Hypothetical Conversation Between Myself at 12 and 35 After Watching Face/Off

Artwork by Thom Robertson

|Matt Levine|

12-year-old self, after seeing Face/Off for the first time upon its release in June 1997: Dude.

35-year-old self, after rewatching Face/Off for about the fifteenth time in 2020: What?

12-year-old self: Bro.

35-year-old self: Ugh.

12-year-old self: That was the fucking coolest thing ever.

35-year-old self: Um…

12-year-old self: Seriously. Did you see that?

35-year-old self: You mean, all 138 minutes of it? Yeah, I’ve seen it a lot, actually.

12-year-old self: You mean I’m going to watch that movie repeatedly over the next 22-and-a-half years? That’s awesome.

35-year-old self: Holy shit, 1997 is so long ago.

12-year-old self: What do you mean? This thing just came out called AOL Instant Messenger. You can talk to someone a thousand miles away instantly, just sitting at your computer…

35-year-old self: Just you wait. Someday, the President is gonna start World War III on Twitter.

12-year-old self: I don’t know what that is. But dude, seriously, that movie…

35-year-old self [chuckling]: Yeah, it’s pretty fun, isn’t it?

12-year-old self: Pretty fun?!?! Is the Mona Lisa a nice little drawing? Are pogs just a passable diversion?

35-year-old self: [perturbed silence]

12-year-old self: It’s a masterpiece, seriously. I mean, what an idea: an FBI agent, in order to take down his nemesis, the most badass terrorist of all time–

35-year-old self: Ugh.

12-year-old self: –has a surgical procedure where they swap faces so he can find out where the bad guy, Castor Troy, planted this massive bomb.

35-year-old self: Don’t you think it’s weird that that bomb has a time delay of like three weeks so they have enough time to pull off this stunt?

12-year-old self: Haha. Yeah, I guess I didn’t think about that. But otherwise, it probably holds up, like, scientifically, right?

35-year-old self: You mean the whole “face transplant” thing?

12-year-old self: I mean, they talk about reconnecting the nerve endings and tear ducts, and they have the microchip in the larynx to duplicate each other’s voices…

35-year-old self: Sure. I’m not a doctor, so yeah, why not? Anyway, I’m okay with plot holes. If we demanded airtight logic from all the movies we watch, that would be pretty boring, right?

12-year-old self: Right. And it’s such a wild idea. I mean, he takes his face……

35-year-old self: Off.

12-year-old self: ……off.

35-year-old self: Yeah, it’s pretty over the top.

12-year-old self: It’s so nasty when Castor Troy wakes up from his coma without his face, and he runs his fingers along his bloody, fleshless head… barf!

35-year-old self [laughing]: Yeah, Nicolas Cage is so great in that scene, but the special effects don’t hold up very well. And it’s nothing compared to the face transplant scene in Eyes without a Face.

12-year-old self: Oh, is that the sequel?

35-year-old self: [perturbed silence]

12-year-old self: Anyway. That has to be the coolest movie ever.

35-year-old self: I mean, I love Face/Off, don’t get me wrong. But it sort of pains me to hear you say this. I know 1997 is around the time that you start watching all these great classics: The Godfather and The Exorcist with your dad – our dad? – and on Bravo, back before they only played reality TV all the time.

12-year-old self: So?

35-year-old self: So Face/Off is a really ridiculous, insanely entertaining action movie, but the coolest ever? You know, John Woo has some other great movies too.

12-year-old self: I know, like Broken Arrow. 

35-year-old self [smiling nostalgically]: Yeah, that’s a lot of fun. The part where Howie Long gets kicked off a moving train…

12-year-old self: Fucking awesome!

35-year-old self: But I was thinking of his Hong Kong movies. Like The Killer and Hard Boiled. All the stuff with doves, and the slow-motion intercut with other shots in the action scenes, he’s been perfecting that for a long time.

12-year-old: Cool.

35-year-old self: And A Better Tomorrow has this storyline about brothers who are on opposite sides of the law, and are kind of revealed to be flip sides of the male persona, you know, saint and sinner, law and criminality and all that.

12-year-old self: Boring.

35-year-old self: I’m just saying, aside from, like, actual masterpieces, there are so many other action movies you have to see. And which, I guess, you will. Like Point Blank, and The Great Escape, and The Legend of Drunken Master, and The Raid movies…

12-year-old self: Okay, but chill. I’m just talking about this one awesome, mind-blowing movie with a lot of shootouts and explosions.

35-year-old self: Fair enough. The climax is pretty incredible. It takes up, like, the last thirty minutes!

12-year-old self: I know! There’s a church shootout and a motorboat chase and an epic brawl on the beach at the end. And the part where John Travolta sings, “I’m ready for the big ride baby!”…

35-year-old self: Yeah, like Nicolas Cage does earlier in the movie. Cuz they’re both the same character, obviously.

12-year-old self: Whoa.

35-year-old self: Yep.

12-year-old self: That’s deep.

35-year-old self: I mean, not really. It’s just the gimmick that puts the plot in motion, even though there are all those shots of mirrors and those ridiculous names, Castor and Pollux, those twin brothers from Roman mythology.

12-year-old self: Like I said, man. Deep.

35-year-old self: But it is fun to see Nicolas Cage and John Travolta playing off each other. Totally chewing the scenery the whole time and mimicking each other’s celebrity persona.

12-year-old self: Like when John Travolta makes fun of his own chin?

35-year-old self: Yeah, exactly. You know, these were two of the biggest movie stars of the 1990s.

12-year-old self: I know. Con Air and Get Shorty.

35-year-old self: Yeah, and Leaving Las Vegas and Wild at Heart and Pulp Fiction…anyway, it’s kind of like a deconstruction of the ways that celebrity identity is built. We see John Travolta playing Nicolas Cage playing a character, and Cage playing Travolta playing a character…that might be the most entertaining part.

12-year-old self: Even more so than the shootouts?

35-year-old self: The action scenes are amazing, for sure. The one with “Over the Rainbow” playing when the little kid listens to it on headphones is stunning.

12-year-old self: Yeah, and it’s crazy that that’s one of the least ridiculous parts of the whole movie.

35-year-old self: But doesn’t the nonstop fetishization of guns in Face/Off seem a little disturbing?

12-year-old self: What do you mean?

35-year-old self: It’s like in any of those ultra-macho ‘90s action movies, like Eraser or The Rock or True Lies

12-year-old self: All great movies.

35-year-old self: Sure. You know, what makes you strong in those movies is whoever has the biggest gun. Usually held right in someone’s face, and/or spraying bullets everywhere. Doesn’t get much more phallocentric than that.

12-year-old self: Phallo-what?

35-year-old self: It’s probably a little different for me. You haven’t yet heard about the shootings at Columbine or the D.C. sniper or Virginia Tech or Fort Hood or The Dark Knight premiere or Sandy Hook or San Bernardino or the Pulse nightclub or the country music festival in Las Vegas or Stoneman Douglas or Virginia Beach or Dayton.

12-year-old self: It’s just a movie, though. Violent movies don’t suddenly make you into a mass shooter.

35-year-old self: Very true, and probably the smartest thing you’ve said so far, 12-year-old me. But it’s not just money and cowardly politicians and the most fucking antiquated gun control laws in the world that make all this happen. There’s something in the culture that makes weak-minded men believe that shooting people will suddenly make them famous and heroic.

12-year-old self: So, what, we can’t watch action movies anymore?

35-year-old self: No, that’s not what I’m saying. It’s just…I don’t know. The scene where the little kid is playing with a toy pistol and then picks up Castor Troy’s real gun – that kind of thing carries some added weight now, after Tamir Rice. Or the scene where Castor tells the FBI agent, Sean Archer, that the only thing they have in common is that “we both know our guns”…sad but true, you know?

12-year-old self: Whatever. All I know is I can’t wait to see this ridiculous movie again, probably in the theater, and then as soon as it comes out on VHS…

35-year-old self: Yeah, and then almost once a year for the next several decades.

12-year-old self: Really? So you never let up on this whole movie nerd thing, huh?

35-year-old self: Au contraire, my prepubescent friend.

12-year-old self: I don’t know if I should be happy or sad to hear that.

35-year-old self: I’ll let you decide.

12-year-old self: Anyway, I’m gonna go play GoldenEye with my friends for about four hours.

35-year-old self: I don’t think that comes out until August of 1997…

12-year-old self: Man, what did you say before about not caring about plot holes or logical inconsistencies?

35-year-old self: Good point. Count me in.

Edited by Michelle Baroody

Face/Off screens at the Trylon from Sunday, February 16 to Tuesday, February 18. For tickets and more information, please visit trylon.org.

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