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The Oxford Murders (2008)
There is no way of finding a single absolute truth
Filmmaker(s): Álex de la Iglesia

At Oxford University, a professor and a grad student work together to try and stop a potential series of murders seemingly linked by mathematical symbols.

The Oxford Murders (2008)

Talk Around Her

It is simply a fact that no film can stand by itself. Even when you deeply lose yourself in the experience, the cognitive machinery you use is different than in daily life — more toward directed dreamstate. Added to that is the knowledge of actors. When I see some actors, they carry prior roles or real world personalities into the narrative; that perturbs the experience. In this case, it adds deeply.

The overall shape of this is promising. It uses three ideas.

  • the detective story was invented as a response to Darwinism and the fears of Victorian society; because there was the threat of universal explanation through ‘science,‘ free will vanished. So at the same time that Conan Doyle was created a superlogical observer, many others (and indeed including himself) were flocking to supernatural believes. (We still see this today.) So it makes great sense to have our detective be the greatest logician in the land. He is indeed an emeritus at Oxford, struggling with the limits of logic. Logic is presented here in the intelligent sense of mathematical logic and though they get Wittgenstein wrong, the conceptual placement is right.
  • one thread of this is the supposed dramatic conflict between passions of the mind and the flesh. This is a pretty common notion with mathematicians in films, something akin to evil mania underlying brilliant scientists. The reason we tolerate it is because it helps to move passion of vision into a space that can be conveyed by film. For many mathematicians, insight can as often be orgasmic as ecstatic, so at least the intent works.
  • detective stories these days have to have clever twists and more than one reveal and false ending. This has some particularly clever twists, in some measure related to the two threads above.

All in all, though the execution isn’t glorious, the elements add by merely existing. But then for me it was terrific because of what I bring to it. I know many of the places where this was filmed, and I know characters somewhat like everyone depicted. But it is the actors that expanded this way beyond its bounds.

Let’s start with the love interest, a woman who fell in love with two mathematicians and regrets it. This is something of an anchor for me because this is played by the woman who was ‘her‘ in ‘Talk to Her.‘ She had allure and mystery in that film that was so overwhelming she carried it to here, though the photography is not friendly to her. The faces are lit will stark lighting on one side as if we are supposed to get the idea of hidden identity.

There is an older woman, a mathematical curmudgeon. She is played by a 71 year old actress, with a distinctive face and manor. She was the anchor of a famous film ‘Peeping Tom‘ where she was the innocent redhead target. (All the women in that Powell film were, including his lover.) This self-referential film was so controversial that the director was blackballed. You can never see this woman, still lovely, without recalling that role.

Oh gosh, and thrown in we have Frodo Baggins and Princess Irulan Corrino! Wow, talk about a mix! But everyone seems to have been cast knowing these associations.

Posted in 2011

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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