Karyn Kusama’s “Destroyer” and The Portrayal of Moral Decay

By Zofia Wijaszka

Karyn Kusama was always most known from her direction of “Jennifer’s Body”. She later mostly directed television episodes such as “Casual”, “Chicago Fire”, etc. At the end of 2018, however, her newest picture had its premiere – the film titled “Destroyer” with Nicole Kidman in a leading role. Kusama decided to trust Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, and they both wrote a script for the film. During Q&A after a special movie screening, the director herself admitted that she was genuinely impressed. The men portrayed a broken woman, not through their point of view, which was so crucial for “Destroyer”.

Meet Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman), the woman hurt by so many. Her hurt manifests in every aspect of her life – her approach to the world and people, way of walking and talking, even her outer appearance. Erin went through many more brutal situations than people her age, and viewers are about to find out soon what happened to her. How could one woman be so emotionally and physically wounded?

“There have been many films with a similar theme — a detached person seeking revenge while past knocking at the door. “Destroyer”, though, is unique. The film directed by a female director has an exceptional atmosphere.”

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When the police take the case of the murder, Erin Bell doesn’t seem to care at first. However, the woman begins to get invested when it turns out it’s her past that calls for the attention. She has to reconnect with the people from a former undercover mission to make peace and, most importantly – seek revenge.

There have been many films with a similar theme — a detached person seeking revenge while past knocking at the door. “Destroyer”, though, is unique. The film directed by a female director has an exceptional atmosphere. It’s dark, thrilling yet feels complete, especially at the end. Karyn Kusama desired to portray a broken woman who has nothing to lose; hence is the most dangerous. We have yet to see such a sophisticated depiction in these types of films.

Erin Bell fully represents the person destroyed by PTSD and the desire for revenge. As an LAPD detective, the woman was one of the best cadets in her time. That changed when she and co-worker, Chirs (Sebastian Stan) go undercover to investigate a gang in California, Los Angeles. Unfortunately, everything goes wrong, and she loses the love of her life. Since that day, everything in her life goes downhill. She’s an alone, depressed single mother. Erin’s PTSD and pessimistic attitude scares people away. From a determined woman, she becomes a shell of her old self. She transforms into the destroyer – of herself and everybody who attempts to help her. The transformation, as mentioned earlier, is the crucial matter in the motion picture.

Post-traumatic stress disorder only encourages revenge many years later – when Erin explores the new case of LAPD. Morality plays a significant role in Erin’s character development. The truth is that everything she does is immoral. Revenge itself is a sinful thing in our society. From the moment one is born, one learns that no matter what happens, you shall not seek revenge because it will only consume you. That’s precisely what happens to Erin Bell – moral decay.

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The moral downfall was presented by many producers before. The perfect example of this term is Oliver Parker‘s “Dorian Gray” with Ben Barnes as the main character. As a young boy, Dorian moved his aging onto the portrait of himself. From this moment, the man doesn’t age. Instead of using his time for something useful like development, Dorian gets into the vortex of parties, sexual sensations, and self-indulgence. The portrait is the item that’s getting older. The film perfectly illustrates the term moral decay/downfall.

“Destroyer” is undoubtedly one of the best pictures that talk about morality and its lack, revenge, and mental state of one’s mind. And, by Karyn Kusama’s eye, it’s also supremely directed.”

This definition, in turn, unquestionably defines the character depicted by talented Nicole Kidman. All components described above make a wreck out of her humanity, but not only. Her outer persona changes almost unrecognizably. From an attractive woman, Erin turns into drinking, crumpled woman who appears a lot older than she really is. The woman wears the same clothes over and again; she barely eats or sleeps.

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During a Q&A, Kidman admitted that the leather jacket that character wears was actually worn by the actress all the time. It was supposed to give it a somewhat frayed, ragged look. Australian also stated that Erin Bell was one of the most significant roles for her to play. The actress was barely able to get out of the role, which helped her character to be even more authentic. Nicole Kidman’s older Erin took a long time as the characterization was elaborate. However, Kusama desired this role (younger and older) to be played by the same person. It gave the story more depth and insight.

The director contained a lot of close shots that were supposed to show every emotion that was so crucial to the plot. “Destroyer” received little recognition when, in fact, deserves applause. It’s not only an amazingly crafted story-line. It’s the way Kusama shows Erin Bell’s transformation. “Destroyer” is undoubtedly one of the best pictures that talk about morality and its lack, revenge, and mental state of one’s mind. And, by Karyn Kusama’s eye, it’s also supremely directed.

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