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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Who's Afraid of Ben Kingsley?


Playing in the background: An episode of House

I have a confession to make. My name is Jen (hi, Jen!) and I'm afraid of Ben Kingsley.

Look, I know this is silly. He was Gandhi, for cryin' out loud. It's just that he was also Dr. Roberto Miranda, and he left an indelible impression on my young brain. (Hey, I was a lot younger in 1994. We all were.) And that was before Sexy Beast. Actually, let's not even talk about Sexy Beast. The very idea makes me shudder, which is not a pretty sight.

Oh, in case you don't know what I'm talking about: In 1994, Ben Kingsley starred with Sigourney Weaver and Stuart Wilson in a scathing little sleeper of a Roman Polanski movie called Death and the Maiden. (Not to be confused with Iron Maiden: Death on the Road, which is completely different.) This movie takes place in an unnamed South American country that's almost certainly Chile. A respected politician (Wilson) picks up one Dr. Roberto Miranda (Kingsley) who claims his car broke down near the former's isolated house on the rocky coast. Wilson's character invites Dr. Miranda to spend the night. Trouble is, his fragile wife (Sigourney) hears Miranda's voice and decides that the hitchhiker is one of the torturers who victimized her years ago under another regime - another world entirely, really. So she goes all Carrie on his ass, minus the psychic powers, without ever once being really positively sure she has the right guy. And we're not sure either. And--well, I won't tell you what happens. You'll have to rent it. But a warning, this is a very hard movie to sit through for all kinds of reasons.

Mind you, my mother warned me not to see that movie. (We prescreen movies for each other, my mother and I. Well, sometimes.) She said it was too intense and would probably upset me. Never one for listening to my mother, I watched it anyway and found it positively riveting. And very unpleasant. And I had nightmares about Ben Kingsley for months.

If ever there was the perfect blend of creepy malevolence and wounded innocence, Ben nails it in this movie. Way beyond the question of did he do it or didn't he (which is, as you can imagine, a pretty significant question), you'll remember him in this part for everything he says and does onscreen, because it's just so damned good. Best acting since the five minutes Jose Ferrar was onscreen in Lawrence of Arabia, and if I didn't have my heart set on his son Miguel to play Roland in the big screen version of Mindbender, I'd want Sir Ben. Except for being afraid of him, of course, which could get awkward. And let's face it, I don't think I could afford the guy. He's kind of pricey with that Sir on his name.

Some years after Death and the Maiden, a movie named Dave came out. This movie was about an ordinary guy who ends up being President through a ridiculous confluence of circumstances that I won't go into here. Sigourney Weaver played the first lady, and Sir Ben played the vice president. Late one night, channel surfing, I happened upon this movie and saw Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley at the same moment on the same screen. My skin about crawled off my body and my first thought was that they couldn't possibly be running Death and the Maiden on TV, even late night. It's one of the few Rs that probably should have been an X and had absolutely nothing to do with sex. Then I realized it was Dave and had a moment of shuddery relief before the camera was cut back to Sir Ben and my skin tried to crawl off my body again. Yep, it's official; I'm afraid of Ben Kingsley. I skipped House of Sand and Fog, Sexy Beast and even an episode of The Sopranos just to avoid that skin-trying-to-crawl-off-my-body sensation, which is very unpleasant.

Reason I bring this all up is that Sir Ben stars in Shutter Island, which I just saw last week. And he's done it again, nailing creepy malevolence and wounded innocence in just the right blend. It was a scary movie anyway, but throw in Sir Ben and it becomes truly frightening. So go see it, but don't see Death and the Maiden first or the skin might try to crawl off your...yeah.