What does one say when the plot of a movie is so mysterious that the movie itself becomes mystery? Do not think of “mystery” in a classical sense like Sherlock Holmes or a dark crime drama; think of mystery here as the deep and dark psychological pits that allow for the ordinary – even the extraordinary in this case – to commit horrible deeds as a mode of “controlled entropy,” a way to test to chaos in the most benign circumstances. Not a new concept at all, but the release of the very stylish French film Fever is a test case for audiences to challenge their own psyches as the mystery and psychological nuance unfold.
Fever, like many films before it, is loosely based on the real case of psychopathic killers Leopold and Loeb, two erudite Ivy-leaguers obsessed with the likes of – among other philosophies - Nietzschean philosophy. Look up the case yourselves, but understand the killers’ basic conceit: What if one could use intellect to commit the perfect crime and get away with it?
This conceit is how Fever begins its initial frames, using a very apt quote structured as a poem to set the tone of the film:
For it to be a crime,
there has to be a personal reason.
A personal motive.
But if it happens by chance…
Immediately following this “poem,” the screen goes black and all we hear is the sound of woman struggling, breathing rapidly, suggesting she is about to die.
Of course, she does succumb, and we are immediately introduced to the two spritely, intelligent philosophy students. Yet we are never properly introduced to the victim. She has no name, no age, no ethnicity. She is elusive; she just is and was all in the same space, cleverly removing any pathos and focusing instead on the motivation of Damien and Pierre, our two protagonists (antagonists?). And we learn quickly that these boys certainly harbor disturbances that allow them to attend school and only reflect on their act of killing as a controlled social experiment.
By now, some of you may be thinking of an earlier film also loosely based on Leopold and Loeb: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 classic Rope, based on a play of the same name. The setup of that film is as comical as it is disturbing. In that film, we see our two main characters strangling a victim, unsuspecting as he is unknown, whose limp body is then laid into a chest that will be used as the centerpiece for the two murderers’ cocktail party later that evening. The dark humor of the film is the fun we as the audience have with the killers knowing there is a secret stored just under the silver platters used to serve jovial guests.
The difference between Rope and Fever is mainly tone – the latter rarely being funny whatsoever – but also purpose. Instead of a cocktail party, the killers in Fever are still young and impressionable, even if they are highly intelligent as scenes of the two participating in their philosophy class will exemplify. Later lessons about the motivation of the Nazis and why they killed will force Damien and Pierre to reflect critically about mortality, which (hint hint) is really a lesson for us.
This mortal questioning, if you will, is solidified with a third character named Zoe, a bystander who witnessed Damien and Pierre running from the apartment where their victim resided. But Zoe is uncertain about their connection until later run-ins with the two have her questioning her own mortality and purpose. The two narratives will of course merge by the film’s climax and perfectly capture the film’s conceit, especially the final line: But if it happens by chance…
With careful pacing and a beautiful score by French singer Camille, Fever is not one to miss. What happens on screen may be less controlled for Damien and Pierre as they struggle with the connotations of life and purpose, but for us, it is a controlled social experiment that allows us not to focus on death and murder that opens the film, but on the nuances of existentialism that could lead us to darkness.
Images: Artsploiation & THR.com