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VIDEO REWIND : Symbolism Haunts 'Fourth Man'

August 04, 1994|GEOFF BOUCHER

Thirteen years before he cashed in with the slick "Basic Instinct," Dutch director Paul Verhoeven created a similar but far more disturbing exploration of sexual obsession and murder with "The Fourth Man."

Author Gerard Reve (Jeroen Krabbe) is fascinated with death and haunted by nightmares and delusions. He used to be able to tame the dark visions and use them as inspiration for his novels, but now he senses they may signal his own demise.

Enter Christine (Renee Soutendijk), a beautician who tempts the bisexual Gerard first with her androgynous glamour, then with her money and young boyfriend. The writer uses the romance as a refuge from his ominous visions, but then he learns about his lover's past. Three marriages, three dead husbands. Will there be a fourth man?

The film, like "Basic Instinct," takes on a breakneck pace once the flawed hero is caught by the femme fatale's irresistible sexual gravity. Verhoeven and cinematographer Jan de Bont (director of "Speed") are master storytellers, especially with thrillers, and the viewer finds it hard to turn away, even as the explicit images grow more lurid. This is not a movie for the faint of heart.

The movie has an ambivalent yet satisfying finale, but even after the credits roll, the movie's bizarre imagery sticks with the viewer.

Spiders, dead birds, coffins, crucifixes and a bloody slaughterhouses are some of the gruesome symbols that taunt the increasingly desperate Gerard and consume his thoughts. "Thinking of death, I cannot sleep," the tortured writer says, quoting poet Boehm Bloem to describe his descent into delusion. "And not sleeping, I must think of death."

"The Fourth Man" (1979), directed by Paul Verhoeven. 104 minutes. Not rated. Dutch with English subtitles.

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