I’m laid up with Strep/Covid (both tests are outstanding, so who knows) and so this movie review might not be exactly sane. But that’s fine, actually proper, because this movie isn’t sane either. Wow. I had even considered skipping it I was so unhinged by it. But there were a few things happening here that really made my brain turn inside out, so I thought, heck, let’s bring it out to THiNC. and see what people thought of it. Anyway, let’s dig in shall we? Here we go, why the movie Piercing is so broken.
So – quick heads up and warning… if you haven’t seen this movie yet… uh, if you have sensitive… STOP. Starting that sentence over. If you are a normal human being, with normal predilections and normal sensitivities… you might want to skip out on this one. This one is a little dicey from beginning to end. No more violent than the movie we talked about the other day Possessor…actually, it’s nowhere near as violent. But this one is just mentally broken. Unhinged even. Up is down, down is up. The entire film is a meticulously planned attempt to murder a prostitute, but everything goes wrong from beginning to end. Yeah. So, again, if you aren’t into this sort of darkness, then maybe passing would be a better play. But if you are up for it, you can watch right here.
Why the Movie Piercing is So Broken
The aforementioned Strep/Covid crap has my brain thumping like a tennis shoe in a dryer. So I’m not going to dive really deeply here. But don’t worry, there is still plenty to talk about. And heck, most of this movie is probably good to skim over without delving. So, this mental thrashing I’ve taken might work better in our favor all the way around.
The movie opens with Reed (played by Christopher Abbott of It Comes at Night, and Martha Marcy May Marlene) – standing over his baby girl…with an ice pick. And voila. We know what kind of a movie we are talking about right off the jump. WHY IS REED CONTEMPLATING KILLING HIS BABY GIRL? Exactly. That is the question of the day. Behind him, his wife (played by Laia Costa, who was the lead in one of our favorite movies of all time, Victoria, a movie captured without a single cut or edit. Yes, I know, that is crazy. It was stunning.) is unaware of what is going on, or what he’s contemplating. But, that isn’t exactly true, because we can sense something in her voice, wondering what it is exactly that he’s up to. Soon we find out that Reed is going on a “business trip.” A business trip that he has been planning meticulously, down to the second, a trip wherein he plans to murder a prostitute.
One of the keys to this movie is the why. And already, we should have a clue as to what might be going on here. We have a new father who is desperate to redirect his murderous rage away from his new baby girl, and also his wife. Also, it soon starts to become clear that his wife is in on it. Wait, what? Yeah, Reed’s wife, Mona, she’s in on it. She knows that Reed has a problem. Heck, he’s basically a vampire with a murderous rage pulsing through him that can’t be stopped. And in order to keep his wife and child alive, Reed conspires with his wife to go on a trip to murder someone else.
But, the plan goes to pot right away. Reed, having planned the murder from beginning to end, arrives at the hotel. Wipes the place down, keeps from touching anything, and steps through the murder and how he’s going to kill her. Enter Jackie (played by Mia Wasikowska who you have GOT to know from The Devil All the Time, so so good) the “unwitting” prostitute who is about to be murdered in cold blood.
Now, pay attention to one specific moment. At the outset, right after Jackie arrives, Reed gets her a drink. He doesn’t drink. But Jackie does. And when he hands it to her, he keeps the glass protected and wrapped, so as to not leave finger prints. Now, come on. Jackie isn’t stupid. She immediately knows what’s up. This Reed guy isn’t here for weird liaisons. He’s here for violence. And after a few pleasantries, and a few, how will this work details, Jackie heads into the bathroom and stabs her leg rapidly and repeatedly.
And instantaneously the dynamic of the movie flips. The power dynamic moves from Reed to Jackie. And the “what the heck is going on” hits the viewer instantaneously. You see, Jackie is a mess. But she’s also not stupid. She understands why Reed is there. And she is up for the challenge. Reed is completely unmoored by the switch. Instead of just rolling with it and killing her there in the bathroom he feels something akin to sympathy. He doesn’t want to murder a hurt individual. He wants to dominate and kill a woman that is perfectly capable. But he doesn’t realize that Jackie is more perfectly capable than he is even.
He vows to take Jackie to the hospital. And along the way, she opens like a flower to his kindness. She’s impressed with how he’s worried about her. And how he’s taking care of her. When he calls back to his wife to talk about what has happened – they discuss whether or not Jackie is on to him or not. Here Mona gives a hilarious list of options that are all 100% off the mark. Jackie knows, but it isn’t because of anything that Reed has “done.” But rather how he is acting and the aura he’s giving off. And it’s because of this aura that allows her to flip the script. (Speaking of flipping the script, have you seen the movie Hard Candy? Completely unrelated to this entirely. Pay me no mind.)
When she comes out of the hospital, Reed is still there, and Jackie is really moved by his kindness. She assumed that he would be gone. She’s excited that the game will continue. Jackie flirts with him, giggling about the silk sheets. That they should get the silk wet with all kinds of things. “I want you to wear my skin. Have you done anything like this before?” She’s literally asking if he’s murdered anyone before. And he demurs. He then thinks better of it and says, “Once, when I was a teenager, but I decided to try it again and get it out of my system.” So now we know he has killed someone at least one other time. Well, when Reed goes to get his stuff, to tie her up… she asks, can we eat first? And it is then that Jackie drugs Reed to high heaven. She beats him with a can opener, and he eventually ties her up, but when he goes to stab her, the drugs cause him to drop the ice pick. She is able to untie herself, and she is able to read his diary explaining it has all been meticulously planned. Now she knows the how, and the details of what he is hoping to accomplish. And when he wakes up, he’s been tied up and gagged. And she’s about to do to him what he was going to do to her. Stab him to death with an ice pick. But right before she does, he asks if they can eat first, and the movie ends.
What’s With the Ending of the Movie Piercing?
Did you know that the ending you just witnessed wasn’t the ending that was originally intended for the film? Pesce, the movie’s director and writer, had a totally different ending in mind. But when they were on set he realized that his ending didn’t work nearly as well. Here’s Pesce’s answer to this particular question:
“We always joked about what happens after the credits roll. How many times do they stab each other before it’s like, whoops, did it too many times. Or does Reed go home to his wife and pretend all this didn’t happen. I think the fun of the story is it’s up to you to determine where this goes, what will become of this relationship? Is she just gonna kill him? Are they gonna keep playing this game?
“The ending was actually a turbulent discovery. The ending that we shot is a version of the ending of the book and a version of the ending of the script but isn’t either of them. We shot the movie in order, so as we got towards the end, we were realizing that what I had written for the end wasn’t as satisfying … not that this is a particularly satisfying conclusion … but it wasn’t a satisfying enough conclusion for these two characters.”
“I think that I love opening things because it lets the audience kind of insert themselves into it. I’m not someone who likes to wrap everything up. I think I want to kick you out of the theater, and have you, yes, sitting there afterwards with your friends being like, “Well, what next?” And kind of like the thought experiment of what the rest of the story is.”
It apparently was a very rough road for Pesce and the crew to come to this ending. The film is based on a book entitled “Piercing” by Ryu Murakami and after reading it, Pesce wrote a different ending for the screenplay than the book apparently. I was not able to find a copy of Pesce’s screenplay, but I was able to get a hold of a copy of the book. Which I read immediately after watching the film, and I was actually shocked by how much the book revealed about the characters and how different a take they sort of brought to each moment of the film.
Though we don’t have the screenplay, here is the ending of the book, which we can use as a comparison for the film. To set this up, the two characters in the book are Kawashima (Reed), and Chiaki (Jackie – interesting transposition there). Now, as the book is ending, Kawashima’s been drugged, and he’s finally waking up. Chiaki has read through the diary and she’s 50% certain it’s just fantasy and wordplay, 50% of the mind that he really does intend to kill her. She doesn’t want to go to the police station.. it’d be a hassle. And if he wants to leave, she’ll allow him to go…
“Chiaki looked back down at her nipple. She held it steady with her gloved left thumb and slowly eased the needle through. When she pulled her thumb away, it looked as if the nipple had sprouted a silver thorn on either side.
‘What are you doing?’ Kawashima asked quietly.
‘Piercing,’ she replied without taking her eyes off her work.”
So, that is how the book ends, with Chiaki piercing her nipple and roll credits. I wonder if the original screenplay concludes with Jackie killing Reed? Seems like that is obviously where it was going. And I think maybe Reed ascents in the matter. I’ve gone looking to find Nicolas Pesce, and to talk to him about his screenplay, but alas, I’ve come up snake eyes so far. So if you know Pesce, or could direct me to him? I would be much obliged, because I’m really very curious about how his screenplay ended, and how it differed from the the film.
But I will say this, I love a good bit of ambitiousness. Right? I know a lot of you don’t. I do though. And this ending was probably the best part of the entire affair. I mean, Jackie’s surprise stabbing of her leg was pretty wild. The ending though was even better in my mind. She’s about to kill him. He asks for food…what do they do? Do they retire to the table to eat? Do the tables turn again? Do they end up killing each other ultimately? Or does Reed get out alive? It’s unclear on where this thing is going. And I’m perfectly content with that.
As I mentioned in the review – if your looking for another film like this one – and this one is way way way better… I highly recommend the movie – watch it here, Hard Candy, then come read about it here.
Edited by: CY