Adi Tantimedh writes,
By now I’m sure people have either watched or about to watch the final episode of True Detective. And I’m sure a lot of people will have read that writer Nick Pizzolatto has cited Alan Moore as a key influence on his writing. Some commentators online have already cited From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell as another major influence on the series.
That makes True Detective and the 2003 South Korean movie Memories of Murder both major film works that were spawned by From Hell.
From Hell is an epic tale of Jack the Ripper and his relationship with the British Establishment, not to mention his impact on the British psyche and subconscious influence on future serial murderers in England. On the surface, it appears to be a murder mystery where the reader is told from early on who the killer is. It uses that story as a structure to tell a sprawling Pynthonesque parable about the structures of power, its abuse and the misogyny in Victorian society that would inform the rest of subsequent English history. Technically, it built on what was previously achieved in Watchmen for more complex and nuanced sociopolitical commentary while also deconstructing the way it tells its own story, a painstakingly-researched tapestry of architecture, psychogeography as established by Iain Sinclair, conspiracy and postmodern metacommentary. It probably doesn’t have a fan following because it doesn’t feature charismatic costumed superheroes that can be cosplayed at conventions. Its characters were normal humans, messy, grubby, chaotic, flawed and doomed.
And in the decades since its publication, From Hell has influenced the creation and writing of Memories of Murder and True Detective.
All three works dealt with serial murders, their respective societies’ abuse of women and children, and the psychogeographical layers of the landscape in relation to the vast psychic fissures that fueled the abuse and murder. All three stories are historical period pieces throwing light on the past with the benefit of hindsight and recent political and social insight. All three works are inspired by real stories: From Hell with the Jack the Ripper killings, True Detective with incidents of satanic ritual abuse in Louisiana during the mid-2000s, and Memories of Murder with a real series of serial killings in rural South Korea in the 1980s. Both True Detective and Memories of Murder use subtle but pervasive visual motifs as part of their world-building the way From Hell did to create a claustrophobic sense of a world drenched in murder and horror, perpetually in existential dread. All three stories take the detective story and infuse it with the horror genre. All three present a world teetering on the abyss.
And in all three stories, the cops who are drawn into the vortex of the murders they tried to solve are left forever marked, devastated, desolate, even destroyed. That’s the price they pay for trying to do their duty in a storm of evil.
If there’s one story that made us start to expect some kind of supernatural twist, it was From Hell that went through with it, stepped right over the line and into orbit because Alan Moore didn’t confine himself to just writing in one genre. The fictional Ripper believes he’s enacting an occult ritual in his killings of the women who were believed to threaten the Crown with forbidden knowledge, and it’s initially ambiguous whether he’s delusional as a result of a stroke he suffered years earlier, but then Moore pulls the carpet out of from under the reader’s own rational beliefs when the killer finds himself crossing Space and Time and seeing the future, a 21st Century London that we live in but that he could not have possibly foreseen. Of the three works, it is the one that takes advantage of being a book, exploiting the different layer a reader can find when reading the story. The movie version could only be a pale, shallow and literal-minded adaptation that barely touches on its biggest themes and ideas, including the leap into the mystical and the supernatural. Both True Detective and Memories of Murder hint at a mystical underbelly but stay strictly in the realm of social realism.
Much has already been written about the imagery and atmosphere of True Detective, its using Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow as a key text to inform its sense of chaos and madness in the Louisiana straits, and similar methods have been adopted in the art direction of Memories of Murder.
You might think I’m bringing up Memories of Murder just to look clever, but it’s more than that. This movie was directed by Bong Joon-Ho, who went on to make the monster movie The Host and the eagerly-awaited Science Fiction movie Snowpiercer. Bong has pretty much become one of the best directors in the world by now and if he was American or European, he’d probably get a lot more critical attention in the media. Bong’s uses genre to inject dark comedy and social satire, and Memories of Murder uses the real-life serial killings to explore the ongoing psychic wounds that still fester in South Korean society. It was one of the biggest hits in the year it was released.
Bong partially based his script on a stage play but could not crack the structure of the film story until he read From Hell. The isolated rural landscape where the killings took place is as much a character in the movie as the people, becoming increasingly haunted by unsolved murders and unchecked violence and brutality, a mindset exacerbated by the martial law South Korea was under at the time. Like From Hell and True Detective, it features increasingly desperate cops trying to solve a case that slips away from them. Like From Hell and True Detective, the story becomes an indictment of a whole society’s failures to protect its women and children. It is one of the most essential Korean movies of all time. I’ve wondered if it might have been an influence on the David Fincher-directed Zodiac, though that movie, while creating a mood of dread and horror, lacks other three stories’ sociopolitical layers.
If you need another fix after the first season of True Detective ends, you could do a lot worse than seek out Memories of Murder.
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