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Film / To Die For

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"You're not anybody in America unless you're on TV. On TV is where we learn about who we really are. Because what's the point of doing anything worthwhile if nobody's watching? And if people are watching, it makes you a better person."
Suzanne Stone Maretto

To Die For is a 1995 American Black Comedy film directed by Gus Van Sant, adapted by Buck Henry from the 1992 novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard.

It is an incredibly dark satire on celebrity obsession. Nicole Kidman stars as Suzanne Stone Maretto, a beautiful and ruthlessly ambitious (if not particularly talented or overly bright) young woman desperate to become a world-famous news anchor – even if she has to commit murder along the way.

The supporting cast includes Joaquin Phoenix, Matt Dillon, Casey Affleck, Illeana Douglas, Dan Hedaya, Wayne Knight, Kurtwood Smith, and Holland Taylor.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ambition Is Evil: Suzanne's maniacal desire to make it on TV leads her to murder.
  • Ascended Extra: Janice, Larry's sister, is given many more scenes in the film than in the book.
  • Black Comedy: The entire plot is played for very dark laughs with Suzanne's ruthless personal ambition contrasting with her own vapidity and the shallowness of her goals.
  • Bouquet Toss: Subverted when bridesmaids Janice and Suzanne's sister deliberately ignore Suzanne's tossed bouquet.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: In the novel, Suzanne tries to seduce a network executive to get a job. Years later, the guy says that so many ambitious, unqualified women who want to be on TV come after him that he has absolutely no memory of the specific incident with Suzanne, but can speculate about how it went.
  • The Cameo: David Cronenberg as a Mafia hitman.
  • Casting Couch: It's strongly implied that Suzanne has sex with a man on her honeymoon because she believes he can help her career. He doesn't.
  • Casting Gag: In the novel, Suzanne Stone Maretto mentioned wanting Nicole Kidman to play her in a movie. Kidman went and did.invoked
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the beginning, Suzanne's father says that he was not happy that his daughter married an Italian American because maybe his father was in the mob. In the end, it turns out that he is because he asks a hitman to kill Suzanne.
  • Country Matters: Subverted. Janice says that she'd describe Suzanne with a four-letter word beginning with C. The word is "cold".
  • Creator Cameo:
    • Screenwriter Buck Henry as Mr. H. Finlaysson.
    • Joyce Maynard (who wrote the novel the movie's based on) as Suzanne's lawyer.
  • Death by Adaptation: Suzanne is assassinated by a Mafia hitman and buried in ice as revenge for her husband, Jimmy's, death. In reality, Pamela Smart, who the movie is based on, got caught and convicted for murdering her husband Greg and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
  • Demoted to Extra: Several characters (such as Suzanne's sister and the parents of Jimmy, Russell, and Lydia) have far more scenes in the novel.
  • The Ditz: Most characters actually. Suzanne would be The Ditz in any other movie but next to Larry and Jimmy...
  • Dumb Blonde: Played With. While Suzanne clearly lacks book smarts and general self-awareness, she is fairly gifted at manipulation and intimidation (or at least, picking the right people to manipulate and intimidate).
  • Ephebophile: Suzanne grooms and has sex with a fifteen-year-old Jimmy, and while her relationships with them are platonic, she also prefers the company of his friends and schoolmates Russell and Lydia over most adults (in addition to possible hero worship).
  • Favors for the Sexy: Suzanne and Jimmy. And truly dark favors.
  • Faint in Shock: Janice faints after learning her brother had been killed.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: Suzanne - played for laughs.
  • Femme Fatale: Suzanne's sex-oriented manipulations and generally dark actions definitely paint her as this. See The Vamp below.
  • Film Noir: PlayedFor Black Comedy. Suzanne's the Femme Fatale, and Jimmy's the sap. The crime is murder of her husband.
  • Framing Device: The story is framed by an interview of Suzanne's and Larry's families in a television studio set, interviews of Janice, Jimmy, and Lydia, and the video of herself that Suzanne filmed.
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": Downplayed at Larry's funeral; it's not funny to anyone in attendance, but Suzanne actually plays a cassette tape of Eric Carmen's version of "All By Myself" at the graveyard, to the shocked/confused faces of the other attendees, including the priest presiding over it.
  • Hidden Wire: The police gives Lydia a miniature microphone in order to get evidence that Suzanne is the silent partner of her husband's murder.
  • Homoerotic Subtext / Even the Girls Want Her: Lydia seems to be just as entranced by Suzanne as Jimmy and Russel. Suzanne, despite her general stupidity, actually does pick up on this and mentions Lydia's "lesbian tendencies" when trying to bully the girl.
  • It's All About Me: Psychologists agree that Suzanne is eligible for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
    • Playing "All By Myself" at her husband's funeral was a poor choice.
    • At the family dinner party, when Larry's sister begins talking about herself and her recent success, Suzanne looks visibly annoyed to have everyone paying attention to Janice instead of her.
  • Hypothetical Casting: Invoked. In the novel, Suzanne Stone Maretto states she would like to see "that actress that just got married to Tom Cruise in real life" play her in a movie about this. (Kidman went and did in The Film of the Book.)
  • Karma Houdini: Subverted. The cops gain evidence on Suzanne via Lydia wearing a wire but her lawyer gets it declared inadmissible in court because it was acquired through entrapment. Then the acquitted Suzanne goes too far by painting Larry as a drug addict which causes his father to order a hit on her.
  • Kick the Dog: Averted although it didn't look good for Walter when the hitman took him and Suzanne for a ride.
  • Killed Offscreen: Larry's father arranges for a hit to be put out on Suzanne for killing her husband. She's approached by a soft-spoken, friendly hitman who walks her offscreen to kill her. The next and last time we see her, she's floating in a frozen lake.
  • Lysistrata Gambit: Suzanne threatens to stop having sex with Jimmy to force him to murder her husband. She threatens to start a relationship with Russel if he does not obey.
  • The Mafia Played With: Suzanne's father's fears that her Italian-American husband comes from a Mafia family are intended to come across as ridiculous and borderline racist. Turns out they are a Mafia family but they only react when Suzanne has a man killed, and then the only person they hurt is Suzanne herself in revenge.)
  • Metaphorgotten: When Suzanne is convincing Ed Grant to hire her for his local cable station:
    Suzanne: Everybody has to start somewhere. Do you know where Edward R. Murrow started?
    Ed: No, I don't.
    Suzanne: No. Well... neither do I offhand. But I don't think it was at the top, do you?
  • Mister Muffykins: Larry gives Suzanne a Pomeranian which she calls "Walter" (after Walter Cronkite). She later tells Jimmy that she cannot divorce because Larry would take Walter away from her.
  • The Narcissist: Suzanne has been described as a textbook case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
  • Nice Guy: Larry is a very nice guy... mostly.
  • Oh, Crap!: Suzanne becomes very alarmed when her boss tells her that the police confiscated the videotapes she made with her accomplices.
  • Police Are Useless: Subverted. The criminals are completely incompetent and the police catch on to them immediately. The police can also see through Suzanne's Stepford Smiler Act. Unfortunately, the most solid proof that Suzanne is the mastermind of the crime is ruled inadmissible in court, so they cannot convict her.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Suzanne thinks she's something special. Even though the biggest gig she lands is as a weather reporter for a local cable station, she continues to believe she's the next big thing in television.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Larry wants Suzanne to do this instead of pursuing her career. It's what gets him killed.
  • Stepford Smiler: Rarely are Suzanne's smiles real.
  • The Stinger: Janice figure skates triumphantly over Suzanne's icy grave as "Season of the Witch" plays.
  • Sympathetic Murderer:
    • Suzanne is convinced she's one. The reality is otherwise.
    • Jimmy can be seen as one by audience members. It helps that, unlike Suzanne, Jimmy shows that he's conflicted up until the moment he commits the murder and appears remorseful about what he has done.
    • A second-hand example with Larry and Janice's father Joe; after realizing that Suzanne was responsible for his son's death, he has her whacked by a mob hitman as revenge.
  • Talk Show Appearance: While the film has a good portion of it told through a documentary and flashbacks, another portion has both Suzanne and Larry's parents being interviewed on a national talk show and their varying viewpoints of their children's lives, their marriage and the tragedy.
  • The Unfair Sex: Averted with the heartless character of Suzanne.
  • The Unfavorite: Suzanne appears to get a lot more attention from her parents than her sister does.
  • Think of the Censors!: Twice:
    • When Suzanne interviews the teenagers in the documentary about their life goals, Russell mocks Lydia by saying that hers is "to fuck the New Kids on the Block", which angers the latternote  and causes the former to scold him about his language, saying how the station could be fined and the project could be pulled over it.
    • When in prison, Jimmy admits to the interviewer of the documentary that serves as the film's Framing Device that sometimes when he's alone in his cell at night, he thinks of Suzanne and he "jerks off". This only earns him an audible groan from the interviewer to which he apologizes.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Suzanne exhibits a lot of airheaded moments throughout the film, but probably the most egregious case is agreeing to meet a man alone, in the middle of nowhere, who claims to be a studio executive without any credentials to back that up, and following him underneath a bridge to an icy lake where... sure enough, he kills her.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: The home video of a young Suzanne talking about how she wants to be on TV would be pretty sweet if not for her actions as an adult. Averted in the novel, where she stole a prized family heirloom from her sister out of jealousy as a kid.
  • The Vamp: Played With; Suzanne has the ruthlessness and the looks but lacks the brains to pull it off properly — her 'seduction' and 'manipulation' are hilariously ham-fisted and obvious. Luckily her targets are even dumber than she is.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Was inspired by the real-life Pamela Smart case.
  • Villain Protagonist: Suzanne, a heartless murderess, is the protagonist (and narrator).