The Devil (1972)
What is that paranoia we often feel in a room full of strangers? Some of us do our best not to be noticed, some of us make our best effort to be noticed; either way, there is a steady stream of doubt circulating through our veins in that moment. Now, imagine you find yourself as a stranger in your own home. The faces are all familiar, but they are jagged and cold now, like sharp stone mock-ups. What does one do? Well, in The Devil the main character is deceived into retreating into the darkness he had come to befriend in war. It is warm and inviting, with a brilliant sense of humor.
The film is based entirely on perception – that is, the main character’s perception of his home, and the once-familiar people in it. He is a soldier, weary and beaten down. He is constantly stalked and prodded by a colorful menace who acted as his savior in the beginning, but we discover his true ambition as the film progresses. The main character is shocked and distraught by what his home has become. The woman he loves is a broken stranger. His friends are cruel and cold. His father is dead, his sister, a vague mystery, and his estranged mother, a villain. Perhaps though, it is not the surroundings that changed at all for our protagonist – perhaps it was he who has changed. The darkness of war and fear has torn his perception to shreds, and the dancing menace that stalks him is his mocking conscience.
Each scene unfolds like a fever dream. The main character stumbles from one scene to the next like he was moving through a funhouse. It is visceral and manic. It is the type of film the viewer doesn’t so much remember visually, but more as a mood or feeling
Zulawski peppers his films with theatrically over-the-top explosions of emotion. It is as if he is trying his best to skew our outer, dignified, socially accepted expressions of emotion, and portray the true beast of expressions that is wildly thrashing internally. It seems that if Zulawski could get away with it, all of his films would be violent splashes of color, and crazed wind storms uprooting trees, and ripping roofs off of houses.