The Ghost Writer Ewan McGregor sleuths instead of writes." /> The Ghost Writer Ewan McGregor sleuths instead of writes." />

Alexandra Lange | Essays

Modern Houses and Doomed P.M.s

We watched The Ghost Writer, Roman Polanski’s recent thriller starring Ewan McGregor in the in-over-his-head male ingenue role. I loved the first hour — making the rude ballet of getting on and off a car ferry into a scene of menace was genius — but when it became clear the bad guys were part of (and this is no spoiler) A VAST INTERNATIONAL CONSPIRACY I lost interest. Two things kept me amused.

First, Ewan (whose character’s name is never mentioned; Pierce Brosnan as the too-cute-for-politics version of Tony Blair just calls him “man”) plays a ghost writer on a tight deadline. He has a month to fix the politician’s memoirs. But we never see him writing. He keeps saying he has to get to work, but then scotch and amateur sleuthing get in the way. I can’t begin to tell you how nervous this made me. He might miss his deadline? Had he made an outline? Just start writing! My professional neurosis (I don’t think I have ever turned anything in late) prickled my skin to a far greater degree than Polanski’s gray-on-gray palette.

Second, the lost-in-translation quality of the house on Martha’s Vineyard in which Pierce was staying. The outside and the inside were clearly two different houses, the exterior shingles a nod to our American tastes, the stacked basalt walls within a pure northern European idea of luxury. It all looked so German, with those big flat windows on the water, and in fact the beaches are on the island of Sylt, the exterior near Poland, the interior a soundstage (review from the house’s perspective here). But more than that, no American or European politician would ever rent such a house. Look at what the Clintons bought in Chappaqua, white clapboard, welcoming porch. Even out of office heads of state have to maintain the fiction that their tastes are just like the rest of ours, and that leaves modernism, and contemporary architecture to an even greater degree, out. A man who calls his wife about whether or not to grin would never allow himself to be photographed in a house without a yard, without a bush.

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