|The Plot: Jake Vandorn (George C. Scott) is a business owner and upstanding community man in his home town of Grand Rapids. His wife having left him, he has raised his daughter by himself and has done a respectable job of it. When he sends her off to a bible camp of some sort with another family member, it isn’t long before he hears that his daughter has went missing. He travels to California where she was last seen, in LA and asks around before finding a private detective. The private eye (Peter Boyle) takes the case and vows to find her, and after a few weeks he does find… something. He brings back a film can with him to see Jake, where he shows him the footage of his daughter in a threeway with two other males in a seedy silent stag film. She looks terribly uninterested and might be drugged. Jake’s world is shattered, his beautiful and sweet daughter involved in a world like this. Jake travels to LA to meet with his private eye shortly thereafter, and is forced to start his own investigation. Now Jake finds himself in a world he doesn’t understand and on the track of a daughter he isn’t even sure is still alive anymore.|
The Review: “If you look at anything from the inside it makes sense! You should hear perverts talk… one guy almost had me convinced to let his German Shepard screw me!” – from the mouth of a porno actress/stripper talking to George C. Scott about his religious beliefs. This little comment doesn’t exactly encompass the entire drive or motivation of Paul Schrader’s Hardcore, but it comes in one of those moments where Scott’s character tries his best to relate to one of these bottomed out young people in this world of depravity – only to find a blank endless sea of filth brimming just under the surface. In this day and age it has become more taboo to talk down on the pornography industry than it has to speak up for it. In this world after Howard Stern and Jenna Jameson, we have sanitized the view of porno so much that a film like Hardcore probably couldn’t even be made. 8MM which came out in 1999 seemed to take a lot of influence (that’s a technical term for stealing, folks, though I will say I’m a big 8mm fan too) from Hardcore but in that film it is mainly focused on the seediest sides of fetishism even at that time. I’m not coming down like a preacher here, that would be pretty hypocritical of me. You think a lonely guy who knows a decent as much about technology and the internet like me doesn’t, you know, have his ways of finding things? Of course, but just because you buy the product doesn’t mean you have to buy everything the salesman slings your way. From everything I have seen, the pornography business has always been and will always be made up of many people unfortunately confused about many things – and now they are making millions off of it. However in 1979, things were unfortunately even worse than they are now. AIDS had not come along yet, but the drug use was at an escalated rate and people in America were still trying to party like the 1960’s. It’s a case of pick your poison, but this world in which Hardcore takes place, although it seems exaggerated, is close to perversion of our obsessed culture and our unrequited search for the next kink. We eat too much, we drink too much, we consume too much and as Scott’s character points out – behind every marketing campaign is someone telling us this or that will get us sex.
The film itself is nowhere near as preachy as I probably seem about right now. The character of Jake, played so brilliantly by one of my favorite actors in George C. Scott, is far from being perfect. No man or woman ever can be, but what can be seen as righteousness from the character is simply his not being as corrupted as the rest of these characters. His vice isn’t of the sexual variety, but one coming from pride. Although I am not familiar with his denomination of Christianity, which seems to follow some far different beliefs than I have heard, his pride and own self indulgence gets in the way of his own spiritual behavior. His focus on his daughter is intense and leaves no room for others, as he wanders through this corrupt and putrid version of California’s sexual underground. When coming upon a young porn actress who takes over the role of his sidekick in the latter half of the film, instead of trying to help this poor confused girl his pride gets in the way. He puts his own morality above her and instead of hearing her stories, he simply shuns her and tells her he would rather not hear about that side of her life. Jake isn’t perfect, but unlike this lawless society underground where everything can be bought and sold, he at least attempts to be a good man. Paul Schrader’s film doesn’t deliver a cut and dry definition of the moral compass one should have while watching the film – so all audiences are going to walk away with a different opinion. I have read opinion pieces where Jake is considered the “villain” of the film, and his quest for his daughter in this underworld is puritanical and baseless without reason. However, if this were true, I think Schrader would have provided more evidence for the audience. Something more than the “big reveal” in the final minutes of the film. Jake doesn’t come across as a bigoted man in my opinion, just a close minded one. He knows his home, he understands the morality there but he does not understand this lawless place with these insidious human beings and he simply doesn’t care to try and understand them. There’s a fair enough line between hate and indifference, and I think Jake walks that line through the picture. Indifference in such subjects, when you can be helping rather than ignoring is a sin of its own however, and no one leaves this film clean. The loss of his daughter can be placed at the man’s feet, but I think at the end of the film it seems obvious that this is just another poor and confused little girl – used and abused by a faceless system; much like the girl who desperately seeks Jake’s help the only difference is one child is his and the other is not.
There’s nothing simple about Hardcore, it is a tough and brilliant film that leaves you with a million questions and the need to talk about it desperately. It is beautiful in the way it was filmed and features several amazing performances that will not be easily forgotten. George C. Scott was such a tremendous talent, who much like Lee J. Cobb – always delivered the heavy performances. Here he is a more mild mannered person trapped under unfortunate circumstances and more often than not subtle in all of his movies – showing just how fantastic he truly was. Every time i see him in just about any film I am always amazed, and I have to say he was under utilized by the Hollywood system. He had an outstanding career, but even if he made two hundred Patton’s, Hardcore’s or Dr. Strangelove’s I still don’t think we the film viewing world would have seen the bottom of his talent. I highly recommend everyone reading this check out Hardcore as soon as possible if you haven’t already. I think the film speaks for itself and you’ll more than likely be left speaking about it once you see it. I came close to giving it a five out of five, but decided at the last second to go with the four. There’s still a bit of ambiguity that could have been cleared up in the film I think; but as it is – Hardcore is an amazing film that I think should have a much larger audience than it currently does.