Eyes Of Laura Mars – Irvin Kershner – 1978



One of my two favorite types of stories are stories about the effect of art on its’ audience. It is an incredibly delicate tale to spin but there are some great little gems out there if you know where to look. Take for example Irving Kershner’s Eyes Of Laura Mars. Stemming from a superb John Carpenter script, the film is expertly molded by Kershner into a thrilling mystery that is enriched with multiple viewings.

Faye Dunaway stars as Laura Mars, a famous photographer who takes her inspiration from visions of graphic violence she experiences. Laura sees through the eyes of the killers. She then re-creates these things in photographs. So far this reads as the artist, (Carpenter, Kershner), examining the reason guys like them put these violent images in films. We see violence in the world and we reflect it in our art. Simple enough.

Faye is very good as a troubled artist, who is possessed to create the images in her mind. She delicately treads between unnerved and displaced. It’s hard to call her a strong female protagonist, as she is in intense terror for much of the film. Her character is basically the artist under attack.

So then the story goes that someone begins to kill those around Laura in her circle, terrorizing her world. Tommy Lee Jones plays the policeman who decides (?) to protect her?

Jones has the crazy haircut sported by Javier Bardem in No Country but plays a down the line New York cop. He’s as compelling as he always is but plays as subtle a truth as I have ever seen without ever betraying his character.  As you watch the film over and over his character never lies, yet never spoils the truth.

I have to spoil the film to really talk about it so go watch the film and then come back.



Awesome right? Tommy Lee Jones is the killer. So when you watch this film a second time, his every line re-enforces this truth. When Laura asks him who would want to kill her, he replies someone who thinks what she does is sick and puts sickness into the world.

So then, the story goes that the two of these characters fall in love! This seems improbable, but, hey, Tommy Lee Jones is charming.

The art of Laura Mars drives Tommy Lee Jones to murder people. But after he gets to know her he re-evaluates his position on her art. While being a compelling narrative this thread clearly posits that maybe large portions of the public misinterpret many artistic endeavors. By making the killer a cop the writers are suggesting that authority figures are first and foremost those who misunderstand these violent and sordid stories.

So the film is a comment on the inability to see more clearly the inspirations and reflections present in tales of carnage. Furthermore, Laura takes her inspiration, and even draws her occupation from a type of voyeuristic vision. Like the audience watching the film, Laura’s eyes take in and re-process the visual information present in these scenes of death. Just as Tommy Lee Jones character re-evaluates Laura’s motives, the audience should also re-evaluate their view of the motives of horror filmmakers.

It is rare that a horror film makes the case for the existence of horror films in the world, but few do it so gracefully and with such entertaining punch. The pace of the film is hot, moving quickly from twisted set-up to gruesome payoff, while constantly raising the stakes, always making it seem like Laura could be the next victim. And since the audience sees through Laura’s eyes, they are Laura. If she feels the threat, so too should they.

In the end, authority and the artist end up in bed together and where the lust for one another begins, integrity as an artist or serial killer goes out the window. Does she thwart his plan, or is it only by virtue of his getting to know and falling in love with the artist that Tommy Lee Jones is changed?

Clearly nutbags are going to be crazy no matter what types of films they see, but films such as a Clockwork Orange and Videodrome, remind us of the incredible power the visual medium has over our brain. Eyes Of Laura Mars is the brave horror film that risks negating its purpose in an exploration of its own morality to astonishing effect. 


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