a spoiler-filled quibble with ‘uncut gems’

[This post contains spoilers for Clerks, The Last Jedi, Uncut Gems, American History X.]

I saw Uncut Gems this week and I’m not sure if I enjoyed it—but it’s obviously a very good movie, and I was emotionally invested all throughout, stressed in the way that I think the filmmakers, brothers Josh and Benjamin Safdie, wanted me to be stressed out. Adam Sandler crushes it, as does Julia Fox as his girlfriend and employee, and the whole thing is just really impressive and strong as a work of art.

            But there are forms of suspense that I think are sometimes unfriendly to the audience, where the wire is pulled too tight for too long and doesn’t release—but those kindsa movies, crafting those kindsa moods, can still be very artful and they can capture something uncomfortably real, as is the case with Uncut Gems and its portrait of a self-destructive gambler.

            But at the end of the movie, when Adam Sandler’s character is shot in the face and killed and we see how, for seemingly the first time, everything has gone on to work out in his favor now that he won’t be around to enjoy it, seemed to me like a copout.

            Kevin Smith’s original ending to Clerks showed the protagonist, Dante, getting shot dead suddenly by a thief. Then the movie cut to black. He actually filmed the scene. You can find it on YouTube. He then re-shot it so that the movie ends on a lighter note, wisely, and he’s said, in retrospect, that he killed his hero because he didn’t know how to end his movie in an artful and natural way and, when you can’t end things that way, you resort to the universe’s form of ending: death.

            Killing a protagonist is either a work of cowardice or a work of strength. The killing, for instance, of Luke Skywalker at the end of The Last Jedi was an act of strength as a storyteller. The death of Edward Furlong’s character in American History X is devastating and effective and artful and serves that movie’s purpose in the way that it says, There isn’t always time to change.

            The death of the main character in Uncut Gems has an artful ironic tinge to it. It’s believable and harsh. The twinkling synthesizer score that carries us through those last few minutes adds this strange feeling of mournful whimsy—it’s beautiful in a complicated way.

But I don’t think the death quite works.

            Or is it just that I was really upset with it and I’m feeling resentful at the storytellers for not given me something more uplifting?

            Certainly now, in that purgatorial space between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I’m feeling something similar to what I felt when I left the movie: a kind of emotional hangover. An internal feeling of dehydration and 35mm and pavement and the sterility of polished gems. I’m getting this occasional feeling of deep emotional fatigue that has nothing to do with that movie, but it calls the movie to memory, because it did a strange job of capturing it.

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