Today, Paul Schrader‘s “The Dying Of The Light” opens in cinemas, but here’s the thing — he doesn’t want you to see it. He has claimed he was locked out of the editing room and unable to deliver the cut he wanted, yet the film is going out with Schrader’s name but not his support. Is this a case of an auteur’s vision being egregiously wrestled away from him or differences of opinion on details of structure and style? It would appear it’s more the latter than the former.
In their review of the film published today, Film Comment has the unique perspective of having seen both the released version of the movie and apparently Schrader’s workprint cut. What of changes made? Well first, let’s recap the basic premise: starring Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin and Irene Jacob, the film follows a veteran CIA agent Evan Lake, who is fighting dementia and is forced into retirement. But before the disease takes over his brain, Evan decides to track down his old nemesis, a terrorist long thought to be dead but who is very much alive. It’s a basic procedural with a ticking medical clock thrown in as some added texture. And it appears that’s what Schrader’s version included.
The first thing to pay attention to is that according to the magazine, there were “no major alterations to his narrative structure or the running time” (an interesting counter to the chatter about a 170 minute director’s cut). Moreover, the magazine says it isn’t “isn’t so much a massacred film as a dismembered one.”
Among the changes: a prologue with medical scans of Lake’s brain with a voiceover explaining his condition; and stylistic flourishes where “we would see the world through Evan Lake’s increasingly unreliable eyes, with distorted camera angles and sound effects used to suggest his weakening grasp on reality.” Certainly, the finished film as it is much more straightforward in this regard, with Cage left to clutch his head from time to time or randomly succumb to brief bouts of memory loss.
But is this workprint close to what Schrader had in mind? It’s hard to say. “Paul’s cut of the movie deviated substantially from his own script. It was a completely different movie from the movie that was greenlit, the movie that was discussed and the movie that was shot,” producer Todd Williams said in September. But this workprint cut hardly sounds like a grand deviation from what was ultimately released. So who knows what Schrader was ultimately trying to put together.
But it doesn’t seem like we’re dealing with a lost masterpiece in this case, with Film Comment ultimately describing both efforts as “an efficient and mostly effective B-grade thriller rooted in a distinctly Schraderian sense of guilt and moral anguish, and featuring a very fine performance by Cage.” My own review certainly disagrees with that generous assessment, but we’ll likely never known what Schrader’s final cut would’ve been like.
Thoughts? Share ’em below.