The Fourth Man (1983) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
have been two major periods in Paul Verhoeven's career as a big-league
The Fourth Man is one of his three most famous Dutch films, along with Turkish Passion and Soldier of Orange. It's an odd movie, ambiguous in many ways, and you don't realize some things about it until it's over and you start thinking about the details.
Jeroen Krabbe plays an alcoholic, bi-sexual Dutch writer who is given to delusions, daydreams, nightmares, and fantasies. Are they the mad delusions of a perpetually drunken religious nut? Are they merely a demonstration of his creative process? Or are they some kind of occult powers - some ability at precognition. We are never really told. Everyone else in the movie thinks he is mad at the end, but we saw with our own eyes how some of his dreams came true after he dreamt them.
He has traveled to a seacoast town to deliver a lecture to the local literary society. He's seduced by the woman who organized the show, and after sex he dreams that she has cut off his naughty bits with her scissors (she's a beautician). She invites him to say a while and he has no intention of doing so until he sees a picture of her regular boyfriend in a bathing suit. Then he decides that the young hunk must be his next lover. When the woman leaves to pick up her hunky toy-boy in Germany, the writer stumbles across some old home movies, and finds that she has been married three times, and that all three marriages ended with the violent death of the husband.
In his drunken stupor, with his natural writer's gift for embellishment, fueled by his natural religion-based paranoia, he becomes convinced that either he or the boyfriend will be The Fourth Man to die at her hands. He pictures her as a spider, constantly devouring her mates.
The movie is so convincing, and strings you along so well by staying in the author's POV, that you don't realize while watching it that there is actually no evidence at all to support his conclusions. At no time, does the woman actually do or say anything to support his view of her as a Black Widow. All of the "proof" is in his head, constructed in his fantasies, or visions, or whatever they are.
Yet there are coincidences that can't be explained. Details in his dreams come true the next day. He truly seems to have a gift for precognition. Furthermore, a mysterious second woman keeps leading him to places that he couldn't have found on his own. Who is this woman? Could she really be the Virgin Mary, as he believes? If not, how did the writer and the boyfriend get led to the mausoleum of the previous three husbands when they had no idea where it was?
When I thought about it afterwards, I realized there are three possible explanations:
I would have preferred a clearer resolution. In essence, the film has no ending. On the other hand, I don't think it matters that the film is ambiguous. I think you can believe that he's mad, or that he's recreating events while in his coma, or that supernatural events really occur to him. Any of those interpretations will still allow you to enjoy the film, which combines mystery with eroticism and symbolism in a kind of Brian De Palma orgy of excess.
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