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These Films Sleep Well: Hardcore (1979, Paul Schrader)

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You remember, don't you? That film from the seventies, the one written by Paul Schrader, the second film made by a newcomer director? You know, the one modeled on The Searchers? It had Peter Boyle in a supporting role… sure, Taxi Driver fits the bill, but so does Hardcore, a 1979 film written and directed by Paul Schrader. This time, Schrader has bared his soul for all to see, his Calvinist upbringing rising to the forefront like cream from milk.

There are few films as personal as Hardcore, and even fewer ones that can communicate on such a visceral level, a level of intimacy and proximity with the audience rarely achieved. Hardcore is half mythological exploration and half cry for attention, a strange adventure into the psyche of a man well known for his penchant for writing violence. The yin to Martin Scorsese's yang, the two never worked as well apart as when they were together, yet both went on to make fantastic films, Schrader's much less recognized but just as interesting.

Starring George C. Scott as Jake Van Dorn (originally intended to be Zondervall, Dutch for 'fall of man'), Hardcore pits Jake against the pornography industry which is preventing him from reuniting with his seemingly abducted daughter. He hires a well-regarded private detective named Andy Mast to assist with the search, who quickly finds out his daughter is being used in low-rent pornography. After Jake's impatience gets the best of him, he flies out to California to see Mast but discovers that his time is being wasted and that the quest would be better served by himself. Disguising himself as an amateur porn producer, Van Dorn goes through a series of ridiculous disguises and arduous tasks in order to find his daughter.

One of the principal criticisms of Hardcore is its glamorization of the pornography industry, the very same industry it intends to dismantle is still seen through the strictly religious eyes of Schrader, and in turn, Van Dorn, which gives it an almost alluring exterior. But where this criticism falls apart is once Van Dorn breaks through the first layer of the veneer and begins talking to the people involved who view it as an occupation, an odd one, but one which pays the bills like any other job. It is, in fact, Van Dorn's religious environment, a familial and loving one, which is seen with rose-coloured glasses. His relationships with his family members are seen, even as they deteriorate, as the only truly fulfilling connections in the film. When Jake discusses his religious beliefs with a prostitute he hires to help find his daughter he exhibits the same enthusiastic reverence he had shown earlier when discussing religious intricacies with other Calvinists around the dinner table. As an insider's view of the Calvinist religion, Hardcore is unbeatable in both its educational value as well as its entertainment value. 

There are so many superficial reasons to see this movie that it should be easy to find yourself parked in front of the television, if only to witness George C. Scott with a fake moustache and a Hawaiian shirt on. Yet beyond the shallow layers of its skin, Hardcore is a heartbreaking story of a father's undying love for his daughter, and the tightly wound inner tension he exhibits along the way. George C. Scott and Paul Schrader were reportedly at each other's throats constantly, yet this only adds to the drama of the picture. Scott performs admirably, getting more and more desperate as time goes on until the brilliant and ultra-violent finale on the city streets.

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