The 4th Man

Dir: Paul Verhoeven, 1983. Starring: Jeroen Krabbe, Renee Soutendijk, Thorn Hoffman, Geert de Jong. Dutch. Foreign.
The 4th Man

Castration, murder, bisexuality, a man posed suggestively on a crucifix, and the line of dialogue, "Through Mary to Jesus," during an orgasm are just a few highlights from what I think might be one of the most devoutly Catholic films I have ever seen: Paul Verhoeven's The 4th Man. Actually, the film might just be trying to make some sort of statement about the "artist as Christ." I can't be too sure. Either way, and more importantly, it's a richly atmospheric thriller that's as unforgettably funny as it is horrific.

Jeroen Krabbe stars as Gerard Reve, an alcoholic, Catholic novelist from Holland who has risen to considerable fame for being an artist who "lies the truth." After an egotistical Q&A celebrating his work in Vlissingen, he is seduced by Christine Halsslag (Renee Soutendijk) who insists that he spend the night at her hotel/hair salon before returning home. While drawn to Christine ("You have the body of a young boy"), Gerard immediately receives both symbolic and blatantly grotesque warnings of danger through his dreams and encounters with some of the town's people. He chooses to ignore them; however, when he finds out that Christine is also involved with a man named Herman (Thom Hoffman), the writer decides he must have Herman even if it kills him. While sort of playing Christine to get closer to Herman, Gerard stumbles onto some information about the woman's past that might unveil a more terrifying reality than any of his fantasies.

The 4th Man was the last film Verhoeven made in Holland before moving onto a much different, yet just as prolific career in Hollywood. While films like RoboCop, Basic Instinct, Showgirls, and Starship Troopers received their share of criticism for being violent, borderline pornographic, and even fascist, none of them hold a flame to what the man got away with in his Danish films. While in the US, Verhoeven had to smuggle his messages of religion, sexuality, and anti-war into big budget, star-driven popcorn flicks, he basically had free reign to be as blatant and unsubtle as he wanted in Holland, and The 4th Man is a prime example of it.

While un-PC and frank in its depictions, to call the whole film gratuitous for shock value would be a mistake. Genuinely suspenseful and dealing with complex characters that are as often villainous as they are heroic, Verhoeven creates an intelligent nightmare of mystery that progresses dramatic storytelling in ways most lack the cojones to even try. On the surface, Gerard Reeves is as despicable as human beings come, but the script and Krabbe's subtle performance give him enough nuances to make the audience feel more pity than shame for him. While his reactions to some of the situations Christine plunges him into are intentionally funny, we're just as likely to fear for him a second later. Take for example the scene in which she cuts his hair and he's completely oblivious to the foreshadowing that parallels one of his nightmares. Why is he oblivious? Because he enjoys the feeling of being shampooed, of course. Oh, and Christine turns on a hairdryer just as his guardian angel tries to warn him of something. Yeah, you'll have to watch it to understand.

At a time when cinematic re-makes are accepted as the norm, The 4th Man serves as a reminder as to just how wild and intoxicating a totally original experience can be. Gorgeously shot in a variety of both warm earthy tones and cold neon colors by future Speed director Jan De Bont, it adds to the trippy fever dream feeling that few filmmakers will ever re-create.

And don't let all the sacrilegious imagery on the back of the DVD box scare you away--give the film a chance to do it for you.

Posted by:
Paul Losada
Apr 28, 2009 5:36pm
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