Saturday, November 16, 2013
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
If you like: Final Girl Theory * Fox Mulder * Manic Pixie Dream Girls
Night Film is the story of an investigation by journalist Scott McGrath into the mystery surrounding elusive filmmaker Stanislas Cordova, and his enigmatic daughter, Ashley. With his career in ruins and his reputation disgraced after his previous investigation into Cordova, McGrath cannot help but reopen his investigation after Ashley’s death. He meets Nora and Hopper, both with links to Ashley in her final days, and together they dig deeper into the world of Cordova than McGrath ever did before. Along they way they encounter terror and confusion. Each new answer seems to create previously unimagined questions and leaves them with more questions than answers. With hordes of disciples clinging to every world, the seemingly infinite layers of protection surrounding Cordova leave McGrath wondering if he will ever find the truth.
Night Film raises many questions as to where the line between professional curiosity and obsession can be drawn. McGrath tells himself over and over that it is his job to uncover the truth and right whatever wrongs are occurring on the mysterious compound where so many Cordova pictures were filmed. When the investigation upends his entire life and puts the life of his own daughter in jeopardy, McGrath seems to have long since crossed the line. Crawling ever further into the murky reality surrounding Cordova, McGrath even begins to lose his grasp on reality. When investigating the mysteries shrouded in paranoia and fear, it is impossible not to adopt those same traits. Once you have seen how the lives of everyone involved are forever changed, it is not possible to not change yourself. As the evidence mounts that ghastly crimes have been committed, McGrath suffers from his own confirmation bias. If you expect to see evidence of crimes, it is easy to interpret everything you discover as such. When a world has been created to give the illusion of horror, how can anything inside of that world be trusted? McGrath’s major failing as an investigator is his personal stake in the truth of Cordova’s story. Once he finally accepts that he is out to do more than find the truth, instead to reveal what is behind his nemesis’s curtain, McGrath rabidly spurs his investigation forward. Once the sanctimony is gone, it is easy to follow wherever the path leads. It is also easy to disregard all notions of normalcy and believe in unorthodox happenings that any outsider would instantly dismiss as outlandishly unbelievable.
Night Film is centered around the idea that our perceptions shape the truth just as much as reality. Cordova’s work is elevated by his fans to the work of a god. He can do no wrong and every frame provides a hint at Cordova’s truth. Cordova’s actors are forever changed by the experience of working with him. This is attributed to his genius, but when examined more closely, it appears to be less acting and more honest reaction to true horrors unfolding before their eyes. Part of the magic of Cordova’s films centers around the mystery of whether his works are fiction, or some sort of twisted documentary of unwitting participants in real life horror. The same is true of Cordova’s life outside the lens. After decades of living in secret, the multitude of rumors taken as gospel is insurmountable. The myth of the man gives even more gravity to his work. The same is true of Ashley. Many believe she was cursed by the devil at a young age, but McGrath discovers this curse may be much more terrestrial in origin. The clever trick of Night Film is plausible denial. So many of the events can be rationally explained away, but the story is so much more captivating that is impossible to believe in anything so pedestrian. Cordova’s life story is perhaps his greatest work. Money and its persuasive powers can go a long way into bring the mythical into reality. Most importantly though, is the desire to believe in something more. For each of Cordova’s fans, or critics, believing in a man so powerful and elusive is everything. Each person desires to be an observer to the long heralded battle of good versus evil. Watching a Cordova film gives the viewer a glimpse into that battle. Even more captivating is that the result is often unclear. Putting the decision in the hands of the viewer is the strongest power of both Cordova and Pessl. Knowing that the story becomes much stronger when one is forced to continue thinking about it long after it is over is signature of a master. We strive to be rational, to not be taken in, but every so often we can’t help but to believe. We tell ghost stories to scare ourselves silly, knowing that they aren’t true, but that doesn’t keep us from throwing the covers over our head to keep out the monsters after we shut off the light.
If the story is too good for you not to believe, read Night Film.
Pessl, Marisha. Night Film: A Novel. Random House Publishing Group, 2013. Kindle Edition.