Body Double is the movie where I finally decided that after it was over, I wanted to see everything that Brian De Palma has directed. While movies like Body Double may (rightfully) not be lumped in with De Palma's best work, it has a very specific style that I completely fell in love with. The movie works as a wonderful satire of the perception of his work being sex and violence obsessed. Every scene is layered with overtly sexual subtext, which seems to be goading on the critics who consider his films to be too violent again women. Luckily, the plot doesn't get too lost in the style, as the film ends up being a fairly successful story about a man who was born to play the witness.
The basic story of Body Double is that working actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson), recently homeless after finding his girlfriend having sex with another man in his apartment, is asked to help housesit for fellow actor Sam Bouchard (Gregg Henry) while he is off on an acting gig in another city. The apartment is an extremely lavish example of 80s excess, but the best part (as pointed out by Bouchard) is the view from the living room window. It seems that every night around midnight, the woman in the house across the way does a sexy striptease in her bedroom while keeping the blinds open, allowing our men to get a perfect view with the help of a strategically placed telescope. As Bouchard leaves for his acting gig, Scully begins to spend his nights watching the woman from afar, becoming obsessed with her every move.
What follows is a very Hitchcockiam thriller as Scully becomes entwined in a plot much larger than he bargained for. De Palma takes many of the strengths seen in Hitchcock's Rear Window and Vertigo and adds a healthy dose of sexual innuendo to make for a very interesting take on Hitchcock's "Everyman in danger" motif. While some say that De Palma simply steals too much from Hitchcock to be taken seriously as an original filmmaker, I disagree and would consider De Palma more of the heir who carried Hitchcock's love of suspense and terror and brought it up to date for a modern audience. Unlike Hitchcock however, De Palma's films seem to fall more into the style category whereas Hitchcock always seemed to balance style perfectly with story. However, considering that Body Double was released in a time when movies were becoming more about spectacle than substance, it's no surprise that De Palma went this route.
There's lots to chew on in Body Double as everything has a comically layered sexual subtext. One perfect example being Scully's claustrophobia that comes up at crucial moments in the film. On the surface, this seems to stem from a traumatic experience of getting stuck behind a freezer as a child. But within the context of the film's plot, it's obvious that this fear of deep dark spaces is another way that De Palma emasculates Scully by pointing out his subconscious inability to please other women. It's fascinating how De Palma frames these shots, making it almost a mockery of the way other movies use sex as a subconscious plot driver.
It's difficult to examine the rest of the film without diving into spoiler territory so I'll conclude by saying that I really liked this movie. I think it's a great example of a master of style being able to elevate a film that would otherwise be a fairly straightforward thriller. The acting may be a bit weak at times, but everything else about the movie was so enjoyable that it didn't detract from my enjoyment. I also felt the film had a fairly convoluted ending, but considering the target that De Palma was aiming for, I think what may appear to be a near miss is in actuality a well executed hit. If you think the movie wants to be taken seriously, then simply look no further than the final scene played over the credits and you can easily picture De Palma gleefully toying with his critics.
Valuable Life Lesson Learned: Watching porn will help you solve murders.
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