In the late '70s Schrader used to make films almost as great as Scorsese's. "Blue Collar" and "Hardcore" are both fantastically realistic and ambiguous, simultaneously horrifying and funny. So, what happened? Except for Nick Nolte's performance (which as good as it was, is easily topped by George C. Scott's amazing one here), nothing in Schrader's recent "Affliction" is anywhere near the level of "Hardcore," which ususally gets only a ridiculouly low 2 stars from critics.
The great thing about "Hardcore" is that it doesn't cheat on reality by having stereotypical characters or idiotic "Magnolia-like" cynical cartoons running around like aliens from another planet pretending to be portraying people on this one. Scott's character is often made to look so absurd, walking around preaching rigid Calvinist ethics to hookers, you can't help but sympathize for his girl having run away. Even making a living in cheap porno films can be seen as preferable to having to put up with a father like Scott. When Scott beats up "Jism Jim" in the shower for having unknowingly made a hateful remark about his daughter's sexual hunger and wildness when performing fellatio, you can't help but feel the real reason for Scott's anger. Scott erupts so volcanically because he can't imagine his 'pure' daughter being so "staved" for sexual attention that she'd be willing to go that wild for a degenerate like "Jism Jim." It's reality that hits him in the face like a cold slap; the fact of his having repressed his daughter all these years into a 'nice girl' and of her having had secret desires that had gone unsatisfied or without even a hope of being satisfied under the repressed conditions which she lived. Nevertheless, the ending is definitely NOT a happy one as some people suggest; it is a highly ambiguous one. After telling her father that she wasn't forced to do what she did, and that she did it because she chose and wanted to do it, she nevertheless decides that the sleazy, dangerous world she's caught up in is not where she'd like to find her happiness, and goes back with her father FOR THE TIME BEING. This does not mean that she's decided to go back to what she was before, but that she's intelligent enough to know that she has to strike a balance between the two extremes. So, in a sense, it is a happy ending, if you can imagine that from now on her father will let her live a freer life, and that she'll be able to assert herself and be independent. However, that is anything but certain, and she might end up having to run away again. But if George C. Scott has learned anything in his misadventures in the world of low-rent porn and prostitution, it is to be less judgemental and more sympathetic to people and will have to strike a balance himself. In the end he has come to care enough for 'fallen people,' to want to also help the hooker Nicky, who helped him find his daughter, but for whom it seems to be too late.
Jake Van Dorn is a businessman from the American heartland who shares strong Calvinist convictions with most of his countrymen. His teenage daughter is missing from her church youth convention trip to California and Van Dorn hires a private investigator to find her. The result of the investigation is his daughter is spotted in a cheap X-rated movie. Van Dorn decides to bring her back personally and during the quest he becomes familiar with the pornographic underworld.
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