The Lodger is a textbook example of an anachronistically inappropriate
interpretation of a vintage story. It's about a series of murders similar
to those of Jack the Ripper. A couple takes in a mysterious lodger, and
his arrival coincides with a brutal series of killings. The novel, written
by a Londoner named Marie Belloc Lowndes, took place in London and was
written in 1913, when the original Jack the Ripper might still have been
alive, so any resumption of Ripper-style homicides carried an implicit
special terror that the killer might not be a copycat, but the Ripper
himself, still wandering through London 25 years after his first spate of
The story has been made into five movies:
The first two, like the book, located the story in London during a
period of Ripper-style murders. The 1944 and 1953 versions took the Ripper
connection to the next level. They actually located the story in England
in 1888 and suggested that the mysterious lodger might have been THE Jack
the Ripper. All of those were sensible adaptations
This new one is not.
It just doesn't make sense to bring some stories into modern times. The
best example from a major director would be Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. The
story made sense when it was located in Vienna between the two wars. The
doctor's blind rage at his wife's imaginary infidelity is something
completely believable from a man living in 1920 Austria, and the
unverifiable disappearance of the pianist was credible in a world without
cars and telephones. For reasons clear only to him, Kubrick chose to keep
the story exactly the same, but to locate the action in New York in the
1990s, where the pianist's safety could have been ascertained immediately
with a phone call, and the doctor's response to his wife's confession
seems like a moronic overreaction from a man who must have been smart
enough to get through medical school, and must have studied modern
psychology while he was there. Moreover, we live in a world where everyone
seems to "share" too damned much, and no highly educated man would be
surprised to hear his wife confess to lurid but unfulfilled fantasies
about other men.
The Lodger poses a similar inherent problem for a movie adaptation. The
people who made the previous four versions of this story realized that it
really needs to take place in the distant past in London in order to be
effective. Relocating the story to modern times in L.A. simply doesn't
work, for many reasons.
* First, the original Ripper is long dead, so the story has to be about
a copycat, which removes an important layer of terror.
* Second, prostitutes are not likely to walk alone through deserted
city streets in modern cities.
a. Not many streets in Los Angeles, where this story takes place, are
deserted to begin with.
b. Prostitutes need customers, and deserted streets don't provide
any. Hookers look for maximum traffic locations, just like the guys who
build gas stations and convenience stores.
c. Furthermore, 'tutes don't walk through deserted areas of L.A. to
get to the congested areas where they hawk their wares. Hell, nobody
walks anywhere in cities like L.A. or Dallas. Everyone uses vehicular
* Third, contemporary Los Angeles is not filled with fog, dark corners,
hidden medieval courtyards, or constant atmospheric rain.
I could continue in this vein, but you already see the problems
inherent in a modern interpretation. It all boils down to this: relocating
the story to latter day L.A. not only lacks credibility (where the hell
would he even find a public street where he could kill and eviscerate
prostitutes without witnesses?), but strips away every element of
atmosphere and mystery that could make the story into a worthwhile movie
to begin with.
Which means I don't need to write much more. Making this movie was a
really bad idea.
Sadly, the execution is just as bad. To replace what they lost with the
modernization, the film's creators had to add all sorts of extra wrinkles
and twists and some absurd red herrings, like a suggestion that the
investigating detective is the killer. All of that fol-de-rol leads to a
resolution which makes no sense when one reviews what has been seen
earlier, and even that is trumped by a logic-defying post-resolution
epilogue that I still can't figure out. And those elements were not the
worst parts of the script because they were at least relevant to the
story. The worst material consists of irrelevant sub-plots which were
introduced and dropped without ever having any significance of any kind.
There are various elements of the cop's personal life, for example, which
are simply not germane to the narrative. They seem to come from a separate
The only real mystery which needs to be explained in this film is how
such talented people as Alfred Molina and Hope Davis (and others!) got
talked into working in it. Actually, I can understand why Davis was
tempted, because the landlady's part is a really juicy role which was a
perfect match for her range of abilities, and she did a great job. She
manages to be sexy and vulnerable and crazy, and is the film's only
redeeming grace. But Molina should have known better. He's a terrific
performer, but what in the world made him think he was the right guy to
play a hard-ass, workaholic L.A. cop?