If you’re the child of a celebrity who chooses to peruse a creative path similar if not identical to that of your parent, history dictates that whatever you produce will be scrutinized in a vacuum; held up at arm’s length like a scabby, hastily assembled carbon copy next to that of mommy or daddy. For contemporary examples of this theory made true, see the following: Dakota Johnson (daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson), Max Winkler (son of Happy Days star Henry), Rumer Willis (daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis) and Jaden Smith (son of Jada Pinkett and Will Smith) to name but a few. If you’re with me so far, it’s clear to see where this is going: typically, celebrity children make shitty art. Typically.
When I sat down to review Jennifer Lynch’s 2012 film Chained, I had a hard time finding a juncture at which to start; the obvious route would be settling into that aforementioned vacuum and comparing her style and structure to that of her beloved father, David. In fact that’s what I did. As I began to write this review with David Lynch’s catalogue of surreal, quirky, masterful films playing the role of willing protagonist against the relatively small catalogue of work produced by daughter Jennifer, I quickly realized that I wasn’t contributing anything of note in reviewing Chained and I was ignoring a simple truth: it’s a fucking great movie. But if there’s one thing I have to say before we really get into it, it’s that it’s a fucking great movie that’s really, really tough to watch.
Chained tells the story of Tim (Eamon Farren) and his mother Sarah (Julia Ormond) who are abducted by deranged cab driver Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio) on their way home from seeing a movie. Bob takes Tim and Sarah back to his home where he viciously murders Sarah and enlists Tim into a life of servitude where he must clean the house, and more importantly, clean up after Bob as he regularly indulges in murder and mayhem. Bob promptly dehumanizes Tim by bestowing on him the nickname “Rabbit” and promising to harm him should he try and escape.
What Jennifer Lynch does with the characters of Bob and Tim, and more importantly, what she asks of the audience is an exercise in endurance. Tim spends almost a decade as Bob’s unwilling ward and you feel every moment of that as the viewer. Lynch forces you to watch as Bob savagely rapes, tortures and kills several women and then nonchalantly directs Tim in the preparation and burying of the bodies. Through Bob’s lack of empathy and remorse, Lynch forces you to watch as he sculpts Tim into the perfect accomplice with equal parts tension and extended periods of reflection.
This is one of those movies you don’t really feel good about watching – it’s just not fun to sit through. But I have to stress: that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. It’s a testament to Jennifer Lynch’s ability as a storyteller that I felt like a piece of shit who got off on watching a car wreck after I was done with Chained. It became one of those movies that, when recounted literally a month after I had watched it, still left me feeling like I had seen something that I shouldn’t have. And you know what? I can’t say that about a single David Lynch movie. Eraserhead? Cult classic. Dune? A brilliant if not baffling blend of surrealism and science fiction. The Elephant Man? 8 Oscar nominations kind of say it all. They were all great movies, but none of them did what David’s daughter’s relatively unnoticed, scabby little mulligan did for me. I will say that Chained can find a place in that Lynchian vacuum of weird, twisted cinema that we’ve all come to love over the years, but it’s not to be watched over and over again as its more celebrated relatives.
This is a movie that’s best watched once and then brought up again years later when the conversation inevitably turns into something like, “You know what movie really fucked me up when I saw it?”