Friday, September 19, 2008
How to go from Teddy Barnes to Alex Forrest in two years
As long as we've been talking about Glenn Close and Jeff Bridges: I'm having a hard time with Jagged Edge. It's a 1985 thriller starring Bridges as a newspaper editor accused of muder and Close as the attorney who defends him. Naturally, romance develops during the trial. The plot -- by B-list writing god Joe "Basic Instinct" Eszterhas -- choo-choos along as an effective whodunnit right up until the last shot. But the Close character, Teddy Barnes, gave me a lot of trouble. Is she an incredibly complex, strong character, or is she a weak pushover who just needs a man? Eszterhas and Close shows us both sides, and it's hard to reconcile one with the other. Oh, Teddy Barnes. Sweet-voiced, then steel-tongued. Indignant, then weepy.
That's humanity, right? We swing from one extreme to another, and Teddy Barnes is no different. A week after meeting an alleged matricidal maniac, she shacks up with him and gets all lovey-dovey. She's also a hard-working single mom who frosts over when a witness calls her a bitch. In the end, though, she's revealed as something different, something...more. Or less? The final scene shows us neither the soft lover nor the tough cookie. Close greets the film's climax as a woman numbed in the wake of a quiet nervous breakdown -- one that occurs offscreen, or at least inside her. She wins the day, plot-wise, but her faith in the legal system (and in herself) is shattered. See the video below (spoilers included).
I've never seen anything like the final scene of Jagged Edge. It has all the elements of a standard thriller climax, but the Teddy Barnes character is definitely not the standard heroine. She's something weaker. Or stronger? She has a gun in her hand, but it's not a show of defiance or revenge. It appears to be some sort of psychosis -- some villainy -- that we can't understand; Eszterhas hasn't given us enough to work with. But we do see, in Teddy Barnes's eye, a glimmer of Alex Forrest, whom Close would give us two years later in Fatal Attraction. Can someone please write a thesis on these two wildly confounding female characters, both of whom have male names?
Glenn Close was riding the peak of her celebrity with these two roles. Two thrillers in the mid-'80s, when she was racking up Oscar nomination after Oscar nomination. I would kill to sit her down now, watch these two movies with her and ask her where the hell she found these two fascinating, unsettling, confounding characters.