Dark Tourist (2012) - A Modern Film Noir

Grief tourism is an excursion to locations associated with tragedy. Travelers visit sites associated with death and murder. Dark Tourist, directed by Suri Krishnamma, exquisitely examines this fascination with pain in a manner that allows the audience to delve into the mind of a man who uses trauma to connect with others. This film encourages its audience to understand how feelings of loneliness and isolation devour victims who are unable to reach out to people around them.

Michael Cudlitz (Southland, Running Scared) plays Jim Tahna, a security guard whose eagerness for grief tourism goes beyond that of mere fascination with death and destruction. Jim takes a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana to visit sites associated with mass murderer, Carl Marznap, a quietly chilling Pruitt Taylor Vince (Wild at Heart, Constantine). In between locating the places where Carl grew up and slaughtered innocents, Jim meets Betsy, a heartbreakingly stoic Melanie Griffith (Lolita, Working Girl).

Cudlitz has a magnetism about him. He is able to maintain momentum between lucid expectation and crushing vulnerability with mere gestures, his limping step, and an emotive intelligence behind his eyes. Cudlitz plays Jim as a man of many layers whose desperate need to fill the unexplainable void within renders him incapable of sincerity. Jim knows exactly what to say to people and how to say it.
Krishnamma’s use of sound allows his audience to make the connection between Jim’s insatiable need to bond with others while simultaneously preserving his isolation. The lighting is at times beautiful and accentuates the grotesque themes of the film. Trauma, sexual desire, brutal deaths, and painful memories are highlighted under Krishnamma’s artful direction.

The most intimate moments are surprisingly found during the Jim’s voice overs, where we watch him go about his day. Paired with rhythmic, repetitive, and chaotic sounds, Jim is carried through the story methodically. This adds to the mounting tension that builds throughout the film as the reasons for Jim’s fascination with pain are revealed.

In Dark Tourist, Krishnamma deals with the notion of an audience’s fascination with death and sexuality as a form of entertainment. It is as if he is prodding the audience to look inward and discover their own reasons for feeling such satisfaction. The concept of one being a bottomless void, a face, a name, a victim, plays heavily in this orchestrated piece that provides no simplistic answers to the logic behind a serial killer’s motive. Nothing is black and white.

Dark Tourist is a film that calls to mind the thought of what it means to be a victim of a tragic event. It daringly and disturbingly draws the audience to the social dilemma victims of violent and sexual trauma face amongst peers, which is the fear of communication and the tendency to turn a blind eye. Cudlitz’s portrayal of Jim during scenes where he is psychologically afflicted is masterful. In one scene Jim and Carl stand outside a prostitute’s door. Jim is silent, still, almost trembling with the effort to hold himself against temptation. Here is the moment where change is imminent. Vince’s quiet tones and Cudlitz’s pregnant pause embodies the issue of trauma buried deeply into the psyche, and the struggle to keep the despair of its existence at bay.

Dark Tourist and Film Noir

What are the characteristics of a film noir? If you're looking for a primer on film noire, look no further than ScreenJunkies.com. They've compiled, perhaps, one of the most succinct yet elaborate explanation of the characteristics of the film noir:

Film noir movies have fatalistic attitudes. Fatalism is expressed by one transgression that spirals out of control.  Voice-overs are common. The femme fatale female archetype originates in film noir. Another female role is the menaced woman. Male protagonists are often morally ambiguous. The cinematography reinforces the darkness in the plot and theme. Sets have a gloomy feel. Story locations are urban. Some film noirs are produced in a semi-documentary style.  - Read in detail here: 10 Film Noir Characteristics

Here's a brief Film Noir Definition:
a motion picture with an often grim urban setting, photographed in somber tones and permeated by a feeling of disillusionment, pessimism, and despair. (Dictionary.com)

Cudlitz performs a classic, timeless narration that leaves a chilling, disturbing feeling. The way the intonation of his voice, pitch, and his choice of words as well as his cold logic reveal a character with tremendous nihilistic, pessimistic and an even fatalistic attitude towards life, the "little things". Film noirs have a tendency to reveal too little, but we're easily made to empathize and even become involved in the misery, pain, and experiences of the narrator. Film noirs do not necessarily follow a linear progression and it's often hard to tell the beginning from the end. Most times, you can't believe in the narrator and that's the heart of the problem--we're so easily enraptured by narratives that we immediately want to be involved in their story. In the same way as we're experiencing and empathizing with Jim, we're constantly reminded that we're voyeurs. Krishnamma uses a heavily realistic plot montage that forces us to experience his narrative, but pushes us far enough away that we're forced to reconcile with the brutality of Jim's character. Film noir uses a recurring motif, a frame within a frame, cast by long, dark shadows in an eerie alley. Let's take a look at the classics and we'll compare them to Dark Tourist. 

Dark Tourist is a call to arms against the volatile existence of a victim who is forced to carry the weight of traumatic violence. It conveys the impression that everyone has a story and a past that they must carry. Sometimes people are so intent on unraveling their own problems, they forget the responsibility they have to each other. Perhaps Dark Tourist suggests that the answer to understanding victimization lies in the search for and, in the capability of, finding solace in a person who can relate to the weight of trauma. Jim says of Betsy after they first meet, “Our grief touched.” But there must be more to finding relief than connecting with someone in a brief stretch of time. Krishnamma is a director inspired by a taste of tradition, in search of rekindling a powerful and explosive genre. There is no way to tell this story without the use of film noir conventions and traditions. It is a psychological thriller with a story that will leave you wanting more. Definitely a must watch!

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