Magazine article Commonweal

To Die For

Magazine article Commonweal

To Die For

Article excerpt

Scriptwriter Buck Henry and director Gus Van Sant wouldn't mind pinning a scarlet letter on the heroine of their movie, To Die For, but this particular A would stand for Ambition. Suzanne Stone (Nicole Kidman) is a small-town girl who's determined to become a celebrity television journalist a la Jane Pauley and Connie Chung. When her good-hearted but rather dim husband (Matt Dillon) threatens to stand in her way, she seduces a teenager and gets him and his pals to murder her spouse. Rather than panicking when the police move in, she basks in the sudden visitation of celebrity. To Die For is, of course, a satire and, fortuitously, the first movie of the life-after-O.J.-era.

The scarlet letter that I would emblazon on the chests of the moviemakers is a big C for Cleverness, the self-preening and ultimately self-defeating sort. Everything in this movie, from the nifty opening credits to the ironic closing shot, bespeaks adroitness of design and pop-culture knowingness. And yet the net result is an impression of stupidity: the stupidity of the character and the story, and the fatuousness of filmmakers entranced by their own slyness.

Consider: our heroine, from childhood, has lusted to make a splash in the big-city media world. So why does she tie herself to a working-class, smalltown boy? (Not for sex, for she's not particularly sensual, and not for money, for his family isn't particularly well-off. She's obviously read a lot about how certain media celebrities had their careers ignited; so why does she pursue a deadend job at a cable-TV company? …

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