Proof (1992)

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Proof (1992) Review


Back when Russell Crowe and Hugo Weaving were just two more Australian actors making their bones on the indie scene Down Under, writer/director Jocelyn Moorhouse cast them in Proof, a character study that probes the deeper questions underlying truth and friendship. It also provides us with an opportunity to see what Maximus and Agent Smith would look like with '80s hair.

Though Crowe would go on to command a higher paycheck, it's Weaving who seizes the plum role here as Martin, a blind man who takes pictures to crystallize the world around him so that others can later confirm his experiences. He meets Andy (Crowe), and the two strike up a friendship over a cat that Martin has inadvertently injured. Martin charges Andy with the task of viewing his photos, insisting that Andy must never lie to him. The paradox of Martin's strategy becomes immediately apparent. In order to receive the proof he craves, he must find someone he can trust.

Complicating matters is Martin's housemaid, Celia (Geneviève Picot). From the outset, we see them in a relationship best described as abusive. He torments her by shunning her affections. She torments him by taking advantage of his infirmity. Martin coldly explains to Andy that he does this simply to prevent her from ever feeling pity for him. Celia's motivations, on the other hand, are murkier, only becoming apparent as her manipulations escalate, drawing in Andy and compromising the trust he's built with Martin. Betrayal and assorted emotional scarring ensue.

Holding this all together are some strong performances. Weaving effortlessly treads where Audrey Hepburn and Patty Duke had gone before and where Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, and even Ben Affleck would soon follow. His blind man is an object of pity not because of his disability, but because of his inability to connect with another human being, an isolation that Weaving vividly conveys. Picot is mesmerizing as Martin's obsessed, calculating foil. It's hard to muster sympathy for someone who mistreats a blind man, but Picot finds the humanity in Celia that makes her actions at least slightly understandable.

Crowe actually delivers the least interesting performance, though much of that stems from the fact that his character is given the most to do with the least motivation. Why does he take such a liking to Martin? Why is he then so susceptible to Celia's mind games? Andy's actions suggest a complicated personality, but the half-assed backstory he feeds Martin does little to bring that persona into any sort of sharp relief.

What sets this film apart from any of a hundred disability-of-the-week pictures is its interest in exploring the fundamental issue inherent to Martin's dilemma. How do we know what we know? Flashbacks imply that perhaps Martin's mother (Heather Mitchell), ashamed of her son, lied to him about the world around him. Moorhouse wisely prevents the camera from showing us the truth so that we, like Martin, are forced to take the word of another before we can come to a decision. Think of it as an epistemology primer.


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