ONE STAR – Morally Repulsive
Ambition can bankrupt the soul. Replacing the deeper motivations and guidance of a healthy conscience, ambition instead creates an immoral monster who will do “whatever it takes” to succeed.
In Van Sant’s film “To Die For” Suzanna Stone (Nicole Kidman) becomes an empty shell surrounding a consuming ambition.
Played with a smugness which has a chilling effect on the viewer and inspiring talk of Oscar nominations for Kidman, Suzanna Stone is a person who has dreamed of being on TV since childhood.
Believing that “In American you aren’t anyone if you aren’t on TV,” Stone lives in a world created by the guidance of TV’s morality.
Through a creative and continual use of flash-backs, Director Sant enables us to see all the disjointed ingredients which came together in Stone’s soul to pursue her obsession.
Having been blessed with beauty we realize that she sees it only as a means to fulfill her ambition.
Though she finds a husband who loves and adores her, she has no intention of staying faithful to him if adultery (even on her honeymoon) will help her succeed.
Though she has a mind which can hear a statement and quote it exactly, she lacks the understanding, wisdom and insight which her conscience could have given to discern truth and integrity.
When Stone’s husband begins to express his own goals and dreams, which include Stone’s having children and helping him in his restaurant, Stone sets upon a diabolical plan.
Rather than meld her ambition with her husband’s dreams, she decides to have him killed.
The instruments of her plan are three young, disadvantaged teenagers, who, like everyone else in Stone’s life, are pawns in her game.
Discovering and using the weakness of each one, she exploits them in her twisted plot.
One, a young girl named Lydia, is lonely and withdrawn. Needing a friend, Stone uses her need to compel her to provide the gun for the murder of her husband.
Russell is a young man who is destructively rebellious. Using his free time to take a baseball bat to the windows of cars in a junkyard, he has a need for the excitement which comes from illegal behaviors. Stone sets him up to be an accomplice.
But it is James, a sexually perverted and mentally impaired sixteen-year old whom Stone destroys.
Using his sexual addiction against him, she steals his soul and seduces him into actually pulling the trigger of the murder.
Though Stone is an extreme caricature of an ambitious person, she is nevertheless a strong warning of the “lust for success.”
Like all lusts, the lust for fame and success take over the soul. Pushing out all other concerns and considerations, ambition has a way of turning us into users and our loved ones into victims.
James described it that way from his prison cell after he was convicted of the crime and Stone was set free. He said that after their first sexual encounter he felt like a dead person who came back out of the grave needing to eat the flesh and blood of the living.
In the Bible, the book of James warns us of this same fact when he says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
Though the film tries to bring in some sense of justice at the end when her husband’s family hires a man to kill her, this, too, is murder and only spills her immorality into their souls.
Since all high-achieving people must deal with their temptation for ambition and the use of others for selfish gain, “To Die For” is a morality play of the consequences of such a life.
Though the film is repulsive in its material and leaves us feeling as though we have been degraded in the viewing, its message is an apt warning for our success-oriented culture.