Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley ★★★★

A four-course meal. Psychology vs spiritualism. Marks and tells are preyed on by applying pressure to the same truth: “people want to tell you about themselves.” One offers insight with a frustrating lack of concrete answers, the other is a fabrication but promises to tell you what you want to hear. I was thoroughly entertained and loved the vast canvas GDT is given for this con job noir. It's spooky, but even better, it's lush and sexy, too! Cate Blanchett’s office!

This was enhanced for me because I read a book about Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President in the US, who made her fortune via spiritualism and communing with the dead on the endless Vanderbilt dime. She came from drunken abusive parents and a drunken marriage (another touchstone in the film). A fortune could be made from attempting to connect rich people with a chance to redeem shame. Psychology cannot manifest but mysticism, done right, could make people believe what they wanted to see and hear. And there’s the con; two sides of the same coin. Something that Guillermo del Toro's film does better than the 1947 film is tap into something that was very real at the turn of the century: ungodly wealth made by the railroad barons and oil barons created immense estates that detached them from reality and opened the door to mysticism.

Perhaps the most patient and classical Guillermo del Toro has been. People are going to like the carnival half more than the grift half but I think it’s two halves that create a whole. Forget about looking at this through the Oscar lens, it’s damn fine adult entertainment. High class gloss.

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