The Beat that My Heart Skipped: An Adaptation of 1978’s Fingers

With A Beat that My Heart Skipped, Jacques Audiard has taken the plot of a cult classic and redefined its theme, but lacking a conclusive moral, an eccentric star character, and a climax that makes it all seem worth while really prevents this film from ever truly capturing its audience.

People will appreciate its authenticity and it’s relatively well composed plot, but the ending is a dud and when the climax fails, the rest of the pieces begin to fall apart. Still, I recommed seeing it. The acting is good and the story is about real problems. I just wish the film said something about those problems that wasn’t so obscure.

Audiard’s desire to be artistic and creative, mysterious and inciteful might have cost him in the end on this project because he is never really able to deliver that knockout blow.

In 1978, James Toback made a low budget film about a pianist who doubles as a bounty hunter/ loan shark and unseemly philanderer. The film, Fingers, went on to become a cult classic because of the eccentricity in the lead role, Jimmy Fingers.

This guy would find some guy who wasn’t paying his debt and beat him up, then he would find some chick and bang her in the bathroom. When all was done, he’d go home and play his piano. It was just weird, and that’s what it was about. It was about some oddball who just craved a career in music.

Audiard’s adaptation redefines what Fingers was about from what I think is a much more sophisticated and accurate point of view. A Beat that My Heart Skipped is not about an oddball who craves a career in music. A Beat that My Heart Skipped is about a young man in a difficult position who just happens to be presented with an opportunity to do something beautiful.

This contrast between his past which is violent, vindictive, and ugly and the future which could be delicate, charming, and beautiful really gives this film a sense of thematic value that Fingers never really possessed.

Fingers never really appeared to be about anything, other than a lunatic running around who just happened to like playing the piano. A Beat that My Heart Skipped takes the essence of Fingers’ internal struggle and makes that the focus of the film, rather than his unusual sexual and vagrant escapades. The problem is that what Tom learns about himself, how he solves his internal dilemma is relatively unclear.

Having an unclear solution to a problem that is so elaborately articulated takes the value away, and not because the solution should be clear, but because you don’t elaborately depict such a problem unless you have a clear solution.

Otherwise, what’s the point? To exhibit a man in distress and then make him happy in the end? I’m all for it, but how does it work? How is his course in life redirected? What is it that he learns from his failures that permits him to achieve greater success? If the film had answered these questions, it would have been a great film.

One of the adjustments the makers of this film made when adapting Fingers was sprucing up the personality in the lead role. Jimmy Fingers is no longer an odd, strange, peculiar, or weird vigilante. He is now suave, sly, smooth, and more of the ladies man/ tough guy that his character is supposed to portray. In turn, the adapted character is much more believable and truer to form.

The downside of course is that Jimmy Fingers’ odd, strange, and peculiar character in Fingers was the only aspect of the film that made it an inkling of interest. I’m not saying that the adapted character should have been made more like the original. I’m just saying that the personality of the main character didn’t do so much for A Beat that My Heart Skipped like it did for “Fingers.”

What does for A Beat that My Heart Skipped is its thematic presentation. It makes the film worth seeing. The dissapointing climax though however really prevents it from ever truly capturing its audience, and it’s not because of what happens, it’s becauser of how it is presented. The climax doesn’t last, their isn’t a lot of textual friction, the event sort of just happens and the emotion behind it is masqueraded like something else is more important. Had the film delivered a fruitful climax, the inconclusive moral cast aside, this film would have been dynamite. As it turned out, it never really came off.

A story about a young man who has had a vagrant past and is given the opportunity to pursue a career in music nonetheless is a gut wrenching story, but nothing profound is really ever said about his struggle, nothing that ever reinforces the belief that he has learned something and found his way. It sort of just happens without any continuity between events.

This isn’t a big problem. It happens all the time in movie making, but other movies that fail in this area don’t work so hard to make their film meaningful, a film of value. They’re just entertainment spectacles and this is not an entertainment spectacle. This is a real story about a real character. A little bit more effort could have been put into constructing a solution that was identifiable. Why? Because someone who experiences that much pain and distress should have some kind of incite that is valuable to the rest of us. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time.

Even with this morality let down, the film could have achieved monumental status if a spectacular climax had been achieved, but it wasn’t. It was a dud, and no matter how interesting the rest of the picture is, the climax of a film with nothing meaningful to say is either going to make or break the picture at a universal level. Watch out for Jacque Audiard though. He has the ability to not only deliver that climax, but to literally kill you in the process. I expect great things from him in the near future.

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