So, despite a lot of the movies I spend time going on about, I actually do watch and enjoy movies that are commonly recognized as “good”. A couple of nights ago, I was rewatching The Cooler, which I think was one of the first movies I saw with William H. Macy.
A brief summary of the starting premise: Bernie Lootz is a “cooler”, a guy whose luck is so bad that a casino keeps him around to ruin other people’s winning streaks, which he does by standing next to them. As the movie opens, he is planning to leave in just a few days. The rest of the movie is absolutely worth watching, but this is not the point I am currently discussing.
It’s absolutely clear that Bernie’s luck is a real force. And the way this is handled is weirdly fascinating to me. One person mocks the idea of having a cooler as old-fashioned, but there is never a Mulder/Scully moment about how This Is Too Silly To Be Believed. And on the flip side, there is never a huge deal made about it. Forget the commodification and classification of bad-luck joes you might expect in a garden-variety urban fantasy; you don’t even get the organized underground betting you find in Intacto. (A decent movie, but not quite as awesome. More interesting concept development; less brilliant acting and characterization.) His luck is simply there, affecting things as luck might; plain and clear and true as a well-cut suit.
I think this is magical realism. The Oxford Companion to English Lit (apparently) describes magic realism as often having
a strong narrative drive, in which the recognizably realistic merges with the unexpected and the inexplicable and in which elements of dreams, fairy story, or mythology combine with the everyday, often in a mosaic or kaleidoscopic pattern of refraction and recurrence.
That is a little weirder than The Cooler gets–I think luck is so plain that it doesn’t reach quite the heights of strange you can find in dreams or fairy tales–but the way the real events go through the story in sync with Bernie’s luck, that seems about right. Refraction and recurrence.
It’s interesting to me not (just) because of the subtlety or the low-key fantastical elements, but because of the lack of self-consciousness. I can think of several written stories that have those qualities, but it’s a combination that’s pretty rare in movies. Would like to see more of it.