I like The Razor’s Edge.
I have always enjoyed Bill Murray as a dramatic actor, from Rushmore to Broken Flowers. He just has that something that no amount of training or practice can muster in any other actor. The Razor’s Edge claims to be to Murray’s first starring role in a dramatic film (although perhaps a case can be made for Where The Buffalo Roam being a drama). However, it was not this tidbit that brought the film to my attention. Rather, like many films I end up watching, it was because of its excellent poster.
Indeed, I am a sucker for beautifully illustrated posters, and the way the light is hitting Murray’s chin in this is just sublime. Reading the poster’s text, we are treated to all sorts of mysterious and impressive sounding sentences that reveal nothing concerning what the film is actually about. The official plot description of this film is this:
“He had everything and wanted nothing. He learned that he had nothing and wanted everything. He saved the world and then it shattered. The path to enlightenment is as sharp and narrow as a razor’s edge.”
Oh boy, was I hooked.
It turns out this film is an adaptation of a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. Something of a passion project for Murray, he agreed to star in Ghostbusters only if Columbia agreed to finance this film. He also co-wrote the screenplay, and although most critics were quick to point out that the dialogue was incongruous to the 1920’s time period, I felt it gave the characters a relatable edge in a more eloquent way than, say, using rap music in the 1920’s as in 2013’s The Great Gatsby. On that note, the film reminded me in many ways of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, which I am always drawn towards.
The first thing I noticed watching this film was its pacing. This film moves fast. I’m not sure if they had a hell of a lot to squeeze into 129 minutes or if they just didn’t realize how much they were going to have to cut in the editing room. I swear, we have only just met Larry, our protagonist, before he is off saving lives in a world war and back to his pool within the span of 20 minutes.
This is not to say that the pacing of this film is not effective, just awkward. We are treated to an excellent Brian Doyle-Murray as the ill-fated Commanding Officer Piedmont, whose habit of giving scathing eulogies to fallen comrades is repeated by Larry in a near-touching moment when Piedmont himself is killed in battle.
I say near-touching because we have only just met these characters, and Larry’s eulogy for his fallen comrade loses its impact since we have just heard the same thing 5 minutes earlier. Still, this tragedy is a believable set up for Larry questioning his life’s meaning, and travelling around the world in search of different philosophies.
Along with Doyle-Murray, the film gives us another actor who is a treat to watch, Marcus from Raiders of the Lost Ark (or Denholm Elliott, to use his real name)! Playing a man whose goals in life are status and opulence, Elliot is an uncanny force in the film, and I was never quite sure whether I admired him, disliked him, or pitied him. He serves as a glimpse of the fate for those who seek material comfort in life, as opposed to Larry’s noble and isolating goal of knowledge for the sake of understanding.
If the editing in this film is rough around the edges, then the cinematography can be marked under the banner of “passable”. The camera treats us to some interesting angles, especially around the film’s Parisian apartments, but overall not much is happening here out of the ordinary. What is extraordinary is how bad the DP (Peter Hannan) is at lighting locations at night. Seeing one grainy scene with its exposure pushed past the limit is one thing, but for it to happen twice in one film is a faux pas right up there with the soft close ups in Interstellar and Spectre (come on Hoyte!). Perhaps the decision to push these exposures was a studio one, and I’m sure a couple of grainy shots don’t take audiences out of their immersion, so I’m willing to accept personal bias on this one.
This is all to say that one shot in the film is absolutely brilliant, the moment where Isabel leaves a bottle of vodka with her butler, and the camera tracks and pans to reveal her recovering alcoholic frenemy Sophie in the other room. I love this shot, because we are shown in blunt terms Isabel’s two choices: warn the butler not to serve Sophie, or leave the vodka allowing Sophie to inevitably self-destruct. Heavy-handed it may be, but it perfectly illustrates the character’s frame of mind in a way that doesn’t rely on dialogue.
The film caused me to think about my life, and life in general, and I think any work that causes its consumer to reflect on questions outside of itself could be classified as some kind of art. I loved how dark the film’s characters could get, and although Murray is something of a passive protagonist, it’s a part of the film’s plot, and the magnetism the actor brings is enough to keep us invested.
Despite the journey of the film, I still cannot answer the one question I shouldn’t be asking after a film ends: what was the point of it all? Yes, Larry learns important things about life and happiness and suffering. But at the end of the film, when he has no friends left and his fiancée is murdered, he decides to go “home”. “But where is your home, Larry?” the butler asks. “America.” is the reply.
America? What does that even mean? Is the point of this film to show that, after reaching enlightenment, one has no choice but to turn towards nihilism and return to the country of their birth? I just don’t get it, and a majestic shot of Murray ascending a set of stairs doesn’t do much to fool me that that the end of this film has a purpose other than to see the credits roll. It just feels like a wasted opportunity.
I have it on some authority that Wes Anderson is an enormous fan of this film. Seeing Larry, dressed in a white suit, running away from children upon travelling to India, I’m certain that Murray’s character in The Darjeeling Limited is some sort of homage to this film. Do The Razor’s Edge and The Darjeeling Limited both exist within some weird Andersonian multiverse timeline? At the very least, without The Razor’s Edge, we may never have enjoyed the dramatic talents Murray brings to his roles in Anderson’s films.
Thank you for reading what has been my first film “review”. I hope you have enjoyed this piece, and if you have any suggestions on format or any films you would like me to talk about, please leave a comment.