Primal Fear (1996)

by missizziemcguinness

‘Where is Aaron?’ 

Primal Fear is a movie based on the book on the same name by William Diehl, and it is about a lawyer called Martin Veil (Richard Gere) who solves the case of an altar boy named Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), who is accused of murdering a priest.

Conisdering that this was Edward Norton’s first film, it was rather good. Edward Norton has become one of my favourite actors simply because his screen presence is overpowering amongst other things, and he was incredibly good in this movie. Richard Gere was rather brilliant in his role, and he fell for Aaron’s lies as he was tricked.

The movie is interesting if you look at it from a psychological perspective. I am not a psycho but I have always been fascinated by how and why murderers commit a crime-and often deny it. What I particularly find intriguing is the plot line about multiple personality disorder. In this case, you have Aaron, an angelic looking, rather quiet alter boy who has a stutter, and you have Roy, an angry, violent psychopath, maybe the hidden, unsympathetic beast inside Aaron, perhaps a personification for his insecurities that can only be taken out with rage and denial. That’s my opinion anyway. The fact that this was Edward Norton’s first role was not the point, though he was nominated for an Oscar for it, and he deserved the nomination. He brings so much emotion to the character that you could almost see the mask slipping from the guy’s face to reveal two entirely different personalities.

As for the film’s likeability, it’s not a movie that I would convientionally enjoy. However, approaching it from an analytical point of view is quite interesting. For instance, does the closeup of Aaron’s hands and face suggest the uneasy suspicion and tension of switching between his two personalities? It’s the type of film that you would watch, and it would make next to no sense, but it’s only afterwards that you start to bring all the hints and clues together. Was it Aaron behind those prison bars all along, or was it Roy? Was Aaron groomed by the archbishop, and in anger, he took revenge by killing both his girlfriend and the priest, therefore creating those two personalities to make him seem insecure? Was the quote ‘There was somebody else in the room’ a early hint into his dual personality?

The use of cross cutting interlinking the crime scene and the scene where Aaron is fleeing with blood all over him is particularly effective. The fact that mostly everything is reported on the news in the film also concludes that nothing is secret and the police and the lawyers defending you are not idiots. I am not a huge fan of prolonged courtroom scenes. I find that they all follow the same formula, yet they seem to keep the film flowing. Yet the slight twist at the end personally makes me question what I’ve just watched. The ending is also up to your interpretation.

It’s certainly not my favourite film but it is definetly a kickstart into Edward Norton’s successful career as an actor. As for Richard Gere, I’m not a huge fan of his work but he carried the film along with his charisma and his prescence on screen, and all the other actors in the film were good in their own way, though I don’t think I would be able to look at priests in the same way again.