To Die For Was Chillingly Ahead of Its Time About the Vanity of Fame
Halloween is the perfect time to revisit horror films of all kinds, and Gus Van Sant’s 1995 film To Die For is more of a black comedy-drama crime film, but there is certainly something chilling about it.
Spoilers for To Die For.
Loosely based on the Pamela Smart case, the movie tells the story of Suzanne Stone-Maretto, a blonde WASP narcissist who has always held aspirations of being on television as a broadcast journalist. Despite not being that bright, Suzanne is beautiful (I mean, it is Nicole Kidman) and has a sort a enthralling look that draws people in before they realize how shallow she is.
She marries an Italian musician/bartender named Larry Maretto, who she calls “ethnic” in the most cringe way. His family is well off due to owning a restaurant, and this keeps Suzanne financially stable while she attempts to join a local cable station. She applies as an assistant and, due to just being annoying as hell, manages to get promoted as the station’s evening weather reporter.
Larry wants kids and starts asking Suzanne to give up her career and, instead, start a family with him. Of course, that isn’t going to work for the fame-obsessed Suzanne, who begins plotting to get rid of him by seducing one of the teenage subjects of her “documentary” Teens Speak Out, Jimmy, played by a young Joaquin Phoenix.
Jimmy and his accomplice, Russell (played by a young Casey Affleck), fake a robbery and kill Larry. While there is some evidence of Suzanne’s involvement, she ends up getting it thrown out and, now in the limelight, slanders Larry’s legacy, calling him a drug addict. Larry’s family has Suzanne killed in revenge, and the final scene is Larry’s sister ice skating over Suzanne’s body, which is now lying in a frozen lake, while “Season of the Witch” plays over.
Nicole Kidman is a powerhouse performer, but she is electric as Suzanne, which is why this role launched her career in a whole new direction. She knows the perfect way to make her unlikable, and yet you can’t look away from her. She is a toxic lean-in girlboss before all those terms existed, because all she wants to do is take and hold power—power for herself and power over others.
Suzanne Stone is a horror villain, a living breathing narcissist who weaponizes everyone around her. It doesn’t just make her a sex symbol or femme fatale, while that element is still there. She is privileged and has never been told no. We don’t need a “Karen” movie (yes, that’s really happening); Suzanne is a Karen in all of its glory, and it is a chilling thing to behold.
Not to mention her lamentations about what it means to be a celebrity feel so predictive of the social media world, in which people can craft whole personas and narratives. Being famous for being terrible is something people do now, and I feel like Suzanne would be an excellent beauty influencer.
If you haven’t seen To Die For yet, it is an excellent story and told in a fun creative way that makes it rich for rewatching again and again.
(image: Sony Pictures Releasing)
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