Finite Focus: Death and the Maiden (The Rules of Attraction)

Rules of Attraction - One SheetHappy Valentine’s Day folks. To prove that a few of us in the third row have a bit of a macabre sense of humour and romance, todays finite focus continues the theme of teen suicide.

When we were recording Cinecast #78, the subject of Roger Avery‘s adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis‘ college-sex-love-pain satire The Rules of Attraction came up. The film seems to have more detractors than defenders, although I lay in the latter camp. There is a style, one that is often relentless, and the willingness to go for the gut punch without undermining the characters (which float between cardboard types yet have so many ‘human touches’ on display too, particularly the ability to hurt others so unconsciously and yet be hurt so easily). There are easily three, perhaps even more, knock out scenes in the film. The other two are Victor’s European vacation montage, as well as a split-screen sequence that ends with two characters (and their respective split screens) merging as they meet.

But I want to focus on this particular on screen suicide (yay Valentine’s Day). The scene is glamourized to the point where it is completely irresponsible. But before we get all high and mighty about the this sort of thing consider that the film (and for that matter most of Ellis‘ novels) is giving us satire; and unfortunately satire is often a misunderstood art. On display for this sequence is the pop song “Without You” providing a cozy soundtrack; along with close-up shots of Theresa Wayman‘s face, a mix of sadness, pain, desire, resignation (?); ; fetishizing the event by lighting candles; a shot of jewelry and a razor blade; explicit opening of veins; a bathtub of blood with artfully deceased body; and finally, a nice cinematic short-hand of the drops of water running, running, slowing, stopping. It is a tour-de-force sequence of pointless and selfish angst elevated to epic tragedy. And the kicker is that this character does not even have a name, barely any of the other characters in the film even notice her up to the point where she is a dead body. Yes, it’s dark. But I will vouchsafe that it is great pop-art too. I think Andy Warhol would be proud.

Check the video out behind the cut.

Kurt Halfyard
Resident culture snob.


  1. I've always had a problem with this scene (see Cinecast episode 78). The scene on its own is incredibly well done and is *perfect* for Valentine's Day.

    With the rest of the movie though, it is a completely different tone and it jerked me out of the movie so hard I ended up not liking the movie as much. Whenever I watch this movie now, I almost always turn it off just before this point. Because the other scenes you mentioned are terrific (see show notes for Cinecast 78 for the other GREAT scene).

    I also like the Michel Gondry-esque backwards' shot through the party (I think it's near the beginning).

  2. Rusty. You are correct. The three that are flash-frozen in by brain I mention, but the more I think about this criminally underrated film the more sequences come to mind. I love the Wickerman set-piece, Any time Cliff Curtis is on screen, and so many other moments.

    It's funny how much I hate Bret Easton Ellis's novels, yet I find the two recent films (American Psycho, The Rules of Attraction) to be so compelling and vibrant.

  3. BTW, this is the 25th Entry into the FINITE FOCUS column. If you'd be so kind as to offer a little feedback on these "micro-articles + Clip"

    Do you like? Not deep enough? Too Deep? etc. All comments and criticisms welcome.

  4. I like them if I've seen the film. Without context and just watching a clip from a movie and your explanation makes me a feel a bit clueless and possibly even spoilerific.

    Hence very little commentary by me on the last few. Having said that, it does usually encourag me to put the film in my queue, so all is good with me.

  5. I'm with Andrew. Awesome when I've seen the film and when I haven't, it usually prompts me to add them to my queue as well. And I love the fact that the films are all over the board (classics, horror etc). Good job guys!

  6. I think Finite Focus is a pretty cool column. So often when people discuss the great scenes of cinema they only talk about the most famous ones. I like your choices because they seem more personal.

  7. I have only read one, because only one of the scenes being described is one that I have previous experience with (the Lord of War title sequence). Since you ask, I didn't think it was deep enough, but I don't really make any demands on something like this, since you do it for free, and I get it for free.

  8. I love Rules of Attraction, but the signature scene of the movie of the split screen that ends with the conversation and her grabbing his glasses, is such a humongous mistake, because then they combine the two shots into one, and you see she's like 10 feet away or so and her grabbing his sunglasses would be physically impossible unless she's the stretchy dude from Fantastic Four.


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