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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Passion

Backstabbing Brilliance


If you study violence in cinema closely, you'll see that sometimes (Not often but sometimes in rare and clever works of genius) violence is a metaphor for emotional pain. This kind of cinema always has one of two kinds of antagonists: The wolves and the snakes.


The wolves violently rip apart their prey (The protagonist) until there's no more flesh and everything is bone. It's instinctual for them. They're dogs after all. They prey instantly. The snakes are more psychologically evolved and therefore, much more horrifying. Snakes bite their prey and then stand back and watch observantly as their venom spreads. They feel empowered by seeing their victims rot from the inside out.


Brian De Palma’s Passion is a chilling and mouth-watering portrait of such a snake. The snake is Christine Stanford (Rachel McAdams), a young American woman who’s a successful advertising executive in Berlin. Christine's firm is the most luxurious and prestigious in the world and she’s maintained a professionally friendly relationship with the CEO (Dominic Raacke) keeping her future bright and golden. She’s the most powerful executive at the firm and she always wears expensive designer clothes (she's basically a Miranda Priestly - The Devil Wears Prada - who is more fun and smiles more).


Passion opens at her modern mansion as she and her protege Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) are working on a new ad campaign for a smartphone over wine and drunken laughter. Isabelle soon goes home only to wake up in the middle of the night with an idea for the campaign. She makes the video with her assistant Dani (Karoline Herfurth) and presents it to Christine the next morning who loves it. Enough to take credit for the idea. The CEO praises Christine in front of Isabelle for her remarkable talent and suggests she relocates to the New York office where the promotion will be waiting for her.


Instantly following this, Christine calmly but confidently (and with a ginormous smile on her face that is half moonbeam and half Cheshire Cat) explains herself. “You're shocked that I took credit for your idea. Honestly, I would expect you to do the exact same thing in my place. I wanted New York but I wasn't counting on it and thanks to you, I got my shot and I took. I mean there's no backstabbing here, this is business Isabelle and we’re all on the same team. You have talent, I made the best use of it, so thank you.”


Dani expresses sympathy for Isabelle, telling her it's not fair. Isabelle replies that everybody wins when they're on the same team. “My success depends on hers.” Isabelle is clearly in denial about Christine's true nature but that doesn't last very long as Christine's manipulation takes a psychologically abusive toll on Isabelle who starts popping pills as Christine's antics get worse.


From taunting Isabelle over a sex tape she was in, to showing the entire office a video of her having an emotional breakdown in the parking lot all wet after being rained on by the water pipes, Isabelle soon reaches her breaking point. In Christine's very limited defense, Isabelle did do a couple of things to provoke Christine but that's Christine for you. If you stab her with something, she'll stab you back with something sharper. Christine says there's no backstabbing but the truth is there's always backstabbing in life. The secret is not to partake. Most people just don't have it in them to walk away from their betrayals (That's just human nature) and that's what Christine plays off of.


McAdams is cinematically delicious as Christine. One minute, she's an ice cream Sundae, the next, she's hot pepper and tabasco. Every time she torments Isabelle, she's in a state of triumph and victory. This satisfying feeling is addicting to her. She torments Isabelle partly because of the couple things Isabelle did to tick her off but mostly because it's fun for her. She does what she has the power to do just because she can and that's what makes her a venomous snake.


Rapace’s strengths as Isabelle show mostly in her misery. The droopy eyes and the way she doesn't even have to look at her pills when she takes them (as though she's typing without having to look at the alphabet on the keyboard because it's that ingrained in her) all point to how far Isabelle has fallen.


Even when Christine is not present, she still finds a way to overshadow Isabelle. McAdams is just too convincing as Christine to divert audiences away from her. It's as though their two little girls in the sandbox, Christine pushed Isabelle down and Isabelle looked up with sand in her eyes at Christine who was tightening her grip on her ice cream cone as the stickiness trickled down her tiny arms as she smiled in victory.


The cinematography starts off as bright and hopeful with all the modern luxury on display only to become more dark and gloomy (Like a German or Russian winter) as Isabelle mentally deteriorates. The city of Berlin gets dark early making the office interiors look like a frozen shade of blue, which makes McAdams look as pale as a snow queen.


Passion is a film about people who are so focused on tackling one another to the ground, they forget they want to come out on top. Passion refers to the toxic addiction held by those who shouldn't have power... but do. Many of us I feel are living under someone in America, and Passion is an entertaining fantasy for how we'd like this person to end up.


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