Art Is (Or Is It?) Pain in Katsoupis’ Inside

Izzy Astuto ‘25 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Spoilers ahead.

Inside, not to be confused with Bo Burnham’s special from 2021 of the same name, stars Willem Dafoe as a high-end art thief. No matter how big of a Dafoe fan you are, though, there is a good chance you have not heard of this art house flick, which was released to minimal acclaim March 17th in America. 

Dafoe’s art thief, named Nemo (a fact seemingly overlooked by the movie’s script), breaks into the penthouse of a wealthy art collector, meaning to steal three paintings, but is unable to locate the last one. His outside contact, in his panic over the missing painting, accidentally sets off the apartment’s alarm system and abandons Dafoe. Nemo is left locked in this pretentious prison, slowly going insane to the backdrop of expensive artwork and the most elaborate home decor imaginable. 

The director, Vasilis Katsoupis, made his feature debut with this film, and much of the budget probably went to securing the high-profile Dafoe. However, the movie makes good with what it has, the apartment intimidatingly impressive in its over the top detail. One of Dafoe’s many problems, besides simply being trapped, is the heating and cooling system, dipping into over 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, then swinging to below 0, only exacerbating Dafoe’s declining mental state, as well as physical wellbeing. 

While the apartment is initially well-stocked with food, it slowly begins to run low on both food and water, leading Dafoe to extremes, such as mutilating the fish in Chekhov’s fish tank audiences are introduced to early on in the narrative. The penthouse’s upscale fridge acts as one of the movie’s few other characters, speaking to Dafoe whenever opened with updates on how stocked it is. It also plays the Macarena whenever open for longer than twenty seconds, shown in a particularly emotional, yet darkly funny scene when he opens the freezer in a moment of desperation as the apartment keeps getting hotter and hotter, seeking some type of relief. He slurps up the ice and rubs the condensation all over his face. Macarena begins playing and Dafoe is forced to face the reality of his situation, sobbing to the repetitive dance beat. 

The movie doesn’t pull its punches with Dafoe’s hardships, explicit with some of the more disgusting scenes. This movie is very concerned with its aesthetic appeal, many shots laid out to look like a piece of artwork. A pile of Nemo’s excrements even manage to look artistic. The focus on his pain makes the audience feel his hopelessness tenfold, like when he falls from a carefully constructed structure meant to help him escape, injuring his leg and making it substantially harder for him to find a way out. 

The movie isn’t perfect, however. Inside follows a long line of movies from these past two years to critique the ultra-wealthy, such as The Menu. Instead of the food world, however, this movie tries to tackle art and art collecting. While it does a decent job at portraying how shallow this art can actually be in the face of real-world problems, the critiques feel very surface level. The movie can’t seem to make a decision on what aspects of this culture it is critiquing and which it agrees with, leading to a convoluted end message. 

The ending itself is ambiguous on whether or not Nemo escapes, or instead kills himself to find release. While an open ending can be done well, the movie feels unwilling to commit to a decision, as Nemo’s character generally feels undefined outside of the events of this film. The ending could characterize him if a distinct point was made through the general commentary. Overall, though, this movie is one of 2023’s hidden gems that everyone should check out if they get the chance, at least for yet another masterful Dafoe performance.

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