The film “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by director Clint Eastwood offers a unique look into the nature of humanity and the presence of post-modern intellectualism in cinema in recent years. This sample movie review analyzes the film in detail and discusses the perception of events in the film.
Midnight of ambiguity
With staunch ambiguity and much speculation on the tolerance of homosexuality, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil directed by Clint Eastwood offers fruitful insight to the paradoxical nature of human beings and provokes a large plethora of existential and post-modern intellectual thought on ontologically puzzling inquisitions.
The film quotes that “truth, like god, is in the eyes of the beholder,” begging the reader to make their own presumptuous assertions as to what actually happened the night of the murder between the characters Jim Williams and Billy Hanson, though as the title of the movie suggests, the events may not be the focus so much as the ambiguity of not knowing what happened, the feeling of being caught between one day another at the strike of the clock as it chimes midnight, having no clear distinction of morality, of what is truly right and wrong.
John Kelso’s interpretation of the events
Journalist and travel writer John Kelso is drawn to the town of Savannah, Georgia, to write an article on the famous Christmas party thrown each year by the eccentric Jim Williams. He is captivated by the idiosyncratic town, with its peculiar inhabitants and obsession with Voo Doo occultist practices. This is to draw the attention towards the audience’s preconceptions of what is generally accepted as normal, tearing apart this idol, giving the town itself its own anthropomorphic values of mystery and wonderment.
The man carries a leash around as if he is walking a deceased dog can be interpreted much like Hamlet’s dilemma with his deceased father; is there really no dog on the leash, simply the actions of a mentally ill, irrational man, or is there a fragment of what is left behind beyond the boundaries of death? To most secularized viewers, the man would appear to be wasting his time in such an absurd task given to him, but to the narrative that the townspeople believe about life after death, there is no insanity in walking the deceased dog’ there is still something within that leash, even from beyond the grave.
Introducing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’s crazy man
In the scene at the diner where John Kelso eats, we are introduced to a character who attached his house flies to himself. As he leaves the dinner without eating, John asks the server what the mysterious bottle he was carrying with him had in it. It was believed that the man carried around poison with him, and if he were to ever be upset enough, he would pour the vile into the potable water reservoir, with enough lethal capacity to neutralize the entire city, and advised John not to drink the water that day, as his awkward staring caused the man to leave the dinner without eating.
Is there an actual dog from a metaphysical realm attached to this reality through a physical leash, and did the man really carry around poison with him, and enough to kill an entire town? There is no true answer, and nor is it important to know. The point of the movie is not to know for sure, and yet also not feel obliged to know what really happened. Serenading at the point between good and evil puts us in the uncanny valley, the point most uncomfortable when we do not know whether to be afraid or trusting, scared or comfortable.
By the end of the movie, we are not sure has Jim shot Hanson “in cold blood or merely self-defense?” (Kelsey).
We are introduced to Jim as someone with a Gatsby-like figure that is suave, smooth and trustworthy. He acquired his own fortune, and now collects antiquarian art and is an accomplished musician. He seems to be smooth with the ladies and very well-known and respected through the small town. At the Christmas party, we feel a certain sort of empathy for Jim, and see him as being a victim due to Billy’s violent outrage.
Jim’s murder trial
During the trial, Jim sticks to the same story throughout, expressing that he simply acted through self-defense. The story gets more complicated, intertwining sexual escapades and Voo-Doo rituals to further gray the lines between white and black.
There are no colors here; there are only shades of blindness and deception. Jim tells John that he specifically requested him to write the story of the party, and read John’s book. We see Jim confiding in John, letting him in on a personal level, closer than most people get. When the shots are fired and John runs to the house to see Jim getting questioned, he can’t believe that something this horrible happened, and believes that Jim is innocent, as does most of the audience.
By the end, Jim recounts his story with different details, saying that the reason there is no residue on Hanson’s extremities is because he never fired a shot; the gun jammed up as Billy was about to shoot, and Jim murdered the young man. We start to question whether or not Jim is actually an innocent victim now, acting out of self-defense, or if the change in details makes him a cold-blooded killer who could have avoided the situation.
Lady Chablis and LGBT themes in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
While the sexual orientation of the transgender Lady Chablis is exaggeratingly defined, the actual identity of her to the rest of the town remains in a state of unknowingness, as citizens are not sure if they should address her as a woman or as a man. This ambiguity further demonstrates the complex situation that Jim Williams finds himself in when trying to defend his character and relationship with Hanson.
The two had sexual encounters in the past, but revealing this to all of the townspeople would seemingly spoil his reputation and make his mother view him with disappointment. It is quite unclear, especially when Jim tells of his romantic encounters as just natural exchanges of sexual gratitude and a girlfriend on the side, if he is actually homosexual or not.
The point of the movie is not to know, or to lean to one side or the other, necessarily, but instead to think about both sides equally, and try to find out what lines we draw to distinct good from evil, and how blurry it truly can be. John asks what really happened that night, and we are left with no answer to the final event that took place on that fateful night. Jim dies in the end; does this mean that Billy has done justice to himself, and that was why he refused to leave the realm of the physical? The ambiguity is unsettling, but that Is what makes it so intriguing.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Clint Eastwood. Malpaso Productions. 1997. Film.
Kelsey, E. Benjamin. “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Review.” KillerMovies, 9, 12, 1997. Web. Nov. 2013.