Cyrus is a terrific movie. It’s also a movie that does a fine job of making the viewer feel uncomfortable. One feels embarrassed by the glimpses we’re being granted into the characters’ lives – the moments seem too private for our prying eyes.
The screening I attended had four couples. Afterwards, one left saying, “two thumbs down.” Another couple slipped out quietly, quickly. I’m not sure what they thought, but I didn’t get good vibes.
My wife and I turned to the other remaining couple – we know them well – and we all shared a “four thumbs up” moment. It’s a movie that will be loved and hated. It is a litmus test. How nakedly can characters be exposed without things becoming creepy? Answers will vary.
The movie is filled with closed doors and characters standing outside aching to peek in. The first scene follows Jamie (Catherine Keener) as she slips uninvited into the home of her ex-husband John (John C. Reilly). She pauses at his closed bedroom door. Then she barges in to everyone’s embarrassment – hers, his, ours.
John begins dating Molly (Marisa Tomei) and visiting her home that she shares with her 21-year-old son Cyrus (Jonah Hill), a home filled with doors, closed doors that unnerve us, and open doors that unnerve us by being left open. There’s even a door that “must always be left open.” John pauses at doors. He peeks inside. He quickly closes them again.
Cyrus is like a symphony of violated private spaces. John’s bedroom wasn’t safe from Jamie’s searching eyes and John and Molly first meet at a party after she follows him into backyard bushes to watch him drunkenly relieving himself.
Later, John discovers where Molly lives by following her home one night, like a private eye, headlights off and prowling up to her window for a peek. The first act of the movie plays as if everyone is a stalker.
Cyrus is a horror movie and Cyrus is its monster. Sure, it’s a weirdly dark romantic comedy that only flirts with obvious horror by showing Cyrus standing in the kitchen holding a butcher knife, but that moment’s played as a joke — or is it?
Horror is about fears and monsters that embody what the heroes won’t admit as they face those fears. John is starting to date again after seven years alone. This is scary stuff. He will have to open up if he’s to succeed.
But he’s an intensely private man. Opening up isn’t natural. And he doesn’t wear the life of a partying bachelor very comfortably either. We squirm at his attempts to mingle and flirt.
John attracts Molly with his awkward openness, but immediately in steps Cyrus, resisting John’s advances. They face off repeatedly and, considering the physical similarity between the actors, these scenes are John looking into a mirror. Cyrus is a big lie.
John’s progress, first with Molly and ultimately with Cyrus, is always the result of his opening up. It’s a movie where lies lead to dark places and the truth to laughter. As with all good monsters, John faces Cyrus by turning on the lights and looking into his eyes.
There are other ways as well that the movie makes us feel uncomfortable. Scenes are filled with those awkward pauses that happen in life, but almost never in movies. And we’re never quite sure just how far the characters will go – and we fear the possibilities.
How you feel about these sorts of discomforts will, of course, tell you if you agree with my opening sentence.