There’s a scene midway through the meaningless Silver Tongues in which a mysteriously motivated couple, Gerry (Lee Tergesen) and Joan (Enid Graham), visit a nursing home to fuck with elderly people’s vulnerable minds. While scoping the home’s main area, looking for his next victim, Gerry passes by a table where a woman is putting together a puzzle and slips a single piece into his pocket, a malevolent action intended to cause her frustration later on. And by the time Silver Tongues is over, it’s as if writer-director Simon Arthur has done something similar to his audience, as the film’s intentionally missing pieces leave us without an answer to the central, nagging question of who his main characters are and why they chose to go from town to town imposing their changing personas on strangers and leaving a path of destruction in their wake.
Silver Tongues is so closed off from its audience that I was reminded of Pedro Costa’s idea of “closed door” films. For Costa, a film that closes its door on the viewer is one that doesn’t allow them to project their own lives onto it, like the more prevalent “open door” films do, but force the viewer, however unpleasantly, to literally see the film for what it actually is. Costa said, “We film life, and the more I close the doors, the more I hinder the spectator from taking pleasure in seeing himself on the screen—because I don’t want that—the more I close the doors, the more I’m going to have the spectator against me, perhaps against the film, but at least he will be, I hope, uncomfortable and at war. That is, he will be in the uneasy situation of the world. It’s not good if one is at ease all the time.”
While Silver Tongues fits Costa’s idea of a “closed door” film in that it never lets us really know its main characters and therefore relate to them, it pushes this further by making the characters detestable because of the way they seem to be operating on sadistic autopilot, hurting innocent people for indiscernible reasons. Unlike the Japanese masters Costa uses to illustrate his idea, the problem with Silver Tongues is that Arthur has nothing to actually show us about the world. Instead, Silver Tongues is the creation of a filmmaker who’s not an acute observer, but a trickster, one who values being clever for the sake of being clever and has let his concept—that these are people doing things for no discernible reason—get the better of him, and as a consequence his film is merely a shallow, nihilistic shell that has nothing of value to show us in exchange for emotionally closing us off.
The only layers in Silver Tongues are those of bullshit. The film is roughly comprised of four scenes that add up to very little; they’re merely similarly themed short films strung together by the same undeveloped characters. The first three scenes are at least plausible in a fictitious way: We watch Gerry and Joan infiltrate various situations under false pretenses and rope others into their wicked games. We may not know how a scene will end, but we know who the victims are (it’s only in between scenes that there are hints that Joan is Gerry’s victim in the sense that he’s coercing her to participate in their games, but again, there’s no explanation why). In the last scene, however, just before the characters return home and the film leaves us high and dry, Gerry and Joan stage an act in the woods that’s performed just for us, making the film lose its credibility and expand its schadenfreude up from its characters to its writer-director, who seems to enjoy inflicting unnecessary pain as much as his agents of evil do.