Simon Killer is essentially Leaving Las Vegas repackaged and diluted for the Hipster age. Instead of an alcoholic moving to the blood-sucking, soulless and hopeless city of Las Vegas, it’s a post-grad, elecro-rock-loving kid moving to Paris to get over a break-up. Leaving Las Vegas showed the dark-side of the glamorized but unlikely dreams of one city; Simon Killer takes an admired cultural capital and attempts to show how loneliness and sadness can exist even in the most glamorous locations. Both rely heavily on the “whore with the heart of gold” stereotype to show the damaged man the way.
Simon (Brady Corbet) is a blatant misogynist. One of the first things we hear him say is call his ex-girlfriend “a whore,” and he calls at least two women “cunts” and tells his mother that he’ll like his new girlfriend because “she’s not a bitch, haha.” You will never, ever like Simon, and you aren’t supposed to. When you’re disappointed or saddened, it’s because you thought he was showing signs of being a better person; you can only imagine what the women of the story must feel like. He wanders aimlessly around Paris, and Campos lets loose his love for the Dardennes with tracking shots pointing at the back of his head as he wanders around a Paris that could be any other city, with nothing special about it except the French women.
The problems arise in both craft and storytelling, however. A portrayal of a disillusioned misogynist is not misogynist in and of itself. The Social Network spun a tale of technological innovation around its protagonist’s hopes of getting back at his ex and winning over women in the process; it was no surprise that the only women who would be attracted to him were a bit on the crazy side, and there were a pair of characters (the ex and Rashida Jones’ lawyer) who served to display the contrast in small but crucial supporting roles. But The Social Network was a point-of-view story, Simon Killer has at least one foot in realism, so why the camera, whether it’s Simon’s point-of-view or not, continues to fragment the female body and shoot conversations at crotch-level specifically when women are involved is somewhat of a mystery. Why Victoria (Mati Diop), our kind-hearted prostitute, is punished for her profession and Simon gets away with being himself is a more difficult question to answer. Why the women in this film are all the flattest, least sympathetic and motiveless stereotypes I have seen in quite some time is also a tough question to tackle.
Not doing anything to help is Corbet, whose portrayal of Simon is so devoid of charisma or intrigue that the mere fact that the story occurs at all becomes difficult to swallow. He scowls and tells lies in unconvincing monotone, relying on an unchanging brood to carry the film for 100 minutes. That Campos’ character reveals and obfuscations are so ill-timed that they lack any insight and provoke eye-rolls is even worse. Why do we learn what we do when we do? What do we come to understand from the characters at that point? And how come simple matters that govern the film’s internal logic, particularly regarding Simon’s money (and blackmailing plans) are so flagrantly inconsistent as to become an overwhelming distraction? Very little of how Simon Killer is told provides any form of insight to loneliness and Simon’s entitled delusion.
Attempts to penetrate Simon’s psyche, mostly done through a hip soundtrack that includes LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean” in a memorably confused scene, fall short. Simon walks around Paris listening to music, but the music is never used in a way that tells us anything about what Simon is really going through. Lonely people listen to music a lot, yes. Simon is lonely, okay. What do we know now that we didn’t know in the film’s first five minutes? Nothing.
That’s the problem that plagues Simon Killer. When it ends, we have learned a bit about Simon but nothing about the larger thematic concerns that govern the story and characterize him. Even in the film’s better half (which is by far the second), when the film sheds repetition and boredom in an attempt to make things happen and implicate Oedipal desires (note that his mother is Mary and one girl he falls for is Marianne) among other things, the events are predictable clichés and the explanations are presented so obtusely it’s hard to extract anything from it. Simon Killer’s seedy realism creates atmosphere but fails to capture any interesting images, just as the storytelling suggests character but fails to reward investment.