I am one of those "sensitive viewers," and this way I knew exactly when to cover my eyes and ears and avoid nausea or emotional upset. As in the following:

  • A character reveals that her hand has been eaten off.
  • The details of Dreamy Serial Killer/Cannibal Elijah's unpleasant end
  • A character's electrocution, requiring multiple jolts
  • A character vomiting up his own urine
  • A decapitated head blows up after being stuffed with explosives
  • A character is very graphically castrated

So, you see, all in all, really not that bad.

I've never been all that fond of CGI as setting and environment, but as countless reviewers have already pointed out, it is used well here to recreate in as literal a sense as possible the panels of a comic book. As mentioned before, the black-and-white is punctuated by flashes of color, but it's not always used pretentiously; coloring Clive Owen's Converse sneakers bright red was a nice touch as well as not-so-subtle product placement. Really, though, I'm not all that jazzed about the technical side of filmmaking, so the special effects aren't going to inspire paragraphs and paragraphs of this review. Suffice to say, the stylish cinematography kept my wussy eyes open more often than not.

But something that does pique my interest is the question of the role of women in the film. Now, Sin City gleefully depicts nearly all that I find most reprehensible about movies but without leaving a bad aftertaste. I'm not really sure how to explain it. It helps that all sexual violence (which sucks all the fun out of a guilty pleasure action movie or thriller) is merely referenced. It also helps that many of the women in the film can hold their own, in that scantily clad comic book heroine way. Yes, they're all prostitutes in halter tops, licking their lips lustily as they fire machine guns or whatever, and all the guys have Galahad complexes, leading them to commit gruesome acts in the name of "protecting" these women, but...who cares? As I recently explained to a friend, as I get older, I don't really need entertainment to mirror my personal values. I used to be offended by the existence of slasher flicks and pervy thrillers. Now I could care less; I just know that it's not really my thing and avoid it.

Plus, and this is my own personal bias, I tend to be more forgiving of comic books, especially when they are of the dark, adult, underground variety. This fondness goes back to my days of working the circulation desk in Indiana University's Fine Arts Library. We held the reserve books for the comic book history/appreciation class (which I now sorely regret not taking), and when I had nothing better to do, I read The Watchmen, Sandman: World's End, Maus I and II, The Dark Knight Returns, collections of R. Crumb and Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, and yes, a little Sin City, although I didn't get past the first few pages of The Hard Goodbye since a) I'm not that into noir and b) it was held on "Special Reserve" (in my supervisor's office) and was always being checked out. This doesn't mean that I'm into kinky hentai manga or some shit...it just means that, even when the content is objectionable, I appreciate the artistry, nevertheless. (Speaking of appreciating artistry, it should be noted that Robert Rodriguez held the original material in such high regard that he used the comics as storyboards and credited Frank Miller as a co-director, even though doing so meant sacrificing his Director's Guild membership.)

Besides, who cares about gender politics when the cast is so freaking HOT? All I have to say is, Clive Owen--My God. Even with a shaky accent and a storyline that doesn't always seem to make sense--My God. Benicio's looking alluring and menacing in prosthetics. Oh, and as for Elijah? Well, he totally kicks ass as a leering, murderous mute. He makes vicious killing and savagery in a Charlie Brown sweater look good, especially in his aerodynamic battle scenes with Mickey Rourke's Marv. Plus, I never thought I'd write this sentence, but Mickey Rourke is undeniably the best part of the film. The film moved on after his character was eventually fried, but it lacked some soul and brutish sweetness.

I guess what makes Sin City so enjoyable is that it takes familiar noir conventions to their logical extremes--the prostitutes and strippers with hearts of gold; the hard-ass protagonists cracking skulls and cracking wise; corrupt authority figures; the heroes frequently becoming indistinguishable from the villains. If you enjoy watching a genre devolve in a stylish fashion, wearing its black humor like a pointy Gaultier bra, then I think you'll enjoy this movie. Plus, if I can handle it, so can you.