The Dictionary of the Spanish language defines the word médium as “a person who, supposedly, is capable of contacting the spirit of a deceased person”. The possibility of acting as a mediator between the spirit world and the world of the living has aroused human interest. This doctrine, the principle of which consists in the belief in the immortality of the soul, has logically been represented in the cinema. Seeing the afterlife, having visions and contacting spirits are themes that have given a lot of play in the cinema. Films such as Poltergeist (1982), Ghost (1990), Premonition (2000), Beyond Life (2010) and Red Lights (2012) have portrayed, from different genres, this interesting dilemma. To this list is now added Nightmare Alley directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Nightmare Alley: intrigue oozing elegance
Nightmare Alley is a remake of Edmund Goulding’s shorter, more concise and far less violent 1947 version of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel.
Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) is an ambitious hustler with a dark past who ends up asking Clem Hoately (Willem Dafoe), the unscrupulous boss of a travelling carnival, for a job. With an innate talent for deceiving and manipulating people, Stanton soon makes contact with Zeena Krumbein (Toni Collette), a medium working at the fair. When he falls in love with Molly (Rooney Mara) he decides to go freelance with her to put on his own show. Soon he meets Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchet), a deeply mysterious woman.
Guillermo del Toro mixes noir with drama, the classical with the baroque, resulting in a timeless work that shines for its aesthetics. An ambitious mise-en-scène that mixes magic and mystery with tinges of tragedy and fatality. An impeccable portrait of the crudest swindle from which no social class is exempt. A story of lies and truths, of greed and betrayal that delves into human needs and existentialism.
A film with strong, well-defined female characters
The film’s three female characters are well defined. The strong women are the central axis of the film and are able to face the vicissitudes of life with great elegance. Women who, in a male-dominated field, are shown as equals. All this, together with the excellent production design, direction and photography, make Nightmare Alley an enveloping, dark, beautiful and human work, with a psychological dimension worth seeing. Guillermo del Toro surprises once again with a portentous film that will undoubtedly delight noir lovers. A truly dark and perverse moral fable. In short, a good story, well told and with an excellent setting.
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