How Paul Schrader deals with a national stain in 'The Card Counter'

Michael Ordoña, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

"'Poker is just about waiting. You wait hand after hand after hand, then it happens. That magical hand happens once a day or every two days, when two players are convinced they're going to win and they both go all in. Until then, you're just passing the time.'"

Schrader says, "The line that I wrote relatively unknowingly in 'Taxi Driver' is one that comes back. Travis [Bickle, of that film] writes in his journal, 'Every day is like the day before. The hours pass, the years pass. And then there is a change.' I wrote that in 1972 and I'm still writing that."

Perhaps surprisingly, it wasn't the opprobrium of Abu Ghraib that served as the film's seed.

"I was watching poker players on TV and thinking about people who sit hour upon hour in the casinos. Today with slot machines, you don't even have to put money in, you don't have to pull the lever. You just sit there and life flows past you. It must be somebody who thinks this is a simulacrum for life itself.

"People think it started with Abu Ghraib. No, it started with the metaphor of what kind of person counts cards, plays poker 10, 12 hours a day, six, seven days a week. When you can find something original about that occupation —"


And the auteur is back into the guts of his genre:

"Everyone knew what a taxi driver was — he was the best friend of the protagonist who cracked jokes and sat in the front seat while the romantic couple sat in the back. When I looked at him, I saw the black heart of existential dread. I saw a kid locked in a yellow box, floating through the sewers, completely alone and angry.

"When you find a new way into an occupation, it makes the viewer think of it in a different way. That's not how I thought of playing professional cards; that's not how I thought of being a taxi driver. That's not how I thought of being a drug dealer [in 'Light Sleeper']. I didn't know being a drug dealer was essentially boredom," he says with a laugh.


©2022 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.