To Die For
Dir: Gus Van Sant
Cert: 15 • US / UK: 106 min • Rank • October 27, 1995
To Die For tells the story of a woman hellbent on stardom and making her Hollywood dreams a reality. Suzanne Stone, played by Nicola Kidman, has recently married a humble Italian barman. Whilst he has intentions of settling down and starting a family, Suzanne has set her sights on something bigger: a career in television. Bagging herself the financially secure husband that she needs, and scoring a position as the local television’s weathergirl, sets her aspirations into full-gear. She will literally stop at nothing and overcomes every obstacle that gets in her way on the road to celebrity.
The magic of this film lies in its satirical look at the sociology of fame. Shot in the style of documentary, it mixes character interviews and scenes, which grants a rich insight into the psyche of Suzanne and the perceptions of her from those around her. It is superbly written, acted and executed; nailing the sinister undertones at the heart of the story even as it keeps a firm smile on our faces, Kidman’s character is utterly unforgettable. The bewitching and unnerving femme fatale leaves us feeling both threatened and seduced by her charming ways. The mere fact that the character has stuck in my head for nearly fifteen years is testament to that. Not only does Kidman shine, the rest of the cast give superb performances, including Matt Dillon and Illeana Douglas, as well as the very young Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck as the local wasted youths.
To Die For reveals a sociopathic desire for notoriety, in which people will sacrifice themselves and others around them to get to where they want to be. Looking back on the film in 2012 it’s eerie how its themes prefaced the cultural obsession that has consumed many wannabes in the two decades following the film’s release. Reality TV, sex tapes, talent shows, magazine deals have all granted access into the backdoor to celebrity status. One of Suzanne’s monologues succinctly captures the zeitgeist, and those who seek public admiration in the 21st century:
“You’re not anybody in America unless you’re on TV. On TV is where we learn about who we really are. Because what’s the point of doing anything worthwhile if nobody’s watching? And if people are watching, it makes you a better person”.
Whilst the currency of fame is ever-waning today and the negative impact on the lives of those who have it increasingly visible, To Die For feels regrettably ahead of its time. Yet, its themes range much further than just fame. It broadly addresses what happens to people when our dreams and desires overpower and consume us. From its vibrant 1960’s inspired fashion, biting humour to the Danny Elfman soundtrack, it has both the brains and the brawn of a classic film. Suzanne Stone is the ultimate fame whore; sacrificing dignity, morals and relationships just to be captured on our silver screens.
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