Nicolas Roeg is the master of defying traditional narrative. In Eureka (1983), Roeg has taken all he learnt from Performance (1970) to Bad Timing (1980) and created a sensational saga that has been crafted together with wondrous precision. Using a combination of beautifully framed cinematography and intensified melodrama, Eureka is Roeg’s epic, a juiced up morality tale that signifies the mark where the late director arguably hit his peak. Gene Hackman plays Jack McCann, an Arctic prospector who, after fifteen years of searching, eventually strikes gold following the advice of a spiritualist (Helena Kalianiotes). Twenty years later he is the richest man on the planet and the owner of Eureka, his island and home. But with colossal fortune comes great paranoia and Jack quickly becomes convinced that his daughter, Tracy (Theresa Russell) and her partner, Claude (Rutger Hauer) are plotting to bleed dry his soul and empty his bank account. Jack’s character fades in the light of his insuppressible greed attracting the attention of two malevolent investors, Mayakofsky (Joe Pesci) and Aurelio (Mickey Rourke) who are desperate to get their hands on his lot.
Loosely based on the true life story of gold mine owner, Harry Oakes, the film begins with clumsily juxtaposed images of Ice capped mountains, molten gold and snow drifts but Roeg quickly stamps his quality mark with a series of traditional zooms, match-cuts and blissful edits. Spirituality features heavily throughout the film. Initially Jack seeks refuge in the presence of a fortune-teller who seemingly sacrifices herself for the future of her visitor. When Jack leaves her, he is led straight to the gold mines, as he hacks away with his pick axe and unleashes the gold, she can be seen writhing and groaning in pre-maternal agony. As the mine sumptuously fills with a rush of gold, her groans become exacerbated to the point of relief, and Jack bursts from a fresh hole in the ground, overflowing with liquid gold. Jack, still wet from his discovery returns to show his gratitude, only to find his spiritual mother dying, presumably as a result of his fortuitous rebirth.
Fast forward twenty years and Jack, accompanied by his estranged wife, Helen (Jane Lapotaire) talk of their past whilst seeing it subtly reenacted through the actions of their daughter and their son-in-law. As Helen who wears a similar dress to Tracy, speaks of how it used to be them on the boat, it soon becomes clear that history is repeating itself, making Jack all the more dubious of Claude’s intentions. There are subtle references to Lewis Carol’s Wonderland throughout. Jack falls into Wonderland the minute he enters the mine and is trapped, with gold weighing so heavily upon him. At a dinner attended by the film’s key figures, the Mad Hatter’s tea party is made reference to. Jack then flies out of control, aware that the only escape from his wonderland is death. As if to affirm its significance, a copy of Carol’s book subtly sneaks into Jack’s final frames before being set alight.
The battle between Jack and Claude becomes one between Jack and his ruthless younger self and this is made clear through the redressed repetition of actions, dialogue and themes from the film’s opening sequence. Claude’s interest in black magic mirrors Jack’s supernatural curiosities in one of the film’s most intense and unnerving scenes. Hackman is remarkable as Jack and owns the film by exquisitely superseding the hammy and exaggerated performances of his co-stars with palpable, mounting intensity. This is by no means a dismissal of the co-stars efforts however, as Russell, Hauer and Lapotaire ramp up the histrionics with a soap-operatic notion, conducive to the tradition of the quintessential family saga. The court-room scene is a theatrical slice of daytime TV, delivered with hysterical passion as Tracy takes to the stand afore a giant pareidolia of her father. Towards the film’s close Claude’s mere mention of Gone With The Wind (1939) signifies a noticeable shift with Roeg rapidly inflating the classic epic-romance sentiment before rubbing it in your face without giving a damn. The director’s personal Eureka moment happened well before the 1980s but there is absolutely no doubt that he continued to be one of the greatest, Eureka being the evidential pudding. This visual and fantastical masterpiece has been standing patiently behind Roeg’s very best for a while now and hopefully, thanks to its welcome reissue, this overlooked gem will be rediscovered for all it's worth.
Available on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as part of The Masters Of Cinema series on 21 March 2016.