Today we'll be considering two American movies about errant spirits in Ireland. Now, wandering spirits are about as difficult to find in Ireland as the liquid ones are; both must be treated with respect, or the results can be very ugly indeed. These two movies provide a good contrast in their approaches to similar stories: while both are concerned with the transmigrations of souls into new bodies, only one of them is any good... the other is more concerned with channeling the souls of other movies than being effective in its own right.
The decent film is The Eternal, written and directed by Michael Almereyda (Nadja, The Rocking-Horse Winner), a film which has been almost universally dismissed by critics and fans. The other, which we'll consider first, is Spectre, directed by the deservedly obscure Scott P. Levy. The former features interesting (if flawed) characters, and emphasizes mood over special effects; it also gies us Christopher Walken in a small role. The latter "stars" Greg Evigan, and is full of cartoons: the characters and the special effects alike.
And yet, in the current IMDB user ratings (October, 2002), Spectre is beating The Eternal by a "weighted" score of 4.6 to 3.9, and many of the User Comments for Almereyda's film call it one of the worst films ever made. I'm at a loss. I don't think I've ever been so completely bewildered by public response to a movie. I wasn't really surprised by the mass approval which greeted such monstrosities as My Best Friend's Wedding or my favorite target, You've Got Mail, but the overwhelming negative reaction to The Eternal really floored me. It hurts.
It's not that I'll be making any inflated claims at the film's stature. But Almereyda's film is sad, serious and subtle. The Eternal is unconcerned with the theatrical struggle between Good and Evil (those impossible abstracts which battle as separate, clearly defined entities only in the simplest kind of fiction). Instead, it concentrates on human strength and frailty, and how often one is mistaken for the other. If the movie occasionally gets too ponderous for its own good, or descends into laughable stereotypes, that's OK; in the large, its gestures are meaningful, and -- rare in the "horror" genre -- its meanings are thoughtful and true.
But the viewing public has spoken, and they seem to prefer empty claptrap. Hey, that's OK: I'm a big Lucio Fulci fan, and I'm perfectly willing to admit that a large portion of the Maestro's output is total crap. And to be honest, I often love the crap more than I love well-intentioned, "legitimate" cinema. Still, I'd like to think that wherever my sympathies lie, I can tell the difference between honest and dishonest film-making. Let me introduce my opinions on The Eternal by reviewing the film which is its opposite.
You know your movie is in trouble when every frame reminds viewers of other, better films. In the case of Spectre, the jumping-off point is Poltergeist, the references to which are so clear and unmistakeable that it's hardly worth pointing them out. But Spectre is haunted by the spectres of many other films. It doesn't matter if the references were intentional or not: ignorance is no excuse for painful lack of originality.
The movie opens as two charwomen arrive at an Irish mansion. I found it hard to tell if they were authentically Irish, but they're certainly not charwomen... any more than they are actresses. Anyway, they brush past the typical dusty cobwebs and enter the old, long-untenanted house. In one downstairs room, they find a curious arrangement of books and chairs. Mildly creeped out, the younger woman volunteers to go clean upstairs, leaving her companion to tidy up the strangely orderly mess.
Upstairs, the second charwoman is menaced by a rat. Eek. Shooing the cute little vermin away, she turns to go back to work... only to be menaced by two adorable rodents. For some reason, the woman is horrified by the tidy little grey-and-white rats, and is driven to hysteria when the two suddenly turn into several dozen. Eek.
The elder charwoman -- who seems to be wearing a very unconvincing black wig -- runs upstairs to answer her friend's screams. Naturally, there are no rats to be seen. When the first char returns downstairs, she finds the room she'd been cleaning miraculously re-dirtied: the books and chairs once again stacked improbably, and the years' worth of dust back in place, undisturbed.
Meanwhile, upstairs, the younger woman has seen something hideous, and has gone running and screaming for the car. As the other charwoman looks on, the girl tries furiously to start the car. Looking up, she suddenly catches sight of a strange gargoyle on an upper floor balcony: it's the Grim Reaper. As soon as she makes eye contact with the gargoyle, the car suddenly explodes.
Evidently Irish ghosts have learned a thing or two from the IRA.
None of this matters, though, since the exploding car is never mentioned again. Instead, we are introduced to the inevitable American family seeking a brand new start in Ireland. They are the Souths: husband Will (Greg Evigan, sans chimp) has apparently recently been caught having an affair, though his wife Maura (Alexandra Paul from "Baywatch") doesn't seem nearly as upset about this as we might expect (here we think longingly of Stuart Gordon's Castle Freak, where the family dynamic was far more painful than the "horror" aspect of the story). Also along is the couple's young daughter Brie -- not a reference to cheese, appropriate as this may have been, but short for "Aubrey", or possibly also for "Brianna", the little girl's real name (Brianna Evigan is Greg's real-life daughter).
The house had belonged to Maura's family, and she has inherited it. Will makes a nuisance of himself videotaping the family's arrival at the mansion. As they investigate the house, Brie finds a room with a doll in it. At once, Brie insists that this room should be her room.
As the family is settling in, a knock comes at the door. It's an elderly priest, who suddenly shouts "FECK OFF!" and turns the house upside down searching for alcohol... Oh, no, sorry; that's Jack from "Father Ted", the wonderfully irreverent Irish sitcom. My mind was elsewhere. No; it's an elderly priest by name of Father Seamus, who has stopped by to bless the house. While he's there, he suggests to Brie that she leave a bowl of milk outside the house, to feed the leprechauns (perhaps "leprechaun" is Gaelic for "feral cat"?).
That evening, though, blessing or no, things start to go badly for the Souths. Maura is putting things away when a dead rat falls on her from a cupboard. Then she finds some books have been disturbed, including an edition of Dante's Inferno. Next, Will finds that his videotape is peculiarly distorted, making the famliy's arrival look very sinister... much like a graduate film school video project. Or Jess Franco's Lust for Frankenstein, but that wouldn't be filmed for five or six years...
The next morning, a burly plumber comes to fix the water heater in the basement. Immediately, we think of The Beyond, but it's unwise to get your hopes up. Will finds a strange stone in the wall of the cellar, and starts to pry it loose. Note to all future inheritors of strange old houses: if you find a strangely-inscribed stone in the cellar, leave it the hell alone. Anyway, while Will is failing to have his eyes gouged out by a sinister hand as we might have hoped, his daughter is having extended conversations with her new doll, which is called "Colleen". The doll seems to react to what Brie says to her, and since this is years before Furby, you'd think the girl would find it a little creepy.
Will finally succeeds in pulling out the strange stone... and the lights in the house explode.
As if things aren't going oddly enough, that night the family computer starts making weird noises, the way people who don't know anything about computers think computers sound when something goes horribly wrong. They also experience a variation on the Blue Screen of Death... which doesn't necessarily mean that something supernatural is going on. This is 1996, after all: perhaps they were running Windows 95. The BSOD was perfectly normal for Win95, and not necessarily the sign of diabolical powers.
(What am I saying? Windows 95 itself was evidence of diabolical powers.)
The whole computer thingy turns out to have been a huge distraction, keeping the adults occupied while something nasty happens up in Brie's room. Hearing the little girl's screams, Will and Maura charge upstairs, to find her being attacked by... a badly animated semi-transparent monster dog. No wonder the computer was behaving so strangely: the ghosts were probably trying to use it to animate the monster. It looks like something done using 1996 home computer technology.
Now realizing they are trapped in a terrible low-budget horror movie, Will and Maura look for help. They turn to the local parapsychological investigator, Dr. Shea. (What, your town doesn't have a practicing ghostbuster?) The couple accepts Dr. Shea's credentials rather too easily, and soon he's traipsing through the South's house with his lovely assistant Amy. They're using some sort of wacky spiritual Geiger counter, which takes measurements of ghostly activity. Again, this is something normal people probably wouldn't take at face value, but perhaps Will and Maura are from California.
Suddenly Shea starts boggling. He has some sort of vision (in black and white) of a nude woman -- you were wondering when the Nude Woman was going to show up, weren't you? There's always room for a Nude Woman in cheap movies like this. As the Nude Woman drowses on her bed, she's groped by a disembodied hand... or rather, a hand in a glove, operated bunraku-style by a guy in a black costume in the shadows.
While all this is transpiring, little Brie comes home from her new school. Outside the house, she spies her little bowl of leprechaun milk. She goes to see if it's been emptied (or at least, I suppose, to see if anyone's eaten the marshmallow bits out of the cereal). As she looks into the bowl, the milk begins to swirl. I think it's supposed to be turning into blood, because when the family comes rushing out to find her, she's covered in red liquid. However, as she looks down at the bowl, we see the stuff turn bright magenta. Supernatural? Perhaps. Baloney? Absolutely.
Apparently, this whole mess got started because some ancestor of Maura's died under mysterious circumstances, after which the ancestor's wife had killed herself, and their little daughter, Colleen (!!), had disappeared without trace. Fokllowing the trail of psychic disturbances, Shea and the family find Colleen's mummified body behind a wall in the cellar. At first, we're given only brief, unsettling glimpses of the poor wasted body, and I was beginning to think the film-makers had taken the high road for a change. Then came the series of ever-tighter close-ups: LOOK! says the movie, LOOK AT THE DEAD GIRL! SHE'S ICKY!
With the help of Father Seamus, Shea and the Souths put Colleen's body "to rest" in the local churchyard. Afterwards, they all get together at the mansion to celebrate the solution of the mystery. Since we're only halfway into the film, you can be sure the celebration is a little premature. As Maura prepares the turkey (!!), and Shea and the priest toast each other "Sláinte" over a glass of something potent, and as Will gets a little friendly with Amy (to Maura's disgust), the house and its haints start moving in on poor abandoned Brie. The little girl moves down a dimly-lit hallway, as lightning flashes at the rain-swept windows -- in a scene I swear I saw in Manhattan Baby. My God -- when a film makes you think nostalgically of Manhattan Baby, there's no saving it.
An evil old nun-ghost pops up before Brie and starts making "Booga-booga!" gestures with her hands! Eek. In the dining room, Maura's turkey has begun to bleed, and shortly all hell breaks loose. Glasses, cooked poultry and silverware fly everywhere... poor Shea, wounded and afraid, tries to escape the house, but once he gets outside, he's pinned in the gaze of the Grim Reaper gargoyle. When the others come out to find him, the parapsychologist's head is up on the balcony, next to the statue.
I'm not going to let this little episode pass without comment. What exactly is haunting this house? We've seen and heard the ghostly little girl, and the old crone who must be her mother. But we've also had an invisible Tasmanian Devil, or some such nonsense... where did that come from? Let's assume that it's some ghostly familiar and press on: why is there a statue on the side of the building that can make cars blow up and cause people's heads to pop off and levitate? Isn't that asking a bit too much?
Again, I can't make too much of an issue over this, because nobody else does. I mean, a man's just been decapitated... but his assistant just shrugs it off. At no point thereafter do the police show up, nor does anyone have any questions for (nor suspicions of) the Souths themselves. Perhaps the Irish police are used to this sort of thing: "Oh, sure and that would be the ghosts again, Missus South. Now don't you be going and worrying about that!"
And now it turns out that the little girl has disappeared. Her room has turned into the doorway to another dimension. This time, though, unlike that other movie, the room isn't a swirling vortex of toys and clothes. Instead it's another lousy animation, better suited to a disappearing TARDIS than a ghostly manifestation.
Father Seamus demands to know if Will has removed anything, say, like an inscribed stone or something, from the cellar. It seems Seamus himself put the stone there to keep in the house's malignant forces.
Now you tell us, Father. You couldn't have dropped a little hint the first day you were here? Something like, "Oh, and by the way, if you should see a cryptically engraved runestone in the cellar, don't be removing it, now, or the forces of hell and damnation will be all over the house... and you know what a mess they make." Was that really too much to ask?
(Poor Father Seamus. They're always after his lucky charms.)
Naturally it's time for some mystic rituals. Father Seamus explains that Maura's ancestor was a convicted witch, whose hands were lopped off in punishment. Later he'd died of gangrene. This explains Shea's vision of the disembodied hand, and while we're at it, it brings up yet another movie we wish we were watching instead: ... And Now the Screaming Starts! Anyway, the priest starts doing his best Zelda Rubinstein act, something involving pearls, onyx and an ancient dagger he just happens to carry around with him at all times. You've seen Poltergeist: you know what happens next.
And yet, we still have quite a bit of running time to eat up. Can this be yet another false climax?
After rescuing the little girl from the spirit world, you'd figure that the Souths were even more anxious than the Freelings of Cuesta Verde to be out of the house. That is, if the police would let them, following the butchery of Dr. Shea in their driveway. But the movie has made little sense so far, so we can't epect it to start behaving itself now. No. Instead, the malevolent force of the house decides to take up residence in Maura. Her weakness is her suspicion of her husband's infidelity (actually, you'd think that was his weakness, and her good sense; but let it go). Thus, Maura begins to hallucinate that Will is off bonking Amy every time he walks out of the room.
This is the part of the script that probably got Greg Evigan's attention. This is the part where we get more BOOBIES, as hallucination-Amy and hallucination-Will go at it hot 'n' heavy. Maura opens a door, and... BOOBIES! Maura looks out the window, and... BOOBIES! And, probably, Greg Evigan consciously fuffing his lines: "Aw, crap, Mr. Levy, I missed my cue again. Can we do it again from the point where she takes off her shirt?"
All this hallucoatory schtupping turns our Maura e-e-e-e-e-e-vil. She turns into a scowling, snarling bitch from hell, who throws Will out of the house and drags Brie off to her room. Will, realizing something is seriously wrong, goes to find the priest. Maura, on the other hand, goes to find the cleaver...
Will discovers that Father Seamus has died in mid-prayer. By some amazing stoke of luck, the priest just happened to have written the One Way to Defeat the Evil in his diary -- complete with illustrations -- right before he kicked the proverbial. Armed with the priest's lucky dagger, Will goes back to save his daughter from the possessed Maura.
I have to admit that Alexandra Paul, hamming it up as Evil Maura, is the best part of a bad, bad movie. Even so, the movie still tries to throw more silly scare tactics at us: the bloody ghost of Colleen turns up again, saying to Brie that she hates when Mommy gets this way... Just as Maura's about to spread her daughter on a cracker, Will charges in to stab her with his sacred dagger (The Omen, anybody?). Just in the nick of time, he manages to overcome Maura and drive the blade deep in her chest.
And then Maura comes back to life, unharmed (booooooo!), so the whole family can run from the Roger Corman ending. The house bursts into unconvincing computer-generated flame, and then (in a last nod to you-know-what), the house disappears into another dimension. I suppose it was a TARDIS after all.
But the movie has one further indignity to visit on us. The special effects team must have been proud of their cheesy little invisible dog, because they bring him back one more time, to growl at the camera before the final fade.
Before we go on, I'd like to interject a wee personal note. It concerns the name "Will". "Will" is a perfectly legitimate Irish name. It is not short for anything; it's not an abbreviation of "William", or "Wilbur", or "Wilmer", or "Willibald". I have been Will all my life, and it's been a source of continual problems. Whenever I went to get some sort of official documentation, I would encounter at best bewilderment, and at worst outright hostility. "No," people would say, "We don't want your nickname. We want your actual name." Some people wouldn't even say anything at all; they'd just fill in "William" in my first name and continue, leading to inadvertent fraud on their part, and considerable bureaucratic hassle on mine. It's no wonder I chose to be called by my middle name, "Tom", for the first thirty years of my life. It was just easier than explaining to everybody.
Nobody ever asks a guy named Liam what he did with the "Wil-" in front of his name. But until very recently, people seemed to have enormous problems accepting a simple, unadorned "Will" as a real name. But now, things have become even worse. Now it seems that "Will" has become fashionable.
I can understand this among the youngest generation. Parents have finally caught on to the fact the Will is a good honest name, and a fine thing to call their children. But what irks me is that suddenly men my age are starting to call themselves by my name. I can't believe these people are actual Wills. It's impossible that so many people would be suffering in silence with me, as others mistook their name. With so many people facing the same situation, surely the name would have passed into general use long before this. No; I suspect most of these new Wills are not true Wills at all. I suspect that Will has simply become a trendy, slightly fey nickname for "William". Now people are perfectly willing to call me "Will", while smugly assuming that I'm following the fashion. Thanks, but I think I'd like the blank incomprehension back.
But now I'm just being cranky. Let me get back to the movies.
One mark of an inexperienced storyteller is his (or her) inability to tell a single story, clearly and meaningfully. Stories are powerful things, and they resist easy capture. Many a storyteller will start out confidently enough, with a tale that flows with deceptive ease from the lips... only to find that the story is telling him. The results can be dangerously revealing, telling more about the storyteller than he himself may realize. This is the problem with Spectre, a movie which runs out of ideas telling its most basic story, and ends up trying to cram in five or six more, with the result that it soon goes out of control.
The Eternal does not have this problem. Almereyda's film proves that a mature storyteller can seem to get lost in digressions and extra details, or can even start to tell completely different stories, and yet never lose the basic momentum of the real story underneath.
I have considerably less to say about The Eternal, because I have much more respect for it than I have for Spectre. In spite of the fact that I'd like to go into greater detail, to defend a movie I think has been unjustly maligned, I'd rather save the experience of the film for the actual viewing. I know my readers are a thoughtful and startlingly intelligent bunch, so I feel confident that at least some of them will appreciate the movie's strengths as I do. Those who don't will probably at least understand why I feel as I do, even if they don't share my opinion.
The protagonist of The Eternal is Nora, a young Irish woman who had been sent off to America at an early age. As the movie begins, she is grown, married, independently wealthy (thanks to her inheritence) and mother of a young son. She also sees the world through an alcoholic haze. She and her husband see themselves as the archtypal swinging New York sophisticates of the '20s and '30s, but in fact, they are living dangerously irresponsible lives. Nora is beginning to experience physical and psychological damage from her alcohol abuse. Coming home from a wild night, Nora collapses on a flight of stairs and nearly kills herself.
Nora's husband Jim calls in their long-suffering doctor, who advises them to quit their drinking -- not just cut back, but stop completely -- if they want to stay alive. Jim and Nora promise to live more responsibly as they begin their latest trip -- to Nora's family home in Ireland. The doctor questions the wisdom of going to Ireland to dry out, but Jim and Nora are set on going.
They are going to visit Nora's surviving uncle Bill (Christopher Walken) and her ancient grandmother. Once they get to Ireland, though, they have a number of surprises waiting for them. First, as they stop for a Guinness at the local pub -- Jim explains solemnly to his son that Guinness doesn't count as actual alcohol -- Nora runs into an old, old flame, who recognizes her instantly. Doubly, triply unfortunately, both Nora and Jim have had far too much Guinness at that point to be good for them; Jim starts a drunken fight with the man, which not only leads to Jim's humiliation, but also gets them banned from the pub.
The next surprise is their Uncle Bill: not just that he's an avid collector of Tom Jones and Neil Diamond LPs, but that he's been legally blind for some years. A bigger surprise is Nora's grandmother: though she may be a senile old bat, she's surprisinly young-looking and active. In fact, she seems to move through the house with an almost supernatural speed. But the biggest surprise of all is something Uncle Bill keeps down in the cellar. No, it's not the cases of weapons the fiercely republican grandmother keeps for the IRA; it's the perfectly preserved, millennia-old bog mummy he's got on a table.
This is no ordinary mummy. It's not even something Uncle Bill dug up; he just found it in one of his mother's packing cases. A little research has proven that this body is the remains of an ancestress of the family, a Druid sorceress named Niamh. This legendary woman had lived for hundreds of years, increasing her power and staying eternally young... until one day, centuries into her existence, when she fell in love. Her lover abandoned her with their child, so she sought him out and killed him. Then she allowed herself to die... at least temporarily.
And now that Nora's here, the peat-preserved corpse is staring to look fresher by the moment. And, curiously, it's starting to look less and less like it used to, and more and more like Nora herself...
One of the wonderful things about The Eternal is the essential humanity of its "monster". The Etenal isn't about the conflict of Good and Evil in its usual, stagey sense. It's about recognizeable people with recognizeable flaws. Niamh is less "evil" than selfish and grasping. She wants eternal life at any cost; even when she fell in love so passionately, she did so blindly and superficially. When she was abandoned, she could look no further than her own grief. Returning, she is less a monster than a hungry parasite. She wants what Nora has, recognizing its sweetness more than Nora herself is able to understand.
Niamh realizes that there are already two Noras: the Irish girl whose life was torn apart by a guilty secret, and the American girl who is deeply ambivalent about her life and its progress. She is caught in a state of flux between the relative stability of her none-too-stable family, and the dangerous attraction of her old, lost love and her old, lost life. Niamh also senses that neither of these conflicted Noras is really entirely in this world. This is what enables her to re-emerge into the world through her great-great-great-great-great-great-(vamp until ready) granddaughter.
But it's precisely this ambiguity, this weakness on the part of Nora, that gives the living girl her only hope of defeating the intruder. Throughout the film, we're given brief flashbacks of Nora's youth in Ireland, and of her emotional departure. In a normal "horror movie", these flashbacks would all Lead Up To Something in the end... we'd finally see the whole memory played out, and something in the sequence would awaken her and tell her the villain's One Vulnerability. Phooey. Here, the memories are only memories. The insight they give us is crucial, though: we are given brief, moving glimpses into the source of Nora's terrible inner conflicts. These are the bittersweet fragments of her past, which make her both want to flee from her life, and at the same time hold onto it more fiercely.
Here, I think we have the source of many people's problems with The Eternal. It sets up many of the stock situations of horror films, and then does something utterly different with them. Towards the middle of the film, we actually do get our horror movie "monster on the loose" rampage, as the unstoppable pseudo-Nora survives gunshots, fire, blunt instruments and electrocution. But this seems to have been a consciously humorous inclusion, a nod toward the expectations of the genre. The monster isn't Jason, or Freddy, or Michael Myers: it's soft-featured, achingly lovely Allison Elliott. She's not out to kill people in ridiculously elaborate ways: she just wants to be alive. She wants Nora's husband, or at least her child, to love and hold onto. Niamh's rampage doesn't go on very long, and soon we're back in the emotional heart of the picture.
I should also point out that I think the character of Jim, Nora's husband, is a splendid supporting character for a horror film. It's not that he's particularly admirable: far from it. We're given the impression that genuinely loves his wife and child... but Nora's money doesn't exactly cause him discomfort. With her wealth, he's able to be an irresponsible, childish jerk, and his recklessness has helped make Nora the basket case she is at the beginning of the film. But he is much more than his failings would suggest. He is complex, and the fact that don't like him very much doesn't keep us from appreciating him, or seeing why he is so important to Nora. Jim struggles in his half-assed way to defeat Niamh and save his wife and son, and -- bless him, and bless Michael Almereyda for his wisdom -- he fails miserably. Though this is essentially Nora's story, it would be far poorer a story without Jim.
It's unfortunate that the son, Jim Jr., is given far less of a role to play. He is the least well-drawn, least substantial character in the film. He's more of a walking plot device than a real child. However, it's difficult to think of what other role he could play without seriously distracting from Nora's role in the drama. This is especially true in light of the role played by the other child in the movie, little Alice, Uncle Bill's very young housekeeper. Alice serves as the dispassionate narrator of the film. We don't end up knowing too much about her, which is appropriate, but we do get glimpses of her character which make her memorable and human to us... for instance, the way she lights a cigarette for the grandmother, with the casual indifference of someone who's performed the task a thousand times before... and then calmly lights one for herself. Such small gestures all through the film make her more vivid in our imaginations than we would expect.
Niamh does turn out to have One Vulnerability, and like Spectre, it hinges on a ceremonial knife. But even this cliché has a hidden twist to it. Nora's only hope to defeat the ancient sorceress and save her family requires a terrible self-sacrifice, as well as the inner wisdom to know when to make that sacrifice. This above all is unusual in a low-budget spook show.
The Eternal was made in 1998 as Trance, a title which does it no justice. Still worse is the crappy subtitle the movie was stuck with for its American release: Kiss of the Mummy was a blatant attempt to cash in on the popularity of Hollywood's The Mummy (1999), which came out as Almereyda's film hit the shelves. Another explanation of why this quiet, moody film has failed so desperately to find an audience is this dreadful subtitle: people like me have avoided it, as we avoid the other detritus of the Mummy Boom (e.g., the Lou Gossett version of Stoker's novel, or the Russ Mulcahy thing, or [shudder] David deCouteau's recent, typically Johnny-come-lately offering)... while fans of computer generated special effects, whose interest in things Irish goes no further than Brandon Fraser, must have found The Eternal a big disappointment.
Well. We've had a spate of quiet, insightful ghost stories, too, of late; so maybe there's hope. Unlike Spectre, that brainless rehash of so many other films, The Eternal only made me think of one movie -- one as totally different from it as Spectre had been -- but a good film, and one to which it compared favorably. That film was Mario Bava's Black Sunday, a film which shares The Eternal's soul-switching theme, and its seriousness of intent... and nothing else. That's the sort of comparison which it's healthy for a film to invite.