Nicolas Roeg Retrospective: ‘Eureka’

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Directed by Nicolas Roeg

Written by Paul Mayersberg

Australia, 1983

In his introductory remarks presaging  a rare screening of his little known 1982 film Eureka director Nicolas Roeg confessed that the film suffered from Bad Timing, released as it was during the inception of the capitalist resurgence led by Thatcher and Regan, and nervous producers shelved the film for half a decade. In recent times the film has undergone a modest re-appraisal, it’s resonance with classics such as Citizen Kane and the more recently successful There Will Be Blood are apparent in the motif of power drunk capitalist scions descending into a deadly mania, a lunacy that takes their family and friends down with them, resulting in a lonely death as absolute power corrupts absolutely – not exactly the most receptive ethos to transmit in the early eighties.

One element that Eureka has going for it is its refreshing cast – aggressive and grizzled Jack McCann (a snarling Gene Hackman) kills his colleague in a blizzard battered tundra, before braving the elements in a perilous journey to a frontier town. Jack it seems is a foolhardy explorer, a prospector in the early years of the 20th century whom will stop at nothing to seize great wealth and achieve his destiny. After a delirious moment when he stumbles across a concealed vein of precious gold out in the Alaskan wilderness the film snaps forward to the late thirties where Jack is now established as a fabulously wealthy entrepreneur on his own Caribbean island paradise, but all the wealth in the world cannot solve every obstacle in the pursuit of happiness. Jack’s daughter Tracy (Theresa Russell) has secretly married Claude Van Horne (Rutger Hauer in a pre Blade Runner performance), an upper class European whom Jack suspects is angling after a colossal inheritance.  Jack’s wife Helen  is a drunk whom has resigned herself to a lonely life with him, and more pressing matters of a more lethal nature are orbiting in the form of a duo of lecherous lawyers – Mayafowsky (Joe Pesci) and D’Amato (Mickey Rourke) whom are anxiously asking, then indignantly insisting that Jack invest in their plans for a majestic casino on the Island, a scheme that coalesces the forces of power and greed under a strange occultist enigma that seems to have saturated the ancient archipelago…

Shot through a hazy, gaudy azure filter the opening sequence has the aura of a Grimms fairy tale, it’s all slightly artificial with a fable like, dreamy quality – at least until an insane sapper blows his brains out all over a saloon wall in perhaps the films most inexplicable moment. Eureka then moves into more conventional territory as the family dynamics are explored, in quite a brutal performance from Hackman his Jack is a paranoid and haughty fiend who nonetheless remains tender with his beloved daughter. There are some remarkable scenes, a voodoo fuelled orgy in the middle of the film reminds one that this a Roeg film with that sense of the erotic and sex as a defining force of our species that infuses his films, like Herzog he also has a penchant for obsessed driven loners and beautiful, fragile landscapes. It was a good print apart from a metronome beat on certain reels which was a little distracting, however the inclusion of a couple of wider cinematic references kept me entertained – an assassin toying with a snow globe a la Citizen Kane, a discreet poster of Chaplin’s The Gold Rush flaring across the screen during a driving sequence – clearly the film-makers understood and appreciated the efforts of their ancestors.

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