It’s not often that a building is the main character in a film (Die Hard, maybe?), but Mike Figgis’s extraordinary 1991 thriller can claim that distinction.
The derelict, cast iron-framed department store in a small Illinois town is the battleground for a clash of lust and grief, and a metaphor for the relentless, unstoppable power of history.
After a horrific act where the store owner killed both his wife and her lover, before turning the gun on himself, the building was not so much closed, but totally abandoned, leaving the fixtures, fittings, furniture and even the mannequins in a state of hibernation, a dust-covered museum to the destructive power of lust.
Many years later, Nick, an architect professor from New York, comes to the town to visit his dying mother, only to run into Paul, an old friend and an engineer whose company is demolishing this rare architectural marvel.
Paul introduces Nick to his wife Jane, a photographer, and over the next few days they explore not only the department store and its lurid history, but also their growing attraction to each other.
As the building is broken down, so are the barriers between Nick and Jane, the final defences of Nick’s mother against the brutal illness ravaging her body, even the years protecting the horrors of the past.
With brave performances throughout, especially from Bill Pullman (giving a disturbingly adult twist to his usual ‘put-upon nice guy’ persona) and Kim Novak as Nick’s dying mother, Figgis has woven a compelling story from various generic threads part- thriller, part-erotic drama, part-horror story and part-love story.
Yet, ultimately, the story seems almost incidental, just another tale welded into the cast-iron skeleton of the building, a shell as scarred and empty as the hearts of those who have lost their love within its walls, a wrecked monument to bitterness, anguish and hate.