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S2: How are you doing right now? I see. Prayed, prayed for
S3: me, I am. What’s in the box?
S2: Yo, yo, yo. Hello and welcome to Slate spoiler specials a Matthew Doesn’t Browbeats Nights and weekends editor at Slate, and I’m joined by Laura Miller, books and culture columnist for Slate. Welcome, Laura.
S1: It’s great to be here today.
S2: We’re going to spoil the woman in the window, which is hitting Netflix this weekend. It is the newest movie from director Jim Wright, and it is an adaptation of the 2013 novel by Finn, which is a pseudonym for Dan Mallory, the author of the original. So let’s just get right into it. What what did you think of it? Well, I
S1: have been really interested in the woman in the window as a kind of classic example of a particularly popular genre of thriller at present. You know, I read the book when it was sort of at the peak of its bestseller, Dumb, and it was interesting because it had a lot in common with a book by Paul Hawkins called The Girl on the Train, which was another huge bestseller. And these books are usually, you know, presented as sort of the daughters of Gone Girl, although they are fundamentally different from Gone Girl in important ways. But the woman in the window is is almost it’s almost written to formula. Yeah. Where the girl on the train and I was curious to see if it would be effective at all as a movie. And in some ways I thought it was. I mean there are certain aspects of the book which for some reason I remember very clearly, I was I was just telling some colleagues that it’s like with the books that are not that important to me, I usually just forget everything about them right away. But for some reason, I really remembered this book very clearly. And so I did think that the whole thing of this is sort of works better in the book or this doesn’t work better in the book. I mean, it looked like it clearly had this Hitchcockian flavor to it, but then it didn’t exactly have the high style of Hitchcock. So it seemed like a kind of kind of an interesting, you know, not not bad, but not it didn’t wow me. What about you, Matt?
S2: Yeah, I, I feel kind of the same way I thought it was. I read the book just over the weekend and I thought it was Yeah. As you say, written the formula but kind of I don’t know, I felt it about I thought it was like not a very good novel and just an unbelievably smart career move for Denmark. Like it was it was it felt like the book had been kind of reverse constructed from know what are people buying, what are people reading or whatever. Like you say, it’s modeled after the girl on the train. But it’s kind of it’s got like four twist endings, right? It’s like it’s like I started with a list of big moments and twist endings in books from the first page. It’s obvious like, oh, this is going to become a movie. It’s written in that sort of style. And it’s an open invitation for a director to attach themselves to it and do a love letter to Hitchcock. You get to play somebody with mental illness who’s drinking. So actresses are going to want to get attached to Gary Oldman to play the psychopath. It’s like you couldn’t you couldn’t do a better build to order like this is that this is what people want.
S1: And not only that, but cheap to make because it’s all set in one location.
S2: Like literally it’s just like it’s like they took the requirements, the things people were saying, this is what we want from these books and just just built it. And I mean, I feel about it like like Ian Holmes character feels about the alien and aliens. It’s just like, you know, it’s not about enjoying it or anything. It’s just sort of a an unstoppable killing machine as far as like, wow, this is going to sell for a lot of money. And I thought that the movie kind of to me felt like, yeah, well, I guess someone took the bait, but there’s not really, you know, enough idiosyncratic or enough that’s not just like pure liying formula to to to really do anything that interesting with it. And if I have a certain problem,
S1: it has, you know, an amazing cast. Yeah. It’s got Amy Adams, Scott, Gary Oldman, Scott, Julianne Moore, and it’s got Wyatt Russell, whom I love from being in one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Watch forty nine, which I just had to get in there every time.
S2: One of these days I got to get back to that.
S1: And you know, he’s such a charming actor and the part just doesn’t give him really anything to work with at all. I mean, Amy Adams acts up a storm. She’s visibly falling apart. She’s, you know, she’s sympathetic. And yet you can absolutely see why nobody believes her when she says that the that the woman who lives across the street from her, she’s she’s seen this woman murdered through the window, you know, and she has just enough of this little filament of her old sort of robust self left that she can be protective about this teenage boy that lives across the street, which, of course, is her downfall. And and Gary is is believable both as. This sort of scary person, and as a person who’s scary and this is actually the result of this misguided paternal protectiveness, which doesn’t is actually an element of the book that is not really portrayed in the movie. But maybe we should just talk a little bit about what goes on in the movie.
S2: Yeah, so the movie the movie covers it set over. There’s like an epilogue, but it’s like eight days basically in the life of this Amy Adams character. So, yeah, let’s just talk to it. So we open up with, like, just, you know, like snow falling towards the camera and there’s screams on the soundtrack. And then SNAP cut to Amy Adams waking up in her amazing house somewhere in New York City, I think it’s of Harlem, which we tour. She’s got four stories to herself in the basement. There’s an apartment that she’s renting out to a tenant named David, who is played by White Russell, as you said. So, yeah. So the first day we kind of follow her around her apartment as or house, whatever townhouse. She’s having a phone conversation with her estranged husband and daughter and watching some new neighbors move in. She then she meets with her therapist. And we get an explanation about the fact that she’s agoraphobic after some sort of unspecified trauma. She tells her therapist she’s played by Tracy. That’s why she wrote the screenplay, that that she’s not drinking. That’s not actually the case because she’s on a bunch of psychotropic medicines. As soon as she leaves, she gets drunk and we see her doing her usual kind of spying on the neighbors thing. So we’re window situations. And then one of the neighbors comes over and that’s that’s Ethan Fred played by Fred Hechinger, who is the teenager moved in across the street. He’s come over to bring in a lavender candle and they kind of hit it off. But he’s super duper shy. So that’s day one. She then goes and watches Laura there. She’s kind of obsessed with classic movies.
S1: It’s like it’s like old it’s Hitchcock, but it’s also sort of your classic Forties era film noir. So I think she watches Laura at one point.
S2: Yeah. Laura, no. And dark passage.
S1: I think our passage. Yes.
S2: The movie kind of lifts this concept from Rear Window. So whether or not it has the clips in it, it’s it’s definitely haunted film.
S1: It’s absolutely I mean, Mallory was very clear that he had deliberately borrowed that concept from Rear Window.
S2: I mean, you know what I kept thinking? Reading the novel, of course, is that if you are trying to sell something to the movies, you could do worse than have a love letter to classic movies buried in it for the development executives flipping through who presumably also like classic movies, is whether reading it. I mean, all of it was just, you know, it’s either cynical or ingenious, depending on what what you think you should be doing when you’re writing a novel. But OK, but back to it. So that’s our first night new neighbors. And then the next night is Tuesday, and that is Halloween in our neighborhood. And we meet David Tennant for the first time. He’s apparently like running errands for her. And that night, some kids start egging her house and she goes outside, tries to go outside, interrupt them, has an immediate panic attack and comes back to consciousness on her couch and finds that Julianne Moore, a blonde, Julianne Moore, has brought her home and brings her some brandy to kind of, you know, get her head back together. And they sort of hit it off and spend a night or a couple of hours drinking and shooting the shit. Basically, she tells Jane Russell, quote, Jane Russell and quote, Julianne Moore’s character tells about her son Ethan and says, it’s awful to be separated from a kid. And they kind of bond over that. And a little bit after she leaves, Gary Oldman, who is the frightening patriarch of the family, Alistair Russell, comes over and asks if any of his family has been there. And she lies and says no. And that’s that’s to stay. So at this point, she’s met the Russell family. So that sets up this kind of situation, you know, a rear window scenario. Basically, she’s she’s involved in these people’s lives, although they’re not really her neighbors. Did you think that set up worked or what did you think of the Russell’s in their first?
S1: Yeah, I think so. I mean, you know what what the what the movie is good at establishing is that she’s maybe recovering a little bit. You know, her therapist takes her curiosity about her neighbors. Clearly, she shares all of her observations with him. So at the very beginning, we see him, you know, asking her for updates on the people across the street who she’s not. She sees them through her front windows, not her windows. But it’s basically the same thing, you know, these different compartments that she can see across the street and these lives that she observes, even while she doesn’t really have any kind of life, you know, she’s she’s, quote, separated from her husband and daughter. And in the book, you know, that he kind of gets you to believe for a while that that maybe they’re separated because she is so ill and maybe he’s taken the daughter off somewhere to live. But I mean, one of the things I thought worked well in the movie is that you realized pretty quickly that these are just voices in her head. What actual conversations that she’s having, and because we never see her talking on the telephone with them and in the book, this that sort of revelation was like strung out for so long that it just felt like, come on, already I know they’re dead. And I got very impatient waiting for that, quote, twist, unquote, so that then the plot could go someplace more interesting. But in this, I feel like. It’s pretty obvious in the movie that she’s not she’s not really having these conversations with anybody. So then she actually becomes involved like this is the first of these people that she becomes involved with, partly because of the boy and his charming ways, and but mostly because the woman she thinks is Jane Russell is just caring for her in a particular way that, you know, respects the fact that she is is sort of impaired but doesn’t treat her like a crazy person. So it’s like these are like the little tendrils of her recovery. And then, of course, it all goes terribly wrong shortly thereafter. But I thought that was well established. And again, we’ve got these amazing actors, and I think they’re all really good at finding the emotional, you know, kernel of this dynamic.
S2: And it is it is a kernel.
S1: I know. But, you know, it’s it’s it’s there, you know. I mean,
S2: really, the actors are acting their hearts out in this and doing what? Yeah.
S1: And I also think that the house is kind of a great set. I mean, yes, obviously, it’s like, what, a four million dollar? Do you sort of wonder how on earth did she get this and why is she still there, you know, like taxes? Because she doesn’t appear to be working now, though, she tells Jane that she counsels people, which is. And then Jane laughs because it’s clearly ridiculous that this completely kind of crushed person could be helping anyone. But they do have this kind of equal back and forth there. And it also establishes that the theme of the whole movie is the sort of treachery of parental love. You know, that that you are sort of helpless before it, which I feel like did not really get paid out in the end, because we need to understand that Alistair is actually just trying to protect his son.
S2: Yeah, no, I agree with that. That just didn’t come across. I mean, one of the things that’s different in the book is they’ve they’ve two things. One is that one thing I was thinking about watching this particularly early part is that rear window kind of sets up these side plots that Jimmy Stewart is observing. There’s the musician who’s trying to make money. There’s, you know, the dancer in the other apartment is fending off suitors. There are these just sort of like ongoing things that he’s observing. And this you get to see like a prayer group for a second. But there’s no it doesn’t have any any room for that kind of like richness or speed. It’s all really pared down. And even compared to the book, their entire side parts, they’re just totally killed. There’s in the book she has a relationship with the physical therapist who is helping her recover, who’s coming over all the time. And that role was cast. So they must have shot something with it. But she’s missing here. And she also spending her time in the book, sort of she is counselling people. She does it on an online thing and that’s just gone completely. That’s been completely excised. And in that sense, I mean, I find that I find that sometimes the less satisfying I mean, I it’s the alien thing. Again, there’s nothing wasted in this movie but waste a little, you know, like, let’s let’s set this in a neighborhood where the other people matter, because that’s one of the things that’s so great about Rear Window is you get this just kind of like a group portrait at the same time as you have this thriller propelling things along. And exactly.
S1: You get this whole feeling of a neighborhood that you see. It doesn’t seem weird that he is so fascinated by it. You know, I mean, it seems and he I mean, he has his problems that the hero where Rear Window, but he’s not a complete basket case like a fox is. So so, yeah. She’s got you know, she’s got the lights are low. The house is like visibly sort of dank. It’s got these high ceilings that kind of dissolve in the shadow. You know, it’s it’s like a haunted house. And she’s the ghost.
S2: Yeah, totally. Well, that it has kind of an all of the rooms are kind of monochromatic, which reminds me a bit of a mask of the Red Death sort of thing that she sealed in here with the blue office and her peach bedroom and a pink room somewhere. I mean, they’re all whatever room she’s in. That’s the color. It is.
S1: Yeah, it’s very it’s kind of morbid, cloistered er to it. So we don’t see much of her efforts to go outside. But then when she is looking across the street, she’s gotten the impression that something is off in the Russell household and then she sees the woman she thinks is Jane in a dispute with someone. And then she sees that Jane has been stabbed, but she doesn’t see who the perpetrator is through the window. So she calls the cops and, you know, she’s trying to convince. That that that you see someone murdered and then Alistair Russell produces his wife, who was a completely different person, and, you know, she won’t believe it, and she protests and she has these different sort of clues and that she feels will you know, she’s got a photo and then she’s got this drawing that that quote Jane unquote made. And she tries to convince people there’s a kindly police detective and an unkindly active and then ultimately, you know, she just gets what she does. The other thing that kind of pushes her to the to the brink beyond the fact that she she comes to believe that she hallucinated this woman is also someone emails her a photo of herself asleep on the sofa. And so she knows someone’s been in the house, which is a development in the storyline that is not actually compatible with her scenario, which is that somehow Alistair has killed his wife and then brought in this imposter and then somehow intimidated his son into to accepting us as his mother when she’s not. But she’s so sort of wigged out that she can’t figure out why someone would do something like that. And and she just is so, so far over the edge that she finally will also the cops then come forward and just sort of say, you’re your family is dead, your family is dead, your family is dead. And that helps precipitate this break. And she is getting ready to commit suicide.
S2: Yeah, she comes to believe that there the police believe that she’s made up the entire thing. And she she comes to believe them, too, because she’s been so drugged and drunk and so on and so forth. And yeah. What did you think of the scene, that scene where they know the big reveal or whatever that Joe Wright played that really big? I mean, there’s Amy Adams gets this lengthy sort of monologue where she lays out all her accusations in this just very stylized shot, kind of she kind of steps away from everyone else into the frame. And there’s this real slow pushing on her to a close up of her face. And then we go to the flashback and see how her family to that to that work for you. That section,
S1: I thought the scene there that the scene where the unfriendly detective says, I’m sorry, your family is dead. I’m sorry, your father,
S2: the Mrs. Danvers detective, I think is the you know,
S1: again, this is like a really sleek, well constructed thriller that does not have a whole lot of maybe soul to it beyond the performances. And this that was one of the few really clumsy notes. Was this, you know, like in what situation would someone say, I’m sorry, your family is dead, I’m sorry, your family is dead over and over again like that Hitchcock movie?
S2: I think that’s the answer to that.
S1: I supposed to like that. You know, one of the funny things about the difference between, like a Hitchcock movie and this is that Amy Adams has you know, I’m sure she has some makeup on, but she basically has she looks as if she’s wearing no makeup. So she’s kind of the complete opposite of the kind of woman that you would see in a Hitchcock movie or a man, you know, she does not have this. It’s almost sort of burnished, stylized, you know, flawless beauty that then is thrown into a conflict with these like crazy acute angles and weird wrenching music and and, you know, disorienting camera moves and and and so it’s sort of like you recognize it. It’s sort of a Hitchcock movie. But it it’s sort of without that the sort of beauty of the beauty that is always in contrast with the disorder and the violence in the Hitchcock movies. It doesn’t really have the same impact. I mean, she seems pitiful more than anything else.
S2: Yeah, yeah. I mean, that was the scene for me where the movie just just kind of lost me. It just struck me. It’s very clumsy. There are a lot of you know, after those shots, there are these reaction shots of the rest of the cast and a post like like it’s a Sopranos promotional poster or something. It’s like everyone standing opposed, like their characters. And the realization that you come to a scene that is like a you know, you don’t have enough going on here to sustain this kind of artificiality and be I don’t I don’t care about any of these people. Like the point of the business is it’s like, oh, what a gallery of rogues. But for me was kind of like, you know, don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. You know, check, check, check the list there.
S1: Yeah. That that scene was not handled well. And in a way, I can see how it might work without the flashback, you know, like a. It was a story that somebody told, and so every time we saw the snow in her nightmares. We would know it’s a reference to that, but it wouldn’t be so literal. But you know
S2: what I mean, this is so literal that when it comes back to the flashback, her crash car is literally like in her living room. Yeah, yeah. I mean, it really just goes goes all out on the let’s let’s present the fractured.
S1: OK, but in defense of it, I guess, you know, what we could say is that what we’re seeing there is her you know, she’s looking at this accident for which she blames herself. And it’s also almost like on a stage that everybody else is looking at. And it’s part of her feeling is that not only does she blame herself for this thing, not only is this a traumatic memory that’s being visited on her, but everybody else is witnessing how it’s her fault. Right. Right. I mean, I think that you can see that part of the effect of that scene, although I mean, I agree it’s not it’s not a well handled scene. And I think it’s just because a lot of plot that sort of stretched out in the book is is being kind of compacted into this this one scene.
S2: So, yeah, so there’s that moment where she kind of comes to believe that she’s she’s imagining it all. She apologizes to everybody. And then the next day, as you said, she starts preparing to kill herself. But while she’s doing that, she flips through her phone photos, looking at pictures of her family, her daughter and husband. Oh, I should we should mention, of course, it also comes out that the reason she sort of is to blame for the death of her, I mean, to the extent anybody is for the death of her daughter and husband, they’re driving because she’s had an affair. They’re trying to have some kind of last vacation with their daughter. They get into a fight and her phone rings. Apparently, it’s from the person she’s having an affair with. And that’s also a whole subplot that is in the book. But this cut out here and they go off the road and her, you know, fighting immediately after her husband has said, yeah, I do blame you for this. You’re the person having an affair. She kills them all. Also, a lot of a lot of guilt there and not necessarily, you know, entirely unjustified. But but yeah. So she’s a mess. So she’s she’s she’s going to kill herself. But if she’s looking through the old photos, she sees a photo she took the night she was hanging out with Jane Russell, a picture of her cat. And there’s a reflection of Jane’s face in the wine glass. And that one, she’s like, oh, no, this actually did happen. So the first person that she showed the photo to is David Tennant. He comes up, looks at it, and it’s like, well, that’s great. But I don’t want anything to do with any of this because she had accused him to the police of being involved.
S1: That’s when they realized that’s when actually that’s when Anna realizes that the woman was not Jane Russell, but Ethan’s birth mother, this woman named Katie, who is like a kind of a druggie who is pestering the Russell family. And that’s the reason why they had to leave Boston and not because Alistair Russell did something shady and that David had a one night stand with her, which is why she found this earring in his room, which is another early clue that she has that she comes up with to prove that Jane was real but doesn’t convince anyone because she just found an earring. Right.
S2: That that scene is like one of the I think the book of Peter. But that’s one of the points where I was just like, oh, come on. Because if David knows that Ethan’s birth mother has been there, has been trying to reach Ethan and spent the night with him and then sit through that other scene where they’re having all of these conversations about whether or not Ethan’s mother is dead or alive and doesn’t volunteer, you know, do you mean the birth mother who’s been here running around the neighborhood for the last few days? Like, yeah, like that last thing just doesn’t work once. You know that he knows that she accessed the car crash flashback. Yeah. But before we can accuse him of that, David leaves and gets promptly stabbed to death by Ethan, who is in the house.
S1: Yes. And who has been monitoring her computer this whole time and knows everything that she’s doing because she gave him a key because she thought he needed a safe place to go. So then they have this big chase scene and then finally she pushes him through a skylight, which has been established early on as a part of the house. It’s about to fall apart. And then she wakes up in the hospital and we come to what I think is really the climax of the book in terms of what this book is about, which is the moment when the detective comes into her, her hospital room to tell her what’s going on now in an action movie. Obviously, the confrontation with the bad guy and the defeat of the bad guy, you know, at the When All Hope seems lost is the climax of the film. But in this particular type of of a thriller, at least in the book form, the most important moment is the moment when the male authority figure tells the unreliable heroine or narrator that he was wrong and that she was right. All along and that she wasn’t crazy after all right.
S2: This is a little crazy,
S1: and that’s the premise of the sort of girl in the train scenario, is that there’s this narrator or main character whose point of view we see the story through, and she is a woman that people think is unbalanced. And she also thinks she’s unbalanced. And the girl on the train, she she was not she didn’t have a diagnosed mental illness, but she was an alcoholic and she was obsessed with her ex-husband, which is why she was staring out the window at this particular street where she saw the murder that she saw. There’s a lot of window peering in in this race. And and nobody believes her because she’s histrionic drunk. And in this case, no one believes in Anna because she is on these new meds and she is clearly just one step away from full on nervous breakdown. And the things that she says don’t make any sense. And but in the end, she’s proven right, which is the really important thing about this particular genre of thrillers is that the woman that everyone says is crazy and who even comes to believe them is proven to be right in the end.
S2: Yeah, I mean, and that’s interesting because that’s a scene that you don’t get in sort of the classic Hitchcock. I mean, Hitchcock’s protagonists are men primarily and he doesn’t like you don’t have that. There’s nothing wrong with Jimmy Stewart except his leg. Well, and he’s a voyeur, but he’s not mentally ill. So you don’t have this thing of even although in that movie, of course, nobody does believe him that the guy’s to the police apologized to him. And that I mean, is that I don’t remember.
S1: I don’t think so. I don’t think that that’s you know, I don’t think that that’s as important to write to a character like that. That authority figures who dismissed him.
S2: Yeah, yeah. No, but what I’m wondering is kind of when that became a who’s the first person who did that variation in the genre? Because I was systematically that that you can get into a lot of interesting stuff there if you have male authority figures not believing.
S1: I think that it’s super gendered, you know, and and I think that girl on the train, if not the first. Time this was used, it’s really the whole point of the girl on the train. Sure. And and it’s a book that was, you know, mostly driven by female success, was mostly driven by female fans and female readers. And one of the things that it does is, is is sort of confirm that even though you know that everyone who says that you’re just some crazy woman is wrong and that you’re right. It’s like an exaggerated version of. Yeah, very common experience for a lot of women. I think the secret of that of that book’s appeal, even though the heroine is flawed, it’s not just like in what was it the man who saw too much or any number of of movies where someone sees something and no one believes them. Right. It’s important that the that the narrator really does have a problem. She really is drinking. She really is mentally ill. And and she has to triumph sort of over that and prove that she’s right to go to the police. Yeah, to everybody. Really.
S2: Yeah, no, absolutely. And I mean, she literally has to overcome her agoraphobia to to make it out of the movie alive. She has to make it up to the roof to avoid Ethan or whatever. So there’s like a very literal sense in which she’s triumphing over her mental illness or whatever as well there. But but yeah. So she gets that vindication from the cops. And then we cut to nine months later and she has sold her house and without any it being any big crisis, she leaves the front door. So she’s she’s
S1: all better, although all these people are dead.
S2: Yeah, exactly. Herself, herself, actualisation came at a terrible cost to the neighborhood.
S1: Well, Jacobean to her tenant. And, you
S2: know, I mean, I think she’s probably making the right choice moving out of there.
S1: But I don’t think that that was weirdly super unpersuasive because this is a woman who is very, very traumatized by her role or responsibility for this car accident that killed her family. And none of that has changed. And, you know, it’s not like this experience proved that, you know, she wasn’t to blame. Right. Second, I think probably the strongest scenes in the movie are her making her suicide, recording her video and her confrontation with Ethan, where he is. She says, like, why don’t you just kill yourself? I just want to watch. And she says, OK, I don’t want to live in a world with you in it. You know, like if you’re what this world is about, it’s just filth, I think, which is kind of a great line. And then but instead, she, you know, she hits him with the bottle and and and runs and then they and finally defeat him. But but, you know, it’s also still a world that I am in it.
S2: Yeah. That’s what I say. Like, she’s very convincing in that moment. Like this is a woman who doesn’t wish to live anymore and thinks, well, Jesus, you know, and there’s not she doesn’t really they ever say that she feels any differently. She just starts smashing in with the wine bottle or whatever. And and she gets I mean, she has like a garden break or something, smashed her cheek on the source of this. If she somehow doesn’t react well to trauma like nine months, seems like a pretty short time to get over that
S1: actually physically killed someone. And then she it’s not the kind of thing where it’s not the kind of movie thing where, like, they, you know, back up when she swings like a shovel and then they accidentally fall, he accidentally falls to the roof. She literally pushes him through the skylight and kills. Yeah, she has slipped in her tenant’s blood and she didn’t know. But she’s responsible also for his death. Right. And, you know, it’s it just seems like recovery, like it just seems like for someone that fragile.
S2: Well, we don’t see where she’s going when she leaves. Maybe she’s going straight off to Bellevue or something through the rest of the stuff in a cab.
S1: I hope, you know, it has this sort of thing. Well, now that she’s killed the psychotic teenage murderer, which is also like a ghastly thing for anyone to have confronted, you know, it’s like this this terrible person.
S2: Well, and he’s the total like ninety serial killer, you know, he gives he gives a lot of them, does a lot of monologuing during the last fight, would say like that that that kind of thing like it. You couldn’t it was it wasn’t one of those just normal. Everyday encounters with a teenage serial killer. I really got into it a supervillain.
S1: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s it’s super unpersuasive that she would recover. But, you know,
S2: it’s I mean, it’s again, it’s one of those things where it’s just moving swiftly through these plot points more than it is about any any actual human beings. But speaking of actual human beings, this film has a couple of doozies associated with it. And one of them is, is Dan Mallory, the author, AJ Finn or whatever, who was the subject of a pretty scathing New Yorker profile after the book came out. Did you follow that whole thing?
S1: Yeah, he was a someone who works in book publishing who turned out to be a kind of a serial liar, you know, had and told people all kinds of wild stories about his. Family, he had a track record of saying that his mother was dying of cancer and, you know, sometimes lying just for the sake of lying. I mean, I don’t know that know, obviously he’s a serial killer, but it is a little bit he’s you know, he was. It is purportedly I never met him myself.
S2: I was going to ask you’re kind of cute into that
S1: world, right? Yeah, I know I, I don’t recall having met him. I do know I did know people who did. And after this this New Yorker exposé came out, they were like, oh, yeah, we thought it was too slick. But clearly he was just someone who was very, very charming, who sort of was able to convey this sort of bon vivant at old school publishing. You know, like I sort of imagine him as trying to be like one of these legendary editors like Michael Kauder, Bob Gottlieb, where they were just like, you know, at the center of this sparkling circle and could talk for hours and be fascinating and and and, you know, lived in a townhouse and, you know, was always having lunch with, like, famous writers and, you know, politicians and celebrities that were that were writing memoirs. And and there was a kind of old school publishing glamour that he was able to sort of create around himself that sort of kept people from really well, first of all, helped him succeed because publishing is a business where, like, the ambience is part of how you keep your staff because it doesn’t pay well. And so it’s like you want to be literary, you want to know writers, you want to be part of a like kind of a fun and sort of glamorous industry. And that’s why you accept abysmal entry level salaries. And so, you know, like people who can create a sort of glamour and an aura around the business do have a weird sort of value. But I mean, he didn’t really do any kind of work and was completely unreliable. And and when it all came out,
S2: I mean, is he is he was still working in publishing when nothing was published. The profile is not anymore, to
S1: wit, once the book became such
S2: a hit. Yeah, he wouldn’t. I mean, he probably doesn’t have to work again.
S1: Yeah. So that was that was that’s a kind of I mean in a way that’s a more fascinating story than this Thriller plot. Obviously it doesn’t have any corpses in it, but but it’s just so much more full of human weakness and and and complexity in the window. But I thought
S2: they were both a little bit of a piece in that the impression I get from The New Yorker profile is like this is a guy who will think very hard about what you want to hear. And that’s what he will tell you. You know, like I don’t think it’s so much. I mean, you talked about him creating kind of like an old school posing with us. I mean, I agree, but I don’t know to the extent to which that’s for him, the extent to which that’s for the people that he was sort of, you know, manipulating or working with or whatever like. But the novel struck me as like somebody sat down and thought for a long time, what do
S1: what do other people want? Yes, we want to feel a Catholic thing that that Ethan does with without a fox. Right. Right, right. Figures out what kind of person is going to sort of appeal to her so that he can use her. Yes and yes, definitely. But I mean, the people in publishing are so hungry for that that you can do that is the weird sort of asset.
S2: Yeah, no, for sure. I mean, I, I it wasn’t something where I was like, oh wow. Everybody’s getting duped by this. I was like, oh yeah, this is what they want. Here’s the thing. He delivered it. But yeah. And this is also actually this is the first Scott Rudin production to come out since the Hollywood Reporter story about him. And that was that something on your mind watching this or to that colored at all for you?
S1: I guess it’s it’s really difficult to you know, this is not like if if all he had ever been responsible for was movies like this, it would have seemed maybe if this makes a lot of money and and and people in Hollywood consider it a success. Maybe that will add to the sort of weird way that Scott Rudin’s genuine creative gifts as a as a producer kind of helped him get away with his monstrous behavior as a as a boss. But but if they were old movies like this, I don’t think that would fly the sort of make excuses for him.
S2: That was actually that was the thought I had, is that for the last month or whatever, we’ve been hearing people talking about rudeness, exceptional and extraordinary taste or whatever. And I mean, you know, I mean, he’s got taste, but it’s not in evidence here. This is a movie that is just producer bait. You know, like I mean, I like the like the whole thing is sort of like that it like book and movie both just feel a little soulless, but like it definitely hits all of these points. And me think through it. I was like, yeah, this is not if this is if this is Scott Rudin’s taste, I don’t know what we’re what we’re talking about.
S1: Well, we should probably be clear that as a piece of entertainment, it’s fine. Many people watch it and be like, oh, you know, there’s a few really cool shots in it. You know, I feel like the scene where she looks just before she’s making the the suicide video where she she looks into the lens of her phone. Has this gave me a real genuine sort of chill? There’s something about the Mercilus I of that phone camera that that shot captured. And that phone is such that, you know, plays such a crucial role in her life, you know, and and it sort of has this kind of atmosphere and it has some really good performances on some kind of weak material. Right. Like people who just want a popcorn movie on a Friday night will probably be perfectly satisfied with it.
S2: No, I mean, I agree. And actually, yeah, I watch it go on to to sweep the awards now that I’ve said I wasn’t a big fan. But but yeah, I’m interested in hearing from people who see the movie, who haven’t read the book or don’t know any of the backstory either, because I don’t know if this book
S1: is exactly the same thing, as you’ve pointed out, that it’s it’s it’s a kind of a machine for producing a mild state of energy. And I don’t and I don’t know that that many people who read it considered it to be profound, you know? I mean, it’s just that it is. It’s so calculated
S2: to know exactly
S1: that, even down to the pseudonym, which is, of course, gender neutral. So, you know, the thing about these sort of, you know, misunderstood Cassandra’s, which is like this genre of Thriller, is that those books are almost all written by women. And even if the readers don’t say, oh, I really identify with the girl on the train or with a fox or, you know, people say I’m crazy or I’m too emotional and they no one believes me and maybe I drink too much. Even if people don’t come out and say they identify with the heroine situation. Sure, there is some of that. There has to be some of that. That’s that’s why the formula keeps recurring over and over again and why it does so well. But I don’t know that there’s anybody, you know, reading this book and saying, oh, my God, and a fox is me. Yeah, no, right. It’s just a beach dream for me. Well, you know,
S2: I mean, I’ve got to say, like, I preparing for this, I also went back and watched Copycat, which is the movie that some of the subplots.
S1: Oh, I’m so glad you mentioned that, because the author of Copycat accused Mallory of plagiarizing Copycat. And I know I saw that movie ages ago. It has Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter in it, and it’s in San Francisco. But I don’t really remember anything about it. And I didn’t watch it after the accusations surfaced. So I’m curious to hear what you think of that charge.
S2: Well, there’s two things I would say about it. And the first is that, yes, of course, there are subplots lifted wholesale out of that into the other thing, just like there are subplots listed, lifted wholesale from Rear Window or from girl on the thing. It’s kind of working backwards from that stuff. But but it is very striking. It’s more striking comparing the book to the movie than it is comparing the movie to the movie because they cut out some of the stuff that Sigourney Weaver plays. She’s you know, it’s one of those post Silence of the Lambs serial killer waves movies. So she plays a tough sort of profiler who had this traumatic experience when a serial killer tracked her down and tried to hang her in a bathroom or something. Anyway, that gave her agoraphobia. So she lives in her apartment, which she cannot leave. And a killer is stuck in San Francisco. And Holly Hunter is the, you know, Clarice Starling figure. She’s an FBI agent or I guess she’s a San Francisco cop. Anyway, she is trying to get Sigourney Weaver out of her house to help with this case. But it’s the same thing. She’s being stalked and and, you know, and copycat takes that from what is it the what’s the Audrey Hepburn movie where she’s blind and stuck in her house until dark? Yeah, exactly. It’s that thing. It’s the woman stuck at home who can’t leave being being stalked by people. And she passes her time by playing online chess, which is something that is in the book of the woman in the window. And by participating in like an online forum for agoraphobics, where she sort of talks people through getting out of the house and both of those elements get show up.
S1: And we don’t really see in the movie how much the Internet becomes Anna’s sort of contact with the world and then how she can be deceived by that. You know, I mean,
S2: you know, there’s an entire subplot where Ethan is like pretending to be an agoraphobe on this forum and catfishes her. And that’s how he finds out all of her stuff in the book. And that’s just not here at all. But again, like that’s the one thing from it that in copycat, there’s no crayfishing theme. But but those stuff when that in that movie is just like, yeah, that’s that’s just exactly the same thing. But again, like, I don’t like plagiarism. It’s you know, it’s a premise. It’s not.
S1: I will again, it’s such a formulaic genre. Yeah. That the fact that motifs are used like the rear window motif or the Gore or the woman trapped in a house
S2: or the character treated as living is dead, there is no way this could come back and see the movie.
S1: There’s no way that once agoraphobia became a sort of mental illness that people were talking about in the popular press, that somebody wasn’t going to use it in a thriller. You know, just, you know, all of these things are well, I
S2: mean, a billion percent believe that that Mallory got the idea of making his character in agoraphobe from watching Copycat, because it’s just it just is the same thing. I just don’t think it’s I don’t think there’s any real I think if that’s a crime, then there are like ninety people with claims to plagiarism in this movie. And I just it’s not close enough for me to take care.
S1: It’s an interesting. In question that comes up now and then with a really successful genre, authors, you know, every once in a while someone will kind of go off the deep end and and sue somebody else for plagiarism, for these devices that have been used in like a bazillion paperback. Right, right. Right. I wrote a piece for Slate about how a an author of paranormal romances for adults named Sherilyn Kenyon was suing an author of paranormal romances for the Y.A. crowd named Cassandra Clare over these, you know, fictional devices that are just such cliches of the paranormal romance genre that there was just a source of merriment for everyone after that entire week that someone would try to claim to own them. It’s come up with J.K. Rowling with somebody. Right. Harry Potter was by far not the first series of books about a school for wizards and so on and so on. And it’s just really it’s really difficult for anyone to really credibly say that by using these Religare things like, oh, what if we have a serial killer story where the serial killer plays a cat and mouse game, you know? Yeah, no, totally. You not only can you not plagiarize that from somebody else that not conceivably even belong to anybody so
S2: close to the Zodiac killers belong to anyone you can
S1: see the Zodiac killer for.
S2: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Well, the other thing that I was going to say about copycat, though, is that it I found it to be. More entertaining than the woman in the window, frankly, because it doesn’t have it’s just a straight genre, 90 serial killer movie, it’s it’s ridiculous. There’s nothing going on to it, but it doesn’t have these huge flights of fancy where suddenly we’re going to do a Technicolor red dream sequence or whatever. It doesn’t do the Hitchcock thing. And that this does. And I found that to be just a well,
S1: also, don’t you think that that if you have a movie where you have these two characters, you can build a relationship between them? You know, there’s Holly Hunter wants Sigourney Weaver to come out and help her with this case. And Sigourney Weaver is too scared. But in this, you know, Anna is really on her own. Right. And nobody really understands what’s going on with her, including her therapist and the one person who she seems to be establishing a friendship with, you know, isn’t. So, you know, all of the drama of the story is kind of internal in a way. All of the character drama is. It is internal. Yeah. And and there’s no it’s difficult for her to even perform it because there’s nobody really for her to talk to. Yeah. So I think that that this is one of those cases where, like, the novel probably has an edge over the film, even though the film is more cinematically stylish than the novel’s prose is sort of literally stylish just because it’s so much about what’s going on inside this woman’s head. And the movie can’t quite show you that.
S2: Yeah, I agree with that.
S1: How much longer can we talk about a movie that
S2: I apologize, Laura, because it was so fun talking about this movie and book with you. So thank you so much for having me on the show.
S1: Yeah, I really enjoyed that far more than I enjoyed the actual movie.
S2: All right. That’s our show today. Please subscribe to the Slate spoiler special podcast feed. And if you like the show, please write and review it in the Apple podcast store or wherever you get your podcast. If you have suggestions for movies or TV shows, we should spoil or if you have any other feedback you’d like to share, please send it to spoilers at Slate’s Dotcom. Our producer is Morgan Flanary for Laura Miller UNSNAPPED.
S3: Thanks for hosting.