Welcome to my page of reflections on John Boorman's classic "film noir" starring Lee Marvin.
The story is remarkably simple. An amoral thief, Walker (Lee Marvin), helps his friend Reese (John Vernon) steal a large sum of mob money. Needing more than his share, Reese shoots Walker and makes off with both Walker's share and his wife Lynn (Sharon Acker). However, Walker survives the attack and seeks revenge on Reese, and his $93,000 share of the heist.
Walker is a strangely attractive anti-hero. He is quite amoral, is willing to use violence and murder to achieve his goal, and acts apparently without conscience (though he had his limits prior to his shooting as he tries to prevent Reese killing the messengers in the original heist). Perhaps because he moves in an equally amoral world (indeed quite immoral at times) in which his "victims" and opponents are seen as totally unprincipled mobsters hiding behind a façade of corporate respectability, Walker is seen as more appealing and somehow more honest. These mobsters make a mistake in refusing to recognise the justice of his demand of payment of his $93,000, which has gone into the "corporate" coffers.
The world in which Walker and these "businessmen" operate is one in which law and order play no part, and where men do what they feel they have to do in order to survive (or indeed exercise control to make greater profit). Respect for law and order (or morality) do not exist and our protagonists are on an equal amoral footing, apart from belief in the principle of trust and respect between friends, and the principle of paying debts.
Walker appears to respect these basic principles - he got involved in the heist as a favour to his friend, and he appears (in the flashback sequences) to have been devoted to his wife. Used and betrayed by both, and then by the organisation, which profited by his involvement and shooting (and which inherited Reese's debt on his demise), Walker is the victim who fights back.
Walker is no angel, but in his world there is no right and wrong. He uses the organisation's own methods against them, though there are hints that below the surface of anger and determination there is an underlying humanity which he may be willing to share with deserving cases. Walker's overwhelming characteristics are purity of purpose and strength of resolve, but without the suggestion of underlying humanity he is no better than his opponents, and there would be little interest in seeing him succeed.
Each of the main characters has their own agenda in the film. They all have their own reasons for involvement in Walker's revenge. It is not a question of being right or wrong, or of morality. As Walker asks for his sister-in-law Chris's (Angie Dickinson) help, she asks "Why should I?". Walker's reply is a simple "It's up to you". Chris's involvement is based on revenge, highlighting the idea that we (all) pay the price of our actions and indiscretions through the reactions of others whose lives we touch. We are all free to act according to our cut and conscience, but there may be a price to pay, as Reese and his organisation discover to their cost. These are the classic ingredients of a "film noir".
However, there is another element which adds interest to both Walker himself and the film as a whole, and one which may help explain the enigmatic ending. Did Walker survive the attack on Alcatraz? Is Walker a ghost?
While this may at first seem an unnecessary and romantic complication, in fact there is considerable evidence to support the theory that Walker did in fact die on Alcatraz, and we are watching his spirit seek retribution on those who have profited from his demise.
When Walker is shot, he is lost and confused rather than mortally wounded.
The scenes in which Walker sees his wife for the first time since his shooting have a certain ethereal quality, causing some confusion as the audience is put off balance.
When he meets Lynn, Walker says nothing - not one word. She does all the talking, as if she is grateful to finally face the truth of what she did. She knows what his questions will be - she has already asked them of herself, or is it that she is hearing questions we are not hearing? She talks of the numbness she felt after his "death", and how his death is constantly on her mind. She appears to have been waiting for this moment when she must face her past. Walker's approach, steadily and purposefully marching along a corridor brilliantly captures the inevitability of his return, and the moment of truth for Lynn - be it due to her husband's visit, or simply seeing things clearly in her own mind.
After Lynn's suicide we have no clear notion of the passing of time. As Walker moves from one room to another he remains the same, but the rooms are substantially changed, and Walker seems almost surprised, as to him (and us) these scenes are continuous. This may suggest upset on Walker's part (he is certainly saddened by his wife's death), or a different continuum, or both.
These scenes, together with others in which time seems to jump (meetings with Yost, scenes at Brewster's home) suggest an ethereal quality to Walker's very existence.
Further evidence that Walker has changed comes when he gives his wife's money to her sister after Reese's death. As she takes the money she comments on how unlike him this action is - "You did die at Alcatraz". Despite the fact he is pursuing his money from the organisation, it seems money is not as important as the principle involved. This act also suggests humanity and perhaps a change in attitude since his shooting. Has Walker learned to appreciate other values since his experience on Alcatraz? Even when he is apparently unpleasant to Chris at Brewster's home, is he not trying to drive her away in order to protect her? Once again these actions allow the audience to sympathise with him and root for him in his quest.
After various attempts to recover his money have failed, leading to the deaths of various members of the organisation, Walker eventually makes contact with Fairfax who, it seems, is willing to pay him. The payment is to take place on Alcatraz, therefore bringing the film full circle. Once again Walker is on Alcatraz to steal his money and perhaps be killed in the process. Fundamentally, his death and all the subsequent events have had no effect - nothing has changed. The organisation continues to operate, the drop still takes place, and someone is still willing to steal the money.
At the end of the film Walker appears to retire to the shadows, leaving his debt unpaid. However, he has avenged himself on those who betrayed him, and in the end that was what it was all about - not the money. He has apparently been used as an instrument of furthering Fairfax's position in the "company", but he has also used Fairfax to allow him to act with impunity. In fact they have used each other to their mutual benefit. Walker has no desire to take on the whole organisation, though in the end we may ask ourselves what was the point of it all, as although a number of people have died, the organisation remains intact, and nothing has really changed. In the end no real purpose was served - Point Blank.
This is an excellent thriller from John Boorman who made it all the more intriguing and thought-provoking by using a mixture of styles. At times straight hard-nosed thriller, but laced with almost surreal moments suggesting mystery over the very nature of Walker's existence, mixed with film noir elements and some black humour, this is an immensely watchable thriller with excellent performances from Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson in particular.
The masterstroke, however, is in the possibility that Walker is a ghost. This adds a certain moral authority to Walker's quest, suggesting the possibility of ultimate payback for our actions.
Please click here to go to an article by Peter Lewis which advances an intriguing variation on the above theme.
My thanks for taking the time to read this page. I hope you have found it of some interest.
I would be delighted to hear from anyone wishing to discuss these notes or the film itself. I can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org .
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