French philosopher Albert Camus argued that our hearts long for love without parting and stated that a universe without God gives us only “the conscious certainty of death without hope.” An exceptionally dark view of life that may not be reflected in the lives of most, but after viewing Nicole Kidman’s latest film, Camus is touching on a genuine side of the human journey for many. Director Karyn Kusama brings this immersive and brilliantly disturbing view of the soul of a woman who lives with no hope except for possible relief that can only be found in retribution and death.
Under the unique hue and harshness of the Los Angeles sun, detective Erin Bell (Kidman) wakes up in her car at the scene of a recent murder. As she goes to inspect the crime scene and the body, the contempt from the other officers is evident. Her rough-as-guts look could not hide the fact that she has been sleeping in her car or the smell of the previous night’s drinks. Through her bloodshot eyes, she was able to see identifying markings on the man who was shot that linked him to a former bank robbery case she had been assigned to 15 years earlier with her partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan). This was the beginning of the connections to her past that would escalate as Erin receives a message in the mail from Silas (Toby Kebbell), the leader of the gang that the two officers had infiltrated.
These events set in motion a race for Erin to discover the location of the gang leader before another bank is robbed and more people’s lives are destroyed. As the strung-out detective progresses down the path to finding her target, she comes in contact with various members of the gang. The reintroductions to this sorry lot of humanity open the door to memories from her past that cause her to travel into the even darker side of her psychological state and how it had a long-term impact on her family life. As the investigation moves toward an explosive conclusion and she gets closer to finding the illusive cult-like leader, Erin must determine what she will do if she is able to confront her tormentor and what will happen if her past is fully exposed. Each unnerving element of this movie leads to a brilliant, visceral and stomach-churning performance by Kidman and the discovery of an exceptionally talented director. Karyn Kusama manages to begin in a dark place with her lead actress and takes the audience on a disturbing excursion into the depths of despair of the human soul. An experience that will have a haunting effect on any viewer and inject poison into the very core of their being. Kidman’s immersive and transformative performance was unreal, but cannot be fully embraced by the audience for fear of being drawn down this hole of self-destruction.
Under all of the masterful elements of Kusama’s creation, the one thing that needs to be acknowledged loudly is that there is no way to enjoy or even like this film. Though it is impossible to take your eyes off the screen, the minute the credits run the only reaction that occurs is a desire to run from the theatre and to wash any remnants of the film away.
The primary reason for this blistering reaction points to the screenplay of Destroyer that epitomises Camus’ views from the opening paragraph that shows life to be a dark and hopeless existence. This godless example sees life as futile, purposeless and without any hope, but does it have to be this way? Life does not have to end up this way, because there are answers to all of the most significant struggles in the hearts of humanity.
The forgiveness, peace and hope that were missing in this film could be found in the words of the Bible. Regardless of the absurdities of this life, despite the desperation of many of life’s situations and even to those who think they live with an unforgivable existence, the words of God can wash all these things clean and he can provide the love, peace and hope that this world cannot offer.