Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity ★★★★★

I love this movie beyond measure. I love its chokingly lyrical (and so very Raymond Chandler), inch perfect screenplay. I love its dark humor, and the absurdity of glamorous Phyllis and anxious Walter skulking around a grocery store so aggressively sterile it seems to come from inside the monolith in 2001. I love the long takes, and the way the austerity of Billy Wilder's shooting style contrasts so perfectly with the labyrinthine language and tale it's recording. But, most of all, I love Walter Neff and Barton Keyes.

I love that, less than 30 minutes into the film, the last decade of Walter's life is already laid out before our eyes. We see him as a 24-year-old, new insurance man, high on his own magnetism and charm, visiting suburban homes in the middle of the day, claiming to be seeking 'the man of the house,' and finding instead the casual sex and desperation that make him feel powerful; make his life feel exciting. We see it in the way he interacts with Phyllis from the moment he sees her; in the way he arranges himself against her door frame in their second meeting, posing just so, in a way that's already worked a dozen times.

And we see it in his beer alone at the drive-in; his lonely hour at the bowling alley; his consideration of going to a movie, solo, or taking himself out to dinner. His life follows the same patterns it has for the last 11 years, but the thrill has gone out of it. He's bored now, maybe even a little disgusted. It's the life he envisioned for himself, back when it was all new, but it's gone on too long — all the color has faded from it; it's nothing but drab sameness. No spark, no excitement. No passion. Until Phyllis.

Phyllis isn't love, she isn't even (only) sex. She's just something different. Something that makes his heart beat; that makes him feel alive. It's been so long that he hardly even cares what it is, as long as it makes his pulse jump. He's almost fatalistic at this point, rushing into and through their conspiracy, heart pounding, as if he can't wait for everything to explode. There's a breathlessness to his engagement that can't be explained only by lust, or greed.

And I love that Keyes simply doesn't exist outside of the office. He did once, certainly. Back when the flirting and the selling and the fucking were all new and exciting to Walter, Keyes too has his own life; fell in love, got engaged. But then he realized that the real world wasn't honest the way his actuarial tables were, and that he could be deceived out there, without having time to examine all the angles.

So he retreated, wrapping himself in the cocoon of truth that he created in the office with his name on the door. And Keyes is happy there, with his little man, his blandly predictable life; with his control.

And with a guy who's always there to light his cigars for him.

I love how the Venn diagram of Walter's and Keyes' lives morphs and changes, depending on the moment; the day of the week. How, sometimes, the single point of overlap is Pacific All-Risk, while at others — when they're both staring at blank walls, tired and lonely, wondering what the future holds, and if getting there is even worth it — they're two circles, perfectly aligned. One on top of the other. How they both keep the world at a certain kind of distance — Neff with his knee-jerk, masculine banter, Keyes with the way he's so carefully built up his defenses — and yet, somehow, they let one another in. How they talk about love, in front of god and everybody. How they need one another, though only Keyes, with his soft eyes and gentle mouth, is (sometimes) (almost) willing to admit it.

Walter: You know why you couldn't figure this one, Keyes? I'll tell you. Because the guy you were looking for was too close — right across the desk from you.
Keyes: Closer than that, Walter.
Walter: I love you, too.

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