Wages of Sin
1964. A small town. A kidnapping. A simple plan… just like in the movies. But real life isn’t simple. Somebody always gets hurt.
WAGES OF SIN is a smart film that unveils the fatal plight of damaged psyches pushed to the brink. Set in a 1964 small town, a pair of misfit wannabes – Buddy, the wannabe tough guy, and Celee, the wannabe picket-fence homemaker, seize the opportunity of his Aunt’s country home being vacant for a few days to kidnap a well-to-do coed.
The film’s plot is straight-forward at first glance. Two kidnappers: one twisted and predictably narcissistic – Buddy; the other, an idyllic girl – Celee, who thinks that kidnapping for ransom to buy a Hoover vacuum is just smart planning. The plot begins with a call to Kathrine the kidnap victim’s Father – to pitch the ransom. The story floats by the victim trying to find a way to get one of them to untie her hands. The story’s current also lulls enough to give us a glimpse into Kathrine the victim. For much of the film, she seems grounded in her predicament. She attempts various methods of bonding with Celee as a way to gain an advantage. But, like a Quark in an open field, Celee will not be pinned down to a reason to let Kathrine go; her commitment to Buddy is just too great. Kathrine also tries to disarm Buddy through sexual means, but he’s not able to physically respond and emotionally waxes to violence. In Celee’s inability to come around to the clear notion that she should let Kathrine go, we see her emotional cottage of finely stacked twigs – the hinges of which are clearly the promise of Buddy’s love and future marriage. We also see Buddy’s Self viced between the walls of his determination to get the money and his own emotional wounds and basic longings. It seems clear that the constructs of Celee’s and Buddy’s precarious dwellings will not weather the storm that is coming.
The true current of the plot ebbs and flows around the swirled nexus of Buddy and Celee. We see Celee retreat to her fantasy of Buddy as Protector/Lover/Father, by her calling him “Daddy” and sitting on his lap, arms around his neck, head on his shoulder. We see Buddy placate her to continue his plan – giving her most of what she wants most of the time. Creating an unmistakable gut-punching foreboding, we see his dark and tortured demeanor, (made easier by his resemblance to Howdy Doody and ‘Dexter’ the Serial Killer’s love child) surface in ways that promise an
outright vortex of trouble.
The film flows with the bend of the plot in unexpected ways in the latter part of the movie. After Buddy has had a violent and sexual encounter with the kidnap victim, Kathrine, we see him in the bathroom on the toilet. We think we’re going to witness something expected here. But, what we see is Buddy taking out a small picture of two soldiers and props it up on the toilet paper roll. He begins to masturbate. Then, with a view of his back, we see his crossed arms yield fingertips to each arm, in a poor substitution for a hug. We see him cry. Clearly, Buddy can love. A reference a little later in the film yields a reference to his time in the Military – perhaps, he loves a fellow soldier. It becomes clear he does not love Celee and is not sexually connected to women. This makes sense of his reminder to Celee a little later that they should wait to make love until their wedding night. We see the unmistakable writing on the wall. Buddy does not love her. She’s in the kidnapping, which rubs against her moral fiber, because she thinks he loves her. We don’t know how it’s going to end, but we know it won’t end well.
Throughout, the film yields a fresh pressed look. The cinematography evokes mood and frame of time and place and does not disappoint this viewer. The acting brings what I ordered to the table – well-cooked, solid performances. What the filmmakers do with the film is elevate it beyond the typical by leading us to the film’s bloody end in an unexpected way. For, it becomes clear that Buddy and Celee are not the only psychologically fractured people in the old farmhouse. After a dream that illustrates Kathrine’s desperate psyche, Kathrine admits to Celee that she’s pregnant, and confesses that her father is a child molester. She begs Celee to help her protect the baby from that life by helping Kathrine get rid of it. When Kathrine could perhaps talk her into letting Kathrine go so that she can get to a safe place away from Kathrine’s father, she instead asks Celee to perform an abortion. We are then witness to Celee’s retreat to some place in her psyche where she can do anything. And, with the help of some recited Christian prayers and a hand tool that resembles a skinning knife, she succeeds in aborting the fetus, and ending Kathrine’s life through
Enter Buddy, who’s just returned with the ransom money to a melee of blood and mental whirly-gig. When he insists that they leave the body, Celee argues. He offhandedly admits that he never intended on spending his life with her. And, she replies by stabbing him repeatedly. As he dies, she turns her attention to the fetus in the bucket, telling it everything is going to be alright, as we believe she’s on her way outside to bury it.
We are left to wonder what will become of Celee when she realizes she’s covered with blood and there are two bodies in Buddy’s Aunt’s basement. But, then we can’t shake the feeling that for how this kidnapping started, it ended unexpectedly. And, the title wrangles us into a dark basement chair and ties our hands to the reality that we cannot, like the characters, always break free from the wages of sin.Wages of Sin,