The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman begins not with an image but a voice -showmaster John Hurt growling an invitation at us to enter the fiction. This artifice of the narrator establishes an oral contract between film and viewer, revealing the film’s descendence from the spoken tale rather than the written story. Advancing from scene-to-scene with erratic, adrenalized thrust, just like a tale moves from phrase-to-phrase stringing them together as it goes along, the film proclaims its territory as belonging to disorder. Once the contract of orality is drawn, the image can be shown – the bloody battered face of Charlie (Shia LaBeouf) strung up upside down over a sluice in the moment before he will be killed by redheaded Gabi, the very woman he so passionately loves.
Before Charlie is led to this difficult moment, he is presented with a choice. Standing next to his dead mother on a Bucharest piazza, he must decide whether he will pursue Gabi despite the immanent mortal dangers. In the split second between his deciding yes (as he undoubtedly will) and his taking a running flying jump at the far bigger, far badder Nigel, Gabi’s husband till-death-do-they-part, Charlie declares: “I’d rather die for love. It’s a fucking cool way to go.”
If his declaration seems ridiculous, it’s because it is. The patently puerile second phrase ‘it’s a cool way to go’ is a schoolboy’s embarrassed apology for the painful sincerity of the first. All throughout the film a similar dynamic tension between insufferable naiveté and wizened irony is constructed, until these two opposites can be synthesized, thus renewing the film’s archetypes – the very bad man, the femme fatal, the wise mentor, the omnipresent taxi-driver…
This dovetailing of irony and innocence spares the film from falling into the trap of hypocrisy, by delivering it from the obligation to arbitrarily construct itself around the denouement’s coherence. An aesthetic choice is made: that of chaos, innocence, idiocy to vaccinate the film against order, righteousness, academism. A choice confirmed by the substitution of the characters’ internally motivated choice for externally-motivated fate. Not fate in the first degree (for this is after all the third millennium, anno domini), but an ironically inflected fate, similar to that found in Jacques le Fataliste or Tristam Shandy.
When the storyteller proclaims “this is only a story,” the looking glass is opened and the film granted a reflexivity inviting us to continue the creative work, calling into question its own authority, even if it is only to ultimately draw us in deeper.
If this film is to succeed in its endeavor, its lack of structure must be compensated for, be it through lyricism, spirituality, plasticity or something other. In The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman it is always the superficial replacements which are utilized. The logical transition is most often replaced by the non-sequitor, the joke, the coincidence.
These alternative forms, along with the film’s generally irreverent approach towards classicism dispense with the chain of logic at every moment where it would not provide for an entertaining enough solution (and so, brutal. scary Nigel suddenly inexplicably manifests himself in an obscure alley or graffitied toilet stall, not because he should be there through any plot rationalization, but to enable a transition through irrational fear).
The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman’s burlesque form is a bulimic reaction to the necessities of the tightly-constructed narrative. By liberating itself from the auspices of the serious, the film can pursue the single issue which rests in its heart – naive love. Without the irony, without the burlesque, without the reflexivity, the absoluteness of Charlie’s fairytale love would be unbearable. And it is this irony, this burlesque, this reflexivity which allow the film to make its plea for faith in pure love, all the while fearing that we might actually believe it.
The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman
USA 2013, 107 min
Director: Fredrik Bond
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood, Mads Mikkelsen, Til Schweiger