The greatest con of The Brothers Bloom, a film concerned with two brothers renowned for their grand fraudulent antics, is that it isn’t necessarily about the central heist contained in the narrative at all. Rather, the film uses this framework as a way to simultaneously distract and explore the extent to which all of our lives are in a sense elaborate confidence tricks that we ourselves design and execute, oftentimes completely unawares. The central characters in the film, Stephen and Bloom, are initially presented as social outcasts and unwanted children, moving from town to town and being exchanged through the hands of numerous foster parents. Their dress sense visually alienates them from the other children in the small towns they blow through, but more importantly it is their values and attitudes that distance them from any sort of assimilation. That is until Stephen concocts a plan to trick the local town’s children into giving them money in exchange for the promise of treasure and adventure. The first stage of the plan involves younger brother Bloom adopting a persona in order to coerce the group into believing the story about treasure he will soon deliver. It is a true crisis moment for Bloom, yet he does not understand why. It isn’t because he is afraid of the consequences, or because his conscience kicks in, but rather it is a moment of relinquishing his identity at the command of his brothers will, a moment that will present Bloom with the most uncanny of emotions. It is the moment his self image and his projected/perceived image become uniquely conjoined and is the beginning of the crucial identity loss that will plague him throughout his adult life.
Our acknowledgement of the roles we play and the images of ourselves we devise and perpetuate are crucial in our understanding of self. Not only is Bloom’s projected image one that is constantly controlled and constructed by himself, but in the grander scheme of things it is a personality constantly designed by his older brother. Bloom is lost in a myriad of personalities, none of which seem to represent his true self. The question is, is there really such a thing as the real self? Obviously Bloom seeks independence and clarity of self-image, but whether he will ever achieve such a thing the film never concludes. The final con (and the central one of the film) revolves around Penelope, a young heiress whose entire life has consisted of solidarity out of misguided fear and abandonment. She is to accompany the brothers on an antique gathering expedition, or so she believes, and in the process Penelope and Bloom become romantically entangled. Her devil may care attitude and general inquisitive nature is obviously attractive to Bloom, whose entire life has been a series of controlled and carefully orchestrated events one after another. Her involvement in the ordeal becomes instrumental in unhinging Bloom from his rigorous identity deadlock and suggests that identity cannot be sustained through conscious control but rather must evolve of its own natural fruition. A notion that becomes further complicated when we comprehend the essential structuring of the film as a con leading to our inability to decipher exactly what is truth or reality. Not only do we question who knows what and who is in on the con, but this convoluted scenario clouds our ability to understand exactly who is in control of their own actions and desires.
It is telling that in the early stages of the film we meet all the characters as Nino Rota’s score from Fellini’s 8 ½ plays in the background (even some of the shots mimic Fellini’s film), a film about identity crisis if there ever was one. In that film’s conclusion, the central character Guido relinquishes complete control over his stories, and lets the stories evolve from his own self. It is a revelation that life essentially is a series of stories, but in our attempt to write them prematurely we miss out on the experience and joy of their being told. As with the end of 8 ½, Bloom throws his caution into the wind and is seemingly freed of the constrictions of his overly designed self image. The future is uncertain, but there is a true sense of joy and elation in that prospect, something that will ripen and enrich our experiences and ultimately ourselves. Whether we are simply a series of stories and self-fulfilling prophecies is the film’s greater and unanswered question, but it is the path towards that discovery which seems most important.
The film briefly explores the notion of the cinema as being a con itself, something Godard understood when he called cinema the “most beautiful fraud in the world”. Certainly the post modern nature of the film highlights this notion in its very construction, but even in its narrative concerns the film somewhat of a lie. Certainly it is a fantastically realised film about two con artist brothers involved in their last great job, but this is only to cloud the multi-textual nature of the film itself, that of which we must discover for ourselves. Thus, the film becomes an experience where the lie reveals truths, or at least opens up perspectives and insights that becomes rewarding and refreshing. It seems the older Bloom brother exposed more than a simple clever insight when he states that “the perfect con is one where everyone involved gets just the thing they wanted”.
Written by Simon Di Berardino