At least, that is, after the accident. The film’s opening promises a more uncomplicated – if still pitch black - comic approach in which Gordon is considerably less discriminating in his targets. From the initial credit sequence which offers up hyperreal images of nursing home patients playing cards and taking their medicine to the humiliating spectacle of newly homeless Thomas Bardo (Stephen Rea) navigating the small-minded bureaucracy of an employment agency, the director establishes a tone of deadpan humor that rips bitter yuks from a world conceived as an endless series of indignities. But then our man goes through the windshield, indignities give way to approaching mortality and Gordon wisely shifts the marks of his caustic humor.
Given the boot from the park by the cops on his first night on the streets, Bardo wheels his shopping cart down the sidewalk, looking for shelter, when he’s blindsided by Brandi Boski (a corn-rowed Mena Suvari), high on ecstasy and chatting away on her cell phone as she hits him. Not sure what do with a man stuck in her windshield, she drives home, parks in the garage and has sex with her lover, while Bardo screams below. Although she nearly calls for help several times during the first day Bardo spends in her garage, Brandi, increasingly unhinged as the film progresses, decides to simply let him die, then enlists Rashid (Russell Hornsby), her small-time drug-dealer boyfriend, to finish off the unfortunate man himself.
But like a monster in the B-horror movie that Gordon’s film increasingly resembles, Bardo simply refuses to die. Brandi may attach no value to the life of another, but it’s everything to the man who lives it. And if Gordon subjects Bardo to the indignities of eviction, homelessness and, of course, days spent with his face through the glass, then the character is able to regain a certain dignity though the stubbornness with which he clings to life. When Rashid comes to empty a pistol into his face, Bardo summons great reserves of strength, shoves the gun away and, in a typically Gordonian bit of gruesomeness, stabs his attacker in the eye with a pen. No such dignity, however, attaches to the perpetrators who forfeited their claim to humanity when they decided to leave Bardo to his fate. Instead they become fit targets for the director’s icy barbs. When Brandi catches her cheating boyfriend in flagrante, she engages in a cat fight with his lover, the scene proceeding by comic escalation as she throws the nude woman out into the hallway. And Rashid, too, becomes an object of ridicule (and bodily dismemberment) when his macho claims about his willingness to kill are undercut by his hesitance and, ultimately, his inability to dispense of Bardo.
And, in the end, it’s Bardo who survives. So while Gordon may espouse a rather bleak view of humanity, he never undersells the value of human life: even if Bardo is condemned to a humiliating existence of unemployment and homelessness (not to mention the likelihood of permanent physical disability), his desire to continue that life elevates him far above the cynical worldview of his tormenters. And though Gordon may be no humanist (he’s too attracted to the miseries of mankind), his sympathetic handling of Bardo’s plight serves as a corrective to the calculated misanthropy that makes the works of many of his contemporaries such sour undertakings. The difference is that where filmmakers like the Coen Brothers seem to enjoy laughing at their victimized characters, Gordon prefers to deploy those same modes of laughter on the behalf of his own specimens of suffering humanity.
My review of Doris Dörrie's Cherry Blossoms has been posted at Slant Magazine.