"Domino"

 

This article is part of the critical project Tony Scott: A Moving Target in which an analysis of a scene from a Tony Scott film is passed anonymously to the next participant in the project to respond to with an analysis of his or her own.

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One of Tony Scott’s signature techniques for layering otherwise conventional shots and framing with aesthetic accents that can serve as metaphors for larger ideas is echoed in his use of moving image material imbedded in the movies themselves. He constructs his extraordinary thriller, Domino, as a feverish memory scape in which past and present overlaps, reverses, erases and recalls. Domino Harvey, the daughter of the great actor Laurence Harvey, has defined her life as a kind of antipodal existence to her father, leading her to the dubious and ultraviolent profession of bounty hunter. In a radical gesture because it lands on the screen so early in the playing time and before the viewer can fathom what’s actually happening, Scott places Domino with her crew in a trailer in a remote patch of the Mojave desert where a pile of stolen money has been stashed. But once again, a conventional action movie situation is exploded by Scott’s interest in visual surprise: What should attract Domino’s eyes during a tense standoff in the trailer but the flickering image on a TV screen of her father as The Manchurian Candidate?

This is strange on several levels at once. Actor Keira Knightley, in performance as Domino Harvey, is watching actor Laurence Harvey, not only in performance but also in a double performance with his character split between his normal self and a “triggered” agent of the Chinese government. Domino herself may be viewed as a double character, both her self as Laurence’s daughter (which this moment precisely posits) and as her invented self as an anti-daughter and a kickass bounty hunter. This doubling isn’t merely abstract in Scott’s view, but actually registers with Domino as she finds herself, for this moment, in the same place as the viewer of Domino the movie—as an audience to moving images, recognizing in the images of her father a parallel to her own existence and also as a memory trigger, a surreal alternative to the standard family photo album. The fact that a meth-head stashing wads of cash in her Mojave trailer would actually be tuning into The Manchurian Candidate on her TV, and the fact that it would be airing at just the time that Domino and her crew arrive on the scene, are equally strange. Beyond the radically multi-dimensional play of images, identity and feelings that are perhaps the paramount stylistic signature of Scott’s cinema, the moment’s radical essence lies in Scott not questioning the cumulative strangeness swirling through the scene, but taking it all in stride and expecting the audience to follow suit.

Scott is fascinated with his characters encountering and responding to the moving image and how the image serves as a mirror, as a Manchurian-like memory trigger or as a way of joining up with the audience watching them as if they’re aware of being watched (see True Romance for an especially baroque example, or Déjà Vu for a supremely ecstatic example). In this moment of Domino watching her father, this fascination intersects with two of the movie’s obsessions—the uses and abuses of television, and the image of Jesus as a powerful icon associated with both chance and destiny. This is actually the only time in the movie when the TV is conventionally used as a TV: In other scenes, TV is used as a literal weapon, as a target of abuse or as a highly corrupt business in which Domino and Co. are hired for a reality show covering them on their adventures. Of all of the many scenes Scott could have selected from John Frankenheimer’s thriller featuring Harvey, he selects the moment when his character blindly walks into a pool of water, conjuring the notion of Jesus (whose image is sometimes maniacally repeated throughout Domino) walking on water, suggesting the father as a failed Jesus figure in the eyes of the loving but disappointed daughter, as if Domino Harvey herself is the director of the images she watches from The Manchurian Candidate. Even as the daughter is pausing to be a TV spectator before the moment when she may face death, she watches her father plunge into water, not baptized but nearly drowned and shamed, an image both projected onto the daughter’s eyes and also a projection of the daughter herself, a multiple reflection of consciousness that anticipates Scott’s even more complex play in similar visual material in Déjà Vu.

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  • J. Nyhuis

    Great piece, Mr. Koehler!

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