Friday, September 18, 2009

Cafe du Cinema Society Discusses: John Boorman's Point Blank (1967)

Welcome to our first Cafe du Cinema discussion group! We'll select a film each month that's showing on TCM, give everyone about a week to watch it, and then share our views on the movie in this forum. This month, we picked John Boorman's Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson, which TCM broadcast last Saturday, 12 September 09. I'm going to omit a plot synopsis because I assume all discussion participants have seen the movie. My goal is just to get the discussion started.

The first time I saw this film (several years ago), I felt it was a stylish, violent revenge film--but nothing more. It's only on subsequent viewings that I began to realize there was more than meets the eye. So, let me start our discussion with this question: Are the events of the film actually taking place or are they the fragmented thoughts of a dying Walker (Marvin)?

During the credits, we see an apparently dying Walker (who was shot at point blank range) muttering on the cell floor: "A dream...a dream."  After a montage of scattered flashbacks, he staggers into the ocean and then appears years later, displaying no evidence of a near-fatal wound. How did Walker recover? How did he get off Alcatraz? Near the end of the film, when Walker and Chris (Dickinson) are waiting for Brewster, Chris is wearing an orange dress. The next morning, she is wearing the same dress, only now it's white. A bizarre continuity goof or the shifting "realism" of a dream?

At one point in the film, Chris asks Walker: "Why don't you lie down and die?" Could it be that's what Walking is doing in the cell at Alcatraz?

OK, it's time for your views and your insight. If you have a different interpretation, let's hear it. And if you want to delve into another part of the film, that's cool, too. The goal is to have an active discussion...and fun.


  1. I wasn't in on this one because of being offline, but I'd sure like to watch for this movie. I hope I catch the next one. There's nothing like a good film discussion.

  2. Rick I went back last night and watched it again.A few things" came up" When Walker is shot"Point Blank" we see no blood when he gets up from the cell, no powder burns too.Boorman is leaving it up to the audience to try and figure out what is going on. He has used misdirection in is later films like ZARDOZ Whats my take?This Is Walkers dream of "Payback" and what he wants to have happen , but knows it is never going to happen because he can not make it happen. He is dead

  3. "Walker, I'm glad you're not dead."

    That's an interesting interpretation of POINT BLANK, but I didn't get that at all. All those images flashing in Walker's head, I saw those just playing repeatedly, as if he can think of nothing but revenge. And that is all he wants. Even if he survived, his life has become nothing but vengeance.

    If he was dreaming or fantasizing about his desired revenge, why didn't it happen? Brewster sets him completely straight, telling him that he's not going to get the money. Likewise, Chris says that it wasn't even his money to begin with, and she questions his motive for payback, questioning the money itself. If it were all in Walker's head, I would suspect that this idea would never come into play.

    "Does he know where you are?"
    "No, but he's looking."

    The supporting characters were rich, too complex and multidimensional to be someone's dream. In fact, look at Chris in particular. When she goes to see Reese, she's wearing a dress, which, except for the yellow color, almost looks like a prison uniform (thick stripes). Walker may be a slave to his vendetta, but Chris -- the woman -- is the film's true prisoner, a prisoner of man's violent world. All the men use her for their own advantage.

    Furthermore, the sequence in which Chris beats on Walker is noteworthy. He lets her hit him, and it doesn't faze him. But when Chris runs all the appliances and plays the music at a loud volume, she disrupts Walker's solitude. She's essentially awakened the man. Chris told him that Walker was chasing shadows, and at the end, instead of completing his revenge by killing the man he now knows is Fairfax, he steps back into the shadow. It's his way of accepting the fact that his vendetta will never be completely satisfied. Therefore, he lives on, a woman saving him from himself.

  4. Sakk Ok. But why when The money that Walker has said that is all he wanted in the whole film is in reach, the big payoff he just stays in the shadows? And why when the dawn breaks, no sight of him or the money ? HUMMMMMMMM.Is he still there, gone ?

  5. Sark, you present an interesting, opposing interpretation. But just for the sake of argument, how do you explain the orange-into-white dress? Is this merely a continuity error? Another option I considered was that Walker is an angel of vengance. There are a lot of overhead shots, as if someone is looking down from...well, the heavens. And though Walker is responsible for several deaths, does he technically kill anyone? (I watched the rooftop scene several times and believe that Mal fell on his own accord.) Plus, does all the water imagery suggest that Walker has been restored to life for the sake of vengeance: he walks into the water when shot, he & wife frolic in the water in a flashback, he kicks the fake money into water, and the swimming pool is the dominant feature of Brewster's house.

  6. Sark , There is no right or or wrong answer I think that Boorman is leaving it up to each member of the audience to make up their own mind. He gives clues along they way , but like I've said before he can misdirect us on purpose I look at it as a product of the late 60's the production code was being pushed ,films were more open ended, and because of Psycho, fast cuts were becoming more mainstream. And This film has all of that and more.

  7. This is the first time I'd ever seen this movie, and I was surprised at how much I liked it. Lee Marvin's performance as a very stoic but single-minded Walker was brilliant. Now IMO, as far as whether everything witnessed was either a part of Walker's dreams or an actual event happening is left completely up to the viewer. As I see it, director Boorman didn't want to create a movie with just the standard beginning, middle and end. He wanted to make a film that not only draws the viewers in but plays with their minds. That way, when the viewer goes back and rewatches it for a 2nd, 3rd or even 10th time, it's like they're, in essence, seeing a different type of movie each time. No two times are exactly the same. That's pretty impressive of a movie made 40+ years.

  8. Paul2, I thought the money was still there at the end. I figured that Walker finally decided that the money wasn't his reason for everything. It was simply an act of vengeance, which he finally gave up to hide in the shadows. He was gone because his job, as it were, was done. I like to think that he ran away with Chris. Just the hopeless romantic in me. Well, I'm hopeless, at least.

    But you and NoirDiva are most definitely right. It's open to interpretation, and that's clearly the way Boorman intended it to be. This was made in the '60s, with the popularity of art house cinemas and foreign films. A lot of the French New Wave guys had films with nonlinear plots, and I think some of our domestic flicks took inspiration from those.

    Rick, the orange to white dress? I think I just took that too literally and thought Chris had two dresses of varying colors. And you make some wonderful points with Boorman's poetic imagery. But can't Walker be a angel of vengeance (of sorts) without being dead? Maybe the point to the sequences you mentioned is that Walker considers himself the hand of God, or more to the point, that he is cleansed of his sins because of the betrayal that befell him. His actions are justified, and, as you said, he never actually kills anyone. They all, in some way, kill themselves.

    And I agree. I think Reese actually fell. That's what Walker tells Chris, and I don't think he would lie about that. Walker is straight to the point. Or, if you will, he's point blank. Oh yeah. Title reference.

  9. Just finished watching it (for the 1st time), since I am pressed for time, I'm going to go in a little different direction and just post some random thoughts .. for now.

    First off my favorite scene has to be Chris' attempt to beat up Walker which ends with her in shear exhaustion trying to recover while Walker casually flips channels on the TV. Brilliant. And then what awesome product placement with the Ponds ad that Walker quickly turns off, with all of the facial injuries sustained throughout the film, I am sure that cream might've come in handy a few dozen times :)

    It was great to John Vernon so early in his career as he would go on to become such a staple of crime and cop shows in the 70's.

    As to Lee Marvin's performance, I liked it but to be honest prefer him in not so reserved a role (as Rick pointed out, though people keep dying around him, he never is actually the murderer - is he?). I like him best (as a bad guy roles) when he is sadistic and or crazed because he was just so damn good in them, such as in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, White Heat, The Commancheros, Shack Out on 101 et. al.

    Serious question for those who know more than I: Having just done The Dirty Dozen & The Professionals, , was this an attempt on his part to get back to his previous bad-guy image/roles?


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  11. Just realized that in my comment I said White Heat when I meant The Big Heat :(

  12. Phil, unless I'm mistaken, it listed John Vernon with an "introducing" credit at the beginning. Do you know if POINT BLANK was actually his feature film debut?

  13. A commentary on the "repulsive character of corporate America?" I think Mr. Cranky missed the boat on this one. Walker is emotionless because he's dead! Or just about dead. I think NoirDiva hit it on the head when noting that Boorman intended to play with our minds. And, Sark, you are definitely on the money with the French New Wave comparison. Contrast POINT BLANK with the Mel Gibson remake PAYBACK and it's obvious that one is intended to be a straightforward action flick and the other definitely something more. I've seen POINT BLANK three or four times now and I think I liked it best this time out. Sark, some folks consider Ringo Lam's FULL CONTACT to be a POINT BLANK remake. You've seen both, so what do you say?

  14. sark- IMDB lists quite a few credits prior to this movie, most of which seem to be voice credits or extremely small parts- I wasn't sure so I erred on the side of caution and side "early"

  15. side = said .. I am turning into Paul ;)

  16. In all fairness to Brian Helgeland's admittedly bland remake, PAYBACK was greatly compromised. It was re-edited by the studio and an uncredited director reshot some of it. He released a much darker "director's cut" which some say is closer in tone to POINT BLANK, but I haven't seen that version.

    Rick, I wouldn't think FULL CONTACT is a remake of POINT BLANK. It's a simpler revenge story. Plus, Chow Yun-Fat's character, Jeff, is helping out a friend during the heist, not a part of the robbery just to get paid. So he clearly doesn't care about retrieving money owed to him. He wants vengeance, pure and simple, a fact (theory?) that he never seems to contradict. Walker is always looking for someone pay him. Jeff, on the other hand, is wanting to disrupt Judge's business and turn the bad guys against one another.

    Phil, yeah, sometimes those studios get a big head and "introduce" an actor who viewers may already know! :) Maybe it was John's first U.S. film?

  17. Sark- there are 21 credits prior to Point Blank. I am a little too lazy to click on each one to tell exactly what each one is, so I'll stick to my "early in his career statement" LOL