Among the more difficult things to pull off in cinema, being eccentric would rank pretty high on the list. Not only because the path leading to it is non-linear, but also the one which is seldom trudged on. And also because of its inherent nature – unpredictability. This is one terrain where anything goes, and anything is acceptable, as long as it makes sense, or better, doesn’t. The grammar, the syntax, and other miscellaneous stiffness are not only pliable, but at times, they are conspicuous by their mere absence. What’s also interesting is, these movies play out a little differently as compared to, say, comedies. There’s no fixed set of gags or dialogue pieces. Everything has to be segued into a situation or context, because lunacy by itself is not that appealing. But when lunacy is present in controlled measures, and on top of it, controlled by someone with a shrewd, perceptive eye, the result is quite intoxicating. There’s nothing quite like a self-aware mad man, is there?
Marty (Collin Farrell) is a screenwriter in Los Angeles who’s having trouble drafting his latest screenplay. He has a title ready though. He’s calling it the ‘Seven Psychopaths’. Sadly, that’s the only thing he as written. And to compound his problems, he’s an alcoholic, who has trouble keeping his personal life afloat. He is toying around with a few ideas, but nothing has propelled him to come up with something substantial. Until his interaction with Billy (Sam Rockwell) increases. Billy’s a dog kidnapper. What’s an alcoholic screenwriter doing with a dog kidnapper? That’s the least obfuscating question the movie doesn’t answer. Billy has kidnapped Shih Tzu, a gangster’s dog. And the gangster will not take it lying down, but then, Billy is no pushover either. This is not a fight between the good and the evil, neither is it between the oppressor and the oppressed. It’s a strange rivalry between two comprehensively demented people. The more demented would win at the end of the day, or at the very least, should.
The crux of Seven Psychopaths, motif-wise, is quite profound – absurdity. There are scenes of such bizarre flippancy that besides humor, their end can be nothing but pointlessness. Also, here absurdity, is not probed into, rather is just presented like that, almost in its skeletal form. The group of zany, motley characters makes for a heady concoction; it’s puzzling that throughout its entire time almost nothing in the movie is played out linearly. It’s a universe popularized by the Tarantinos, and the Guy Ritchies; this bizarre blend of quasi real-life comic situations married with high-kinetic violence. But there’s a fundamental difference between the world in which the Seven Psychopaths is set in and Tarantino’s world. That being, in tarantino movies, the ultimate payoff is violence whose final repercussion is quite grim and somber, but that payoff is delayed by humor. In Seven Psychopaths, the way to final payoff is quite similar (absurdity), but the ultimate pay off is not even close to somber. In some of the cases, even the payoff is comically absurd, just like the means. If you ask me, I think it’s quite a refreshing stylistic diversion.
There are a couple of scenes in the movie which makes it a fantastic meta movie, something like Kaufman’s Adaptation, where the actors within the movie debate the logistics of how their movie should turn out to be. In one such scene, Hans (Christopher Walkin) asks Matt, “Your women characters are terrible. They are either getting killed or are used as baits.” Matt replies, his deadpan face intact, “Well, what can I say? I guess it’s a difficult world…for women.” It’s quite an impressive, self-deprecating brushstroke, because even Seven Psychopaths has no substantial female characters to boast of; there’s one that’s used as a bait, and the other one too is nothing but an emotional plug. So, it’s nice to come across a movie that doesn’t shy from its deficiencies, rather shoulders it, and milks it for its own benefit.
But then in a movie where every frame exudes unabashed idiosyncrasy — both in its means and ends; you often wonder does this movie even have a truth to it? An emotional truth? Any truth? But quite bizarrely, this never quite comes in the movie’s way. And neither does it dwarf the movie’s ambitions in one way or the other. There’s no lingering sadness (except, maybe, in one scene, but even there you are quite circumspect on how to handle the change in tone), but even then you can’t call this movie shallow. Why should being whimsical not be a congratulatory trait?
When the movie’s sole aim is being whimsy, it’s important that it never becomes self-conscious, never becomes somber. And it’s quite remarkable the way this movie manages to hold up, right till the very end. And it’s no mean feat, because for a movie so joyously inebriated you would expect it to sober up ultimately. But it couldn’t care less, for it’s too busy living it to the hilt. Its speech is garbled at times, it stumbles, it doesn’t make a lot of sense most of the times. But you know what? It doesn’t waste a moment being apologetic. Because it knows you are having a bloody good time. Yes, it knows. And that somehow compensates for everything.