21 September 2023


Hardcore: I saw this on Tubi a couple days ago.  First time I've watched it in probably 40 years.  It has held up remarkably well.  The only weak point remains the *Shakespearean* climax. 

I can't think of another film with a flawed *Christian* as central character in which the supposed Christian is actually *fleshed out* in terms of their belief.  Most *Christians* in films, even in relatively successful ones, have their spirituality shallowly depicted.  They may show them silently praying, or singing a hymn from a church pew, or clutching a rosary, but the viewer has no idea what the *Christian* believes.  The character is just *Christian,* the way characters in our contemporary entertainments are just *gay* or *ethnic.*  In Hardcore, writer/director Paul Schrader makes sure you know that main character Jake VanDorn is not only a *Christian,* but a Dutch Reformed Calvinist, and even has the character explain the Calvinist belief to another character, just so the viewer knows exactly what this Christian believes.

Anyway, I suppose most 21st century viewers couldn't care less.  They have their idea what *Christians* are, and nothing in this film would challenge their view.  In other words, you can watch this film without the slightest interest in its theological point of view and still be entertained.

Jake VanDorn (played in his typical gruff blowhard style by George C. Scott) is a Grand Rapids, MI businessman whose daughter goes missing while on a church retreat in California.  VanDorn hires a sleazy LA private investigator (played with great greasy gusto by Peter Boyle) to find her.  It doesn't take the PI long to discover what happened to her, and he seems to really enjoy showing VanDorn his evidence: a low budget porn flick starring the missing daughter.  There's a great scene of George C. Scott sitting in a seedy adult theater watching what he thought was his nice young Christian daughter fornicating with two unwashed hippie-types.

In this day and age, right wing self-proclaimed Christians fixate on sexual sins, from fornication to transgenderism, but they only project an anti-Christ legalism.  They believe unrighteousness is a physical act that violates the law of their legal desires (and just as their Christianity is self-proclaimed, so also are their desires, with neither reflecting their true spirit). 

The greatness of the scene in Hardcore in which VanDorn sees his daughter in the porn flick is that the discerning viewer will understand his anguish is not just from the sordid tangle of naked flesh, but from understanding what has happened to his image of his daughter, whom he had imagined to be a disciple of Christ:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? (I Corin 6:19).

His daughter has become the abomination of desolation, Christ has been rejected, or, more accurately given his Calvinist belief, Christ was never received, she had been merely impersonating a Christian.

Up to this point we have a nearly flawless film, devoid of melodrama or cinematic bombast.  But when the screenplay has VanDorn travel to Los Angeles to try to find his now porn actress daughter, the movie increasingly declines until its rather predictable (violent) climax.  

In his increasingly desperate schemes to find his daughter, VanDorn meets sex worker Niki, and pays her to help him find her.  It is at this point in the film also that George C. Scott stops playing Jake VanDorn and starts playing George C. Scott. As he traverses the gutter world of pornography, playing a supposed devout Dutch Reformed believer, Scott acts more like Patton than Calvin, slapping around anyone who stands in his way.

is saved from Scott's antics by Season Hubley, who delivers a fantastic performance as Niki.  Hubley is completely believable as a sex worker, and performs her skin flick and peepshow booth scenes without a trace of artifice.  She presents the absolute neutrality of carnality, and does so with or without her clothes on.  Considering the era the film was made, it was a daring performance, and remains absolutely emotionally and psychologically authentic.  Paul Schrader's and Season Hubley's Niki is one of most unforgettable characters of the '70s and had an influence on future characters such as Nastassja Kinski's Jane in Paris, Texas
, Melanie Griffith's Lulu in Something Wild and Heather Graham's Rollergirl in Boogie Nights.

The film's devastating final scene, in which VanDorn and Niki go their separate ways, confirms VanDorn's Calvinist belief in limited atonement.

Hardcore is a Dutch Reformed neo-noir pulp thriller. . .and despite a weak ending dependent on tired action movie plotting, it remains, over 40 years later, both thought-provoking and revelatory.

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