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Starring: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, David Strathairn
OUR RATING: ★★★☆☆
Period psychological thriller directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro. Nightmare Alley (2021) centers on Stanton ‘Stan’ Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words, who teams up with Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), a psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.
Our Favorite Quotes:'You don't fool people. They fool themselves.' - Dr. Lilith Ritter (Nightmare Alley) Click To Tweet
Bruno: [to Stanton] What’s your pitch, pal? You on the level? You need work?
Clem Hoatley: [after he’s caged the man] Step right up and behold, one of the unexplained mysteries of the universe. Is he man or beast?
Geek: I’m not like this.
Clem Hoatley: Folks will pay good money just to make themselves feel better.
Clem Hoatley: [to Stanton] Would a steady job be of interest to you, young buck? Folks here, they don’t make no never mind who you are, or what you done.
Zeena the Seer: Say, maybe you can hawk for me. You know, work the audience. We got a little mind reading show.
Stanton Carlisle: What would I have to do?
Zeena the Seer: Ain’t nothing to it. Carny speak’s like a song. We sound Southern to Southerners, and Western to Westerners. You got a sweet little lilt. Just got to lean on it. Talk of the soil. You drawl slow, but all the while, you’re hustling fast. Yeah, you can peddle for me. And on your down time, maybe Pete can show you a trick or two. You’re going to do just fine, honey. You got panache.
Zeena the Seer: Oh, you’re trouble, ain’t you, pup?
Stanton Carlisle: No, ma’am. I’m absolutely no trouble at all.
Zeena the Seer: Oh, yes, you are. Yes, you are. You’re a “maybe”. And “maybes”, they’re real bad for me.
Zeena the Seer: People always ask me if I have spirit aid. Well, folks, the only spirits I control are the ones in this bottle. The spirits of alcohol.
Pete: You never do a spook show. No good comes out of a spook show.
Stanton Carlisle: Is it so bad to give her hope?
Pete: It ain’t hope if it’s a lie, Stan.
'People are desperate to tell you who they are. Desperate to be seen.' - Pete (Nightmare Alley) Click To Tweet
Pete: People are desperate to tell you who they are. Desperate to be seen.
Zeena the Seer: Ain’t that the truth.
Clem Hoatley: [as he takes a drink] Christ almighty, throat’s sore as a bull’s a** in fly time.
Clem Hoatley: [to Stanton] Toe the line, don’t f*** with me. That’s the lesson.
Stanton Carlisle: Hey, Pete. I’d love to learn anything that you’d want to teach me.
Pete: Teach you?
Stanton Carlisle: I understand if you don’t want to give away your secrets.
Pete: No. It’s not that, my boy. It’s, well, it’s just that it’s been some time since anybody’s asked me to teach them anything.
Molly Cahill: You do know this is the Ragtag Opera, right? Nothing’s really the best of anything around here.
Stanton Carlisle: Well, you’re better than this place.
Molly Cahill: Maybe you think I’m special, but I’m not.
Stanton Carlisle: Well, maybe I see something in you you don’t see.
The thing you need to know is, if you displease the right people, the world closes in on you very, very fast.' - Dr. Lilith Ritter (Nightmare Alley) Click To Tweet
Molly Cahill: Maybe all this is good enough for me.
Stanton Carlisle: I don’t believe you. If it’s not good enough for me, it sure ain’t good enough for you.
Bruno: [to Stanton] You been bumping gums with Molly a little too often. Just so happens I knew her old man. I knew him really good. Old-time grifter. My guess, he wouldn’t have liked you at all. I promised him I’d take care of the girl, and I’m going to. I still got five good pounds of meat and bone right here. Hurt that girl, you get them all.
Molly Cahill: You’re dreaming.
Stanton Carlisle: No, Molly. You’re bigger than this place. If you let me, I want to give you the world and everything in it.
Clem Hoatley: [to Stanton] You heard? That little Kraut, the one that looks like Chaplin, he just invaded Poland! The balls on him.
'It ain't hope if it's a lie.' - Pete (Nightmare Alley) Click To Tweet
Clem Hoatley: [referring to the wounded geek] I said leave him be!
Stanton Carlisle: Can’t leave him in the rain.
Clem Hoatley: Don’t pretend you give a s**t with me!
Stanton Carlisle: How do you ever get a guy to geek?
Clem Hoatley: Oh, I ain’t going to crap you up. It ain’t easy. You got to pick up a broken drunk. A real alkie, a two bottle a day fool, see?
Stanton Carlisle: Pick him up from where?
Clem Hoatley: Nightmare alleys, train tracks, flophouses, you name it. Lot of folks came back from the war addicted to the poppy, to booze. Now, opium really sinks its claws, but you reel them in with booze. You tell them, “I got a little job for you. It’s a temporary job.” Make sure you emphasize that. “Just temporary, until we get ourselves another geek.” You spike it with that opium tincture. One drop per bottle, that’s all. But, oh, oh, now, this is whathe thinks is heaven.
Pete: You know, if you’re good at reading people, it’s mostly because you learned as a child, trying to stay one step ahead of whatever tormented you. Now, if they really did a number on you, then that crack, it’s a hollow. And there’ll never be enough. There’s no filling that in.
Pete: When a man believes his own lies, starts believing that he has the power, he’s got shuteye. Because now he believes it’s all true. And people get hurt. Good, God-fearing people. And then you lie. You lie. And when the lies end, there it is. The face of God, staring at you straight. No matter where you turn. No man can outrun God, Stan.
Funhouse Jack: Sin and salvation. Heaven and Hell. Find out what it feels like right here on Earth. Let the mirrors show you who you are and who you shall be.
'When a man believes his own lies, starts believing that he has the power, he's got shuteye. Because now he believes it's all true. And people get hurt.' - Pete (Nightmare Alley) Click To Tweet
Sheriff Jedediah Judd: I am closing you down. I ain’t none of your thieving southern police kissing a priest’s toe on Sundays and raking in graft six days a week.
Stanton Carlisle: You know what’s funny? Pete used to always say, “It’s not the clothes, but the shoes that could tell you everything you need to know about a man.”
Molly Cahill: I’m ready, Stan.
Stanton Carlisle: Ready for what?
Molly Cahill: To leave all this behind, go with you.
Stanton Carlisle: We are ready, aren’t we?
Stanton Carlisle: My whole life I’ve been looking for something, something that I’m good at. And I think I found it, Molly. I think I’m ready.
Molly Cahill: I know you are, Stan.
'Sometimes you don't see the line until you cross it.' - Stanton Carlisle (Nightmare Alley) Click To Tweet
Stanton Carlisle: You ready?
Molly Cahill: Ready for what?
Stanton Carlisle: The world and everything in it, rabbit.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: You say you’re genuine, and I say you use verbal signals of some sort to communicate between the two of you.
Stanton Carlisle: There are no tricks involved, madam. There’s no deception whatsoever.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Then answer me. What is inside the bag?
Stanton Carlisle: The usual’s inside that bag. Lipstick, a handkerchief.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Oh, well, that is easy enough, is it not?
Stanton Carlisle: [referring to Ritter’s pistol] You claim to carry it to defend yourself, but I think you do it because you like it. I think you do it because it makes you feel powerful. Well, madam, you are not powerful. Not powerful enough.
Molly Cahill: I gave you the initials of that watch, and you turned it into a goddamn spook show.
Stanton Carlisle: Molly, did you see the same show that I did? That crowd was on its feet. When was the last time that happened? I mean, we give them mentalism and they treat it like it’s a dog walking on its hind legs. But that, that was different. We should leave that in the show.
Stanton Carlisle: You seek solace?
Judge Kimball: Yes.
Stanton Carlisle: I believe we can provide that for you.
Stanton Carlisle: I know you’re angry with me.
Molly Cahill: Of course, you do. You can read minds. You talk to the dead, remember?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Mr. Carlisle, come in.
Stanton Carlisle: Slow day?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Have you not heard? We’re at war.
Stanton Carlisle: I’m aware. How did you know it was me?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: What brings you here?
Stanton Carlisle: You left me your card, didn’t you?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: So, here we are.
Stanton Carlisle: [as she offers him a drink] Oh, not me. I never drink.
Stanton Carlisle: Microphones?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: That’s right. Wire recorder.
Stanton Carlisle: Are you recording this?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: No. My office is wired to record all analysis sessions.
Stanton Carlisle: You got a smoother line, but you run a racket, same as me.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Is that what this is?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: How did you know I had a pistol?
Stanton Carlisle: I can read a mark quick. Find out what they want.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: And I’m a mark, am I?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: What do I want?
Stanton Carlisle: To be found out. Same as everybody else.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Is that it?
Stanton Carlisle: Think out things that most people want, hit them where they live. Health, wealth, love.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Find out what they’re afraid of and sell it back to them.
Stanton Carlisle: As long as you don’t oversell it.
Stanton Carlisle: So, you like to go out at night, you were at the Copa so you got the bees. But I assume you like to go to lower places too, don’t you?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: If I want mud on my skirt, I can find it.
Stanton Carlisle: But you’re not as hard to read as you think, lady.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: If I’m so easy to read, why come see me then?
Stanton Carlisle: That judge, he’s a pretty big deal in this town, is he?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Is that why you’re here? To look at me?
Stanton Carlisle: No, I’m just thinking that if you help me, we can make quite a big dent in this town.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: We?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: You think you got something big enough or interesting enough for me?
Stanton Carlisle: Well, nothing matters in this goddamn world but dough, and you get that raw.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: I’ll give you something. In exchange for the truth.
Stanton Carlisle: Truth about what?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Yourself.
Stanton Carlisle: You can’t do mentalism and drink. You got to be on your toes all the time. When you’re on, you’re on.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: And you’re on now?
Stanton Carlisle: I’m always on, Doctor.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: [referring to Pete’s death] How did Pete get the alcohol?
Stanton Carlisle: I gave it to him. But it was a mistake.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Mistake? What was he to you? Did you admire him?
Stanton Carlisle: Parts of him.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: I think you pitied him.
Stanton Carlisle: I don’t know. He had his fair shake, he just blew it.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: And what do you sell?
Stanton Carlisle: I’m a hustler and I know it. I’m on the make and I know it. Get it? I am nothing like my old man, and I never will be.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: “Never.” That word again. We’re going to work on that.
Zeena the Seer: You’re doing well.
Stanton Carlisle: Well, it’s the same grift, just different threads.
Zeena the Seer: Don’t do the spook show.
Zeena the Seer: [reading Stan’s cards] Downfall. Impending danger. An urgent choice. Now, Stanton, this is the last card. It’s a decree. You turn it, you’re going to find out what’s coming to you. The Hanged Man. It’s upside down. But you can still choose, Stan.
Stanton Carlisle: Well, you said so yourself, “There’s no such thing as bad cards,” remember? It just depends on what you do with it.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: You barely know me.
Stanton Carlisle: Oh, I know you well. I know you’re no good. And I know that because neither am I.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Is that so?
Stanton Carlisle: Yes.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Dealings with Grindle have consequences. Permanent ones.
Stanton Carlisle: Well, you better give me an angle.
Ezra Grindle: I’m very wary of appearing in public, so I want to thank you for coming to see me. A man of your talents.
Stanton Carlisle: Well, that’s very kind of you.
Ezra Grindle: Wouldn’t count on that.
Stanton Carlisle: [as he’s about to take the lie detector test] Not sure how comfortable I am with this.
Ezra Grindle: Well, we’ve had our share of snake charmers in the past. We deal with them.
Dr. Elrood: I will ask you simple questions to establish our baseline. You will answer in short sentences, only what you believe to be absolute truth.
Stanton Carlisle: Absolute truth. I can do that.
Dr. Elrood: Are you a true medium?
Stanton Carlisle: Yes, I am.
Dr. Elrood: Can you read minds?
Stanton Carlisle: Yes, I can. Under the right circumstances.
Dr. Elrood: Brief. Keep your answers brief, please.
Stanton Carlisle: [referring to Grindle] He’s got quite an operation.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: And he’s going to call back?
Stanton Carlisle: Oh, yeah. He’s going to call back. I left real money on the table. You’ve got to leave money to get money.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: If your foot slips, we both fall.
Stanton Carlisle: [referring to Grindle] Don’t worry. I’ll figure it out. I mean, this guy’s, he’s real deep on the spook dodge.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: [to Stanton] The thing you need to know is, if you displease the right people, the world closes in on you very, very fast.
Stanton Carlisle: [as Ritter reveals the scar in the middle of her chest] What happened to you?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Life. Life happened to me.
Stanton Carlisle: [referring to Grindle’s dead lover] Mr. Grindle. Your sins are grave. You would have to work hard, spiritually, if you even want to have the chance to see or sense her.
Ezra Grindle: Listen, I have more money than I will ever need. But I have no hope.
Stanton Carlisle: And you think you could buy that?
Ezra Grindle: Well, not to be crude, I know I can.
Anderson: [to Stanton, referring to Grindle] I don’t know why he bothers with you. You’re cheap, pal. Just phony. But I’ll tell you this, I care for that man. I owe him a lot. And if you’re smart, that should scare you.
Ezra Grindle: [to Stanton] I’ve given you a fortune! Now it’s time that you delivered to me something other than guilt. Because I’m done hearing this endless f***ing recitation of what I did.
Stanton Carlisle: Molly, you can’t leave now, we are in too deep! Molly.
Molly Cahill: There’s no “we” anymore. There hasn’t been for a long time.
Stanton Carlisle: This is the last time, I promise. And every day is Christmas after that.
Molly Cahill: Oh, sure, the whole world and everything in it.
Molly Cahill: I’m scared, Stan.
Stanton Carlisle: I’m scared too, Molly. I’m scared every day of my life. I’m so scared sometimes I can’t even breathe. But I fight it, Molly. I fight it. That’s the only way I’ve survived. Sometimes you don’t see the line until you cross it. I crossed it, I know that now. Molly, everybody’s left me in my life. Don’t leave me, please.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: I do love you, Stan.
Stanton Carlisle: What did you say?
Dr. Lilith Ritter: Did I oversell it?
Stanton Carlisle: [after she Ritter reveals she’d been scamming him] Why are you doing this? You don’t even care about the money.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: You’re such a disappointment. No, you’re right. Money doesn’t matter to me. But it means everything to you, doesn’t it? You’re a small, small man. You don’t fool people, Stan. They fool themselves. You think you stand high above the common man? You’re nothing but an Okie with straight teeth. You think you could take me, Stan? You’re so blind, aren’t you? You can’t read the signs.
Dr. Lilith Ritter: [after she shoots at his ear] Am I powerful enough for you now, Stan?
Stanton Carlisle: [after wandering around for years as an alcoholic] I would like to apologize for my appearance. I’ve fallen onto some hard times of late. But I do have an act that I know would be of great value to you.
Carny Boss: You were a carny, huh?
Carny Boss: [to Stanton] I don’t like mentalism. It’s too old-timey. Always got to have something new these days. Sensational.
Carny Boss: I might have one job that you could take a crack at. It ain’t much, and I’m not begging you to take it, but it’s a job. It’ll keep you in coffee and cakes. Dry place to sleep. Shot now and then. What do you say?
Stanton Carlisle: Oh, yes, sir.
Carny Boss: It ain’t much, but it’s a job, right? Of course, it’s only temporary. Just until we get a real geek. You know what a geek is? So what do you say? You think you could
Stanton Carlisle: Mister, I was born for it.
[starts to laugh and cry at the same time]