Going in I didn’t know what this movie was about, I was aware of its director Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy), and the star studded cast which includes Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Cate Blanchett (Cinder, Button, Hobbits), Toni Collette (A Long Way Down), Willem Dafoe (No Way Home, John Carter), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Carol) and many more. I also knew that the book that it’s based on is on my TBR, it’s one of the books I have but I am yet to read. I wanted to read William Lindsay Gresham‘s of the same name before seeing this newest adaptation – the first one being in 1947 by director Edmund Goulding and screenwriter Jules Furthman – but life got in the way and I ended up watching this movie first and it’s quite chilling.
It’s about Stanton Carlisle, an ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words – I want to stop here because to me this is enough – hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.
Unless I missed it, it was a while before we even heard Cooper’s Stanton Carlisle speak – the first 10 minutes or so of the film. We spent an entire day with him, following him on the start of his journey, his beginning is the end is the beginning. When he finally spoke, it was to his future – it’s a minor spoiler, but it’s the journey that counts – I guess that was the first step toward the end is the beginning is the end – ok I’ll stop with that phrase. I have to admit that I didn’t realize it while watching the film, even though I had a sense that there was a cautionary tale at play but the ending was not the one I thought it would be.
Throughout the movie, every warnings, omen, and words of wisdom were there, laid bare for Stanton to learn from – thus giving the viewers a major hint of what’s coming – but it’s still interesting to see how Stan still went down the path that he was warned not to take, the one that resulted in his mentor’s demons.
“You never do a spook show, no good comes out from a spook show.”
This movie has plenty of meaningful moments, visuals, and lines that may seem unimportant but they inform on the characters and/or move the story forward. For example at some point there’s this “gun” that’s introduced – it’s not an actual gun – but it’s clear that it’s “the instrument.” It’s made important before you even see it; it’s done in a beautiful and subtle way. The movie is very well structured, there’s little to no waste, and it’s very informative – I learned a lot about carnival life.
So this film reminded me of Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist, I read it a long time ago so I might not remember it well but the “full circle” moment of the film reminded me of that book. Anyway the cast of Nightmare Alley is top notch, the character arcs are great, and the movie is captivating and chilling.
If you’re interested in the source material, help us by getting them from the links below: