Directed by Joel Schumacher, who directed BATMAN AND ROBIN and A TIME TO KILL, EIGHT MILLIMETER takes the viewer into a world few would venture to go: the world of hardcore pornography, to find who created a “snuff” film, a movie about the real murder of a young runaway girl. This ultra-nasty subject matter is revealed as the vile, evil industry that it is able to weaken the strongest men and discussed as an operation of Satan himself.
Nicolas Cage stars as Tom Welles, a surveillance specialist, or private eye. Until now, he has done mild unfaithful spouse observance and the like. He has a modest, home-based practice in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he lives with his beloved wife Amy (Catherine Keener) and baby daughter, Cindy.
One day, Welles is called in by Mrs. Christian (Myra Carter), an elderly, rich woman, to examine an 8mm film which she found in her recently deceased husband’s safe. The 8mm film depicts a scared teenage girl being murdered by a masked man. Naturally, she wants to know if the film is real, if the girl was really killed, and if her husband was involved in its making. Welles says he will take a couple weeks and look into it.
Welles discovers the identity of the girl and talks with her mother, who doesn’t know if her daughter is alive or dead. As Welles investigates, a streetwise adult bookstore clerk, Max (Joaquin Phoenix), aids him. Max takes him into even deeper underground porn sellers. So deep, in fact, that it becomes dangerous. All the time, Welles calls his wife and realizes how much he misses her and the safety of his domestic environment. Eventually, Welles and Max are captured by a hardcore pornographer, who threatens them with their very lives. A few of those involved in the pornography ring are killed, as the awful truth is exposed and retribution is brought down upon the offenders.
Why did Schumacher make this movie? He says, “It became clear to me after reading the script that you don’t have to go to the jungle or go to war to deal with extreme horrors. They can be right in your backyard (Premiere magazine, 02/99).”
Even so, does this justify its existence? In this movie, there are men and women in bondage gear, faked snuff films, dark alleys, and complete depravity. Even Welles takes vengeance into his own hand and commits murder. (He justifies this by asking the girl’s mother permission to hurt those who hurt her daughter. What kind of justice is that?) Furthermore, a pornographer’s mother is revealed as a churchgoing Christian, implicating perhaps that the power of Christ is not strong enough to stop this madness.
This movie continually exposes the darkness of what it explores with self-referential exclamations of its sinfulness. For example, Max says to Welles, “There are things you’ll see that you can’t ever un-see. You can’t change the Devil, the Devil changes you.” The loveless sex of the porn world is also contrasted with the love between Max and his wife. The victim’s mother thanks Welles for finding the offenders and bringing them down.
The actuality of a genuine snuff film is in dispute even among actual pornographers living today, including Larry Flynt (Premiere, 02/99). Murder and death are caught on police videos and other tapes all the time. However, the definition of a snuff film is pre-meditated murder on an unknowing victim and distributed for pornographic purposes. Logic would dictate that a murderer would try to eliminate any evidence of his crime, not distribute it, and, hence, actual snuff films are rare, if not myths.
For all its grotesqueries, this movie is a bizarre commentary on those of us who are fascinated with actual harm caught on tape or film. Currently, Fox Television shows programs called, “When Animals Attack,” “When Good Times Go Bad,” “World’s Scariest Police Chases,” and more. These highly watched programs tout that nobody depicted was killed, as if to preserve a sense of dignity, but the intent of the producers is clear: to shock, titillate and excite the viewer. Furthermore, any R-rated action movie is going to have countless faked murders, which, in the minds of many filmmakers, is a catharsis for the public. (They ignore countless studies proving a correlation between screen violence and actual violence.)
Hence, it is ironic that Schumacher constantly attacks the snuff film, while faking snuffs, or murders, in many of his movies. One could even say that Spielberg, Cameron and other Hollywood types are snuff directors. One way to stop murder on film from being produced is to stop viewing it. Then all the 35mm movies and their makers will have to change their storylines.
Strong pagan worldview within world of hardcore pornography with some moral elements including cries out to God, pleas for salvation & familial love; 58 obscenities & 4 profanities; strong violence including implied murder by cutting, implied suicide, man knocked into empty pool, kicking, beating, man's throat slit, man shot with crossbow, & arson; strong sexuality including implied pornography use & production, oral sex implied, married couple briefly depicted intercourse, implied masturbation, & stripping; alcohol use; smoking; and, lying & extreme perversion.