Will Walker’s review published on Letterboxd:
I’m going to do something I’ve never done before in my reviews. I’m going to be analyzing 2 films at once to compare their merits and the fascinating thematic, stylistic and narrative aspects both films possess; those films are Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls and Adam Wingard’s Death Note. Hopefully, I can convince you of the film being more than worthy of taking its place as a campy, satirical cult classic with a dark underbelly. I genuinely hope this can get to one of the more popular reviews on Letterboxd, but that’s only because I really hope that people can see the parallels widespread. This will be a multi-part review and I will link its successors here when I get to them.
PART ONE: “I’m not a whore!”
Tragic Cartoon Heroes Blinded By Obsession
One of the first things you may be quick to catch in both films is the choice of lead; both Nat Wolff (Light Turner) and Elizabeth Berkeley (Nomi Malone) were former children’s sitcom stars. Predictably, the reaction to both Wolff playing Kira and Berkeley starring in a Verhoeven film was met with immediate mock and ridicule from critics before the films had even released. Of course, when both films were finally out in the open, critics’ takes remained unchanged. Even the complaints were oddly similar. “Over the top”, “Awkward”, “Cringey.” All this despite both Wingard and Verhoeven describing the films as cartoony from the start, but I digress. Both leads are phenomenal tackling characters with an almost unbearable amount of naïveté. Both act purely on their emotion, throwing all restraint aside in their body language and delivery. The distinction falls between where their expressions of such emotion come from and how they are presented in the characterization. Nomi is very much an antihero. We know she has a gray morality, but she is not outright cruel or wicked. She desires to mean something. To love and to safely trust wholly and completely. These motives do not defend all of her actions, but they make her sympathetic.
Light Turner is practically the polar opposite of this. He’s an entitled little incel with a God complex trying to convince himself he’s just the nicest guy in the room. Only his emotions exist, the people around him may as well be scribbles in a page. The film goes out of its way seemingly to make its former teen heartthrob stars look as unattractive as possible. With Nomi, even the film’s greatest attempts to tear away its star’s beauty can’t conceal it, as if acting as an analogy for Nomi never quite losing her soul throughout the film (Close as she comes)
It’s Berkeley’s soulful eyes and tragic smile that truly bring her performance to life. Light, on the other hand, looks nowhere near handsome, despite being played by a similarly beautiful actor. His blonde highlights are sickening, his little sideburns are tacky, he’s constantly hunched over. Beauty comes naturally to Nomi both externally and internally through her noble (if buried) heart, while wickedness and selfishness make what was once beautiful hideous and abhorrent in Light.
Both Light and Nomi start off the film with false first impressions. In the case of Showgirls, it’s Nomi’s aggressive stare and silver switchblade portraying her as more dominant when she reveals herself to be very clearly submissive to authority later on. In the case of Death Note, it’s shown more visually than narratively, with the dark, gritty color scheme of the rain scene where Light threatens his school bully immediately turning bright and vibrant and colorful in every scene succeeding it, as if telling the audience from the beggining that Light isn’t some “badass.” He’s a sniveling creep.
These protagonists are larger than life cartoons, and similarly meet cartoonishly violent endings to their arcs befitting of their roles in the story of them revealing their true nature. Nomi overcomes her addiction to stardom to become a better human being, viciously beating her best friend’s rapist to extort him and getting his guards fired. She rejects any semblance of emotional isolation from her loved ones, of putting self preservation first, in defense of a friend. Light gives into his cowardice, sociopathy and desire for pleasure and validation. He not only murders his girlfriend, but manipulated her into telling him she loves him, violating her consent to feel love and validation he does not deserve.
We greatly pity both Light and Nomi’s ignorance, but only Nomi is truly human.
TO BE CONTINUED...