I just finished watching the first season of “The Fall” on Netflix (only 5 episodes) and I’m obsessing. Or, more honestly, I’m obsessing on the effect of Jamie Dornan.
When Dornan first appeared I thought “Who is this guy? He looks familiar. Must. IMDB. Now.” I learned he hasn’t been in anything else that I’ve seen (though I’ll now be checking out “Once Upon a Time”), but he was recently cast as the new Christian Grey. He reminds me of Henry Cavill, or at least my response to Henry Cavill the first time I saw him on “The Tudors.” Kind of.
Did I mention Dornan’s character Paul is a serial killer? He stalks women and murders them in their homes. As an audience we know how we’re supposed to feel about Paul: he’s depraved and dangerous — he’s a sick misogynistic sociopath. But at the same time that I was repulsed and afraid I was also being seduced. That is some seriously tricky business and exactly why I am obsessing about the actor and the storytelling.
I’m mesmerized, like the women in “The Fall,” and I can’t help but think of a predator in the wild that mesmerizes their prey. Paul’s good looks have that effect on women. They notice him, he gives them a quick taste of attention, nothing more than eye contact and maybe a hint of a smile, and the women want him. They want him to want them. They feel a little reckless and drop their guard. The story doesn’t linger in these moments, but there are enough to begin to feel the burden of all of this desire — they all want him to be something for them. And he gives the women just enough to control them.
The relationship he has with his wife is dominated by the everyday grind (the kids, the job, the to-do lists) and he’s coming up a bit short. Sally doesn’t look like any of his victims. She is blond and as tall as he is. She isn’t a beauty the way that he is. But she’s strong, smart, and loving and she empathizes with others pain — maybe that is what attracted Paul to Sally, maybe she was a solid candidate for a sociopath to mimic. One thing that struck me was that he appears to stay sexually faithful to Sally, even in his alter-world as a serial killer he doesn’t have intercourse with his victims, though it’s clearly sexual domination. It made me wonder what being “faithful” to Sally means to him. Does it define him as honorable in the same way as he defines himself a protector of children.
The babysitter storyline is exceptional. She is infatuated and more reckless than any of the adult women who desire him, which makes her character unpredictable, posing the most danger to the things that matter to him. She doesn’t know what she has to lose, only what she desires. The 15-year-old throws herself at him, surrenders everything. She is in over her head, but she doesn’t recognize consequences yet. When she pulls his photos off the fridge, I couldn’t help but smile: the predator is now being stalked by someone who has nothing to lose. Ultimately he seizes control and subdues her by giving her just enough of what she wants — he confesses his desire for her. He calls her bluff. He shuts her bedroom door and peels off his jacket as he moves towards her, saying “I don’t trust myself now.” At this moment she recognizes that it may be more than she’s bargained for and she’s (finally) afraid. He holds her and confesses his desire and the need to stay away from each other. Done deal.
Now Dornan is set to play Christian Grey, a misogynistic sociopathic character all about control, dominance, and deriving pleasure from causing women pain. Sound familiar? Minus the murder. Will Christian be as mesmerizing or feel as dangerous as Paul? I’m anxious to see how Dornan will play Christian different than Paul, and how director Sam Taylor-Wood will involve the audience in the seduction, the temptation, the risk and reward.