• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Cult Column: Under the Silver Lake

ByFlorence O'Neill

Feb 28, 2023
Andrew Garfield speaking into a microphone

This article contains film spoilers.

CW: suicide, rape

I am not entirely sure what I watched when I watched Under the Silver Lake, but one thing I can say for sure was that there were a lot of boobs. This film hopes to comment on misogyny, referencing pop culture and alluding to other great films, blurring our understanding of conspiracy and hazy LA days.

A24 films are on a whole other planet. I really didn’t know what to take from this film initially and it involved a lot of thinking and reading to really understand the point that David Robert Mitchel wanted to imply. In a nutshell, the rich are crazy, and men are disgusting – even the ones that want to get to the bottom of a woman who has been killed.

Sam, played by Andrew Garfield, is a single man living alone in an apartment complex outside of the city of Los Angeles. He doesn’t seem to have a job and is struggling to pay the rent even though we often see him buying food and drinks, going to fancy parties and on occasion hiring a prostitute. He has a somewhat causal relationship with a girl known as ‘The Actress’ and not giving her a name adds to the objectification and disregard of women throughout the film.

One of the only women who has a name is Sarah (Riley Keough), the girl who goes missing and is thought to have died along with a millionaire Jefferson Sevence (Chris Gann). This shows that women only matter when they are missing. This could also allude to Missing White Woman Syndrome. When a missing person is white, female, and attractive there is usually huge coverage on the news. However, when a missing person is neither white, female, or attractive there is less attention given to the case. It appears nobody was looking for the black woman who was found with her.

Sam is seen near the beginning of the film sitting on his balcony on the phone to his mother holding binoculars to look at a topless woman tending to her birds, a reference to the brilliant Hitchcock film Rear Window. Now in this case it is likely that ‘Topless Bird Woman,’ as she is named, was an exhibitionist. However when Sam visits one of his friends we see the friend with a drone flying it to a woman’s house to spy on her. The drone catches her coming into the house, taking off her shirt leaving her in a bra and jeans, then she just starts crying. Sam leaves feeling uncomfortable, not because they are perving on a half-naked woman, but because she is crying. All the women in the film are seen through the male gaze, but this scene just takes the reigns in being the most unrealistic depiction of a woman. I don’t know anyone who would get home, take off their shirt and cry.

This film’s plot is based on conspiracy. Sam assumes that Sarah is missing or dead. He forgets that she could have agency and leave on her own accord, assuming that anything happening must be at the hands of a man. He also sees the hat she wore on a news report and believes that could only have been hers The ending ties together the connection with the mega rich in LA in which Sam encounters often on his quest to find the truth and the film confirms what we all think. Wealthy Angelenos are fucking insane. The whole plot is concluded by the rich believing they are prepping for a better life, building bunkers underground covered by 50ft of concrete where they will eat, drink, fuck and then ascend like the Pharoah’s did. Absolute madness. 

One figure that appears incomprehensible is The Owl’s Kiss. A figure from folklore, a naked woman with only an owl mask on who seduces and kills men and women alike. She is horrifying. My personal take is that she is a symbol of women reclaiming their power, but then this can lose its validity as she isn’t just killing men. Yet this would be why she appears so scary, and why Sam fears her. She is naked but she isn’t ‘sexy’, she is terrifying. The way she walks around the house when we see her on footage is chilling. Another suggestion is that she embodies suicide and in reality this is what happened to ‘Comic Fan’ who Sam believes was killed by this mythic figure.

The cinematography and content of the film is very trippy. We are constantly unsure and confused about the film leading to a lot of thought when the credits start to roll in. To me this means that Mitchel has done his job. We are thinking about women, misogyny, the male gaze, and the crazy upper class. We are regarding all the things that men have done wrong. I do however believe that the film could have benefitted from having more of a female insight, and that films critiquing men are often done better and more thoughtfully at the hands of a woman. At times, the point of criticising objectification got lost in actually objectifying the women in the film.

Although the films subject matter is different, I would like to bring to mind Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri by Martin McDonagh who did an excellent job in directing a film about a mothers journey dealing with the aftermath of her daughter being raped and murdered. It’s a fantastic, brutal and moving depiction dealing with this grief and expressing the sickening actions men can inflict on women. Although these films vary in content and genre, they still are men commenting on problems that effect women. I’m not saying that men can’t critique misogyny, I’m merely suggesting that Under the Silver Lake, though bold, occasionally missed the mark.

Image “Andrew Garfield by Gage Skidmore (cropped)” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.