Bernie: Richard Linklater's Corn Pone Carthage Carnage

In a colorful demonstration of the banality of evil film-making, Richard Linklater brought us Bernie. The movie tells the story of Bernie Tiede, a well-regarded member of the community who killed a not-so-well-regarded member of the community of Carthage, in the eastern part of Texas. While Linklater seeks to infuse this horrid tale with his quirky talent for whimsy, he has instead produced a criminally mischievous and perniciously vicious movie that seeks to elevate saccharine emotion, willful blindness and greed over reason, principle, and simple justice.

The film has the tag line of  "A Story So Unbelievable It Must Be True." But the story is not unbelievable at all. What's unbelievable is that Linklater and his cronies chose to perpetrate such cinematic malfeasance in such a stunningly superficial and cavalier manner.  Linklater is so morally corrupt that he had no discernible qualms about presenting the murderer Bernie Tiede as some kind of victim - an endearing and lovable victim of society and the system - a victim whose heinous and premeditated crimes were all but inevitable given his inner goodness when confronted with the durned meanness of others. Dagnabbit!

But the despicable lies at heart of this rancid movie expose themselves at every turn. Jack Black, who is supposed to represent Bernie's wholesome goodness, likability, earnestness, and "buttercup-of-a-man" nature, instead comes across as a smarmy, seedy, manipulative, egocentric, self-aggrandizing, fundamentally insincere con-man. Matthew McConaughey, who usually performs with subtlety and deftness, is on the verge of popping veins in a performance that comes across as little more than an unrehearsed caricature. Shirley MacLaine basically phones in the character of Marjorie Nugent, the elderly woman who Bernie Tiede shot in the back and then stuffed in a freezer. I wanna believe the sub-par performances of McConaughey and MacLaine are no accident - that such half-hearted performances are the only possible performances you would get from actors who actually have moral consciences.

But moral conscience is in very short supply in this tawdry tale, which begins with a lot of colorful local characters talking about what a great guy Bernie was. He was helpful, and likable, and affable, and amiable, and personable, and gregarious, and professional, and blah blah mutherfucking blah. But wait! Not only was Bernie nice, but the widow he "befriended" was mean, low-down, 'ornery, lower-than a yellow-bellied yadda yadda yadda. Plus she was rich. And cheap. So we're asked to believe the mean old bitch deserved what she got, basically.

When first introduced to these colorful locals describing Bernie and his victim, one is struck by the genius of Linklater's casting. But it's not so genius after all, as it becomes clear later on that several of the characters who discuss the case throughout the picture are real people from the town of Carthage. They are townsfolk who know the real Bernie and are discussing the real Bernie. In fact, many of them got some real nice stuff from Bernie. Now, the fact that Bernie was giving away someone else's property, whoops! make that his victim's property to them to make them like him is kind of lost on most of them.  But they're colorful and quirky, and it just wouldn't be polite to call these folks venal and greedy, ya hear? 

But greed suffuses this tale, although Linklater attributes greed only to the members of the rich victim's family. Why, if the victims family weren't so durned greedy, they wouldn't have been such a bunch of suspicious snoops, and nobody would have ever have had to have known that that lovable scamp Bernie picked up a fucking rifle, pointed it at that cheap and mean old lady's back, and gently pulled the trigger. BLAM!

Then Bernie tenderly pulled the trigger again and put another bullet into her mean old cheap body. BLAM!

Then, while those two bullets were scrambling up her heart and lungs, he whimsically pulled that trigger once again, and another lovable little bullet tore into that mean old lady. BLAM! Her flesh and bones got nice and fucked up just a wee bit more. And then Bernie, who was nothing if not a stickler for doing things right, caressed the trigger with his big ol' caring finger once more, and squeezed off one more loving shot into the mean old lady's back to ever-so-generously help her to become dearly departed.


Back to them greedy relatives. Why if them durned greedy rascals weren't so greedy, then we would never have had to confront the reality that the loving and caring Bernie lovingly scooped up the mean ol' greedy lady's body with care and stuffed in a food freezer.  For her own good. 'Cause Bernie's a nice guy. Everybody says so.

Yup. Ol' Bernie stuffed old lady Nugent in a fucking food freezer. But wait! He can explain! Bernie tells us why he stuffed his friend in the food freezer and left her there for nine months while he squandered her assets: "I wanted to make sure that she got a proper burial." Well I'll be gol-durned if that Linklater feller didn't present this pitiful hogwash as something we're supposed to believe. But I don't believe it - not for a minute! Nosirree! You see, there have been a lot of fellars who leave dead bodies in the freezer or the fridge while they carry on like nothin' happened. Yup. And it ain't so they can attend to proper burials. Nope. Them dead frozen bodies is whatcha call trophies. With four hot slugs, Bernie Tiede showed Marjorie Nugent who's boss, and Marjorie Nugent's dead frozen body was Bernie's Tiede's trophy.

Fortunately, in real life, as in the movie, the Carthage District Attorney had the trial moved out of Carthage in order to have a chance at a fair trial with a jury that had not been corrupted by Bernie's stolen trinkets. The real Bernie Tiede was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

But, luckily for Bernie, Richard Linklater read a story about the sordid affair, and made a six-million dollar public relations movie for the convict. Some lawyer seen it, and dug all into the affair, and found the gem that she was looking for:  Bernie Tiede was sexually abused as a child!!! How do you spell BINGO?!

Turns out that was the magic wand or some such, 'cause that was the basis for an appeal that made it clear that the fondling of Bernie as a youth made him susceptible to entering into bad relationships that couldn't help but make him commit a hot-headed cold-blooded murder!  See how easy that is? But wait! It gets better! Some city-slicker psychiatrist felt Bernie had one of them-there dissociation episodes and acted on impulse. And that sounded good enough to everyone involved to let poor ol' Bernie go.

That Linklater sure is funny. It's really funny how he left out the part about Bernie having homosexual relations with Marjorie's gardener and changed it all around to Marjorie Nugent being a racist. And it's funny how Linklater makes Marjorie Nugent's chewing her food the visual image that makes Bernie snap and kill her. And it's really funny how, after all that book-learnin', them psychiatric folk don't seem to cotton to the notion that there are exit doors that let people disassociate themselves from toxic relationships all the time. But the black comedy joke about that is, if you leave, then you lose all that lovely easy money and all that casual homosexual frolicking in the uptight religious lady's lovely garden.

So you kill her.

Funny, huh?