“And we’ll use murder to sell deodorant.”
Two years before directing The Empire Strikes Back, Irvin Kershner helmed The Eyes of Laura Mars. Written by upstart John Carpenter, with a torch song by Barbara Streisand, and starring Faye Dunaway, who had recently won an Oscar for Network, this should have been a smash hit when it premiered in 1978. Instead, it joined its brethren in the annals of forgotten film archives. The visual and artistic choices certainly date this film, molding it into a great time capsule period piece.
Looking dark and grimy, like an episode of Columbo, the tones set a great ambiance for a De Palma impression. The opening scene tells us everything to get rolling. Faye’s character, Laura, dreams of somebody being murdered, and this somebody has been an editor for Laura’s book. Laura is a controversial photographer, specializing in glamorized violence, much like Helmut Newton. We are talking dead bodies, Mad Max cosplay, and fiery auto crash model shoots at Columbus Circle to advertise fur coats.
There are definitely underlying messages to take away from this film condemning societal violence, and the treatment of models and yada yada, but sorry, we’ve got some supernatural kill visions here, so be gone good intentions.
With success rolling in, and the press breathing down her neck, Laura learns at an exhibition in SoHo that the woman she dreamt about was discovered murdered, stabbed in the eyes. This violent act actually spurs more sales of Laura’s work. The next day during a photo shoot, Laura has another vision, much like the last. In it, Elaine, an art gallery owner who’s been secretly sleeping with Laura’s ex-husband, is murdered. Laura rushes to Elaine’s apartment, finding the police already there. Proclaiming that she had witnessed the murder, she and her cohorts are brought to the precinct for questioning. It is here, when Brad Dourif, who plays Laura’s driver, chews the scenery. The man looks a split second from a nervous breakdown and it is glorious, but I guess he always kinda looks like that.
With red herrings and false flags running rampant, the flick quickly turns into a case of whodunit. A uni-browed Tommy Lee Jones, who’s gallivanting around as a detective, introduces the new plot point that Laura has been predicting murders in her photographs for quite some time, at least 14 months. He is intrigued by this mystery, but probably more so in a romantic fashion. Later, Laura’s ex-husband, Raul Julia, shows up at her apartment in a good old-fashioned breaking and entering. Apparently, he’s another suspect in an increasingly high pile.
Another hypersexualized violent photoshoot, another murder vision, and another death. Rinse and repeat for the rest of the film as Laura and Tommy’s character, Neville, are frantically trying to get to the bottom of everything before everyone in Laura’s life, present or past, is murdered. With so many potential killers illustrated as capable and likely, it seems almost obvious that not a one of the bunch is the actual culprit.
After the apprehension of a certain suspect, we the audience are treated to one last vision that reveals to us the M. Night predecessor of twist endings. We now know who the killer is, while Laura is still oblivious. All she knows is this murderer is coming for her next. What happens next seems to be a culmination and condemnation of the glorification of the brutality that has been the lynchpin of Laura’s work. These underlying messages finally get their time in the sun, as violence will always seek violence out for explosive results, always leading to melancholy.
Tim Bynum is a Jones County native who lives in Laurel with his wife, Lauren. An avid film fan since 1985, Bynum can be found at thefilmsnob.reviews and on Instagram and Facebook: @the_filmsnob.