“Michael Clayton is a great film because underneath the stylishness, the performances, the dialogue, and the closed-circuit plotting, underneath everything that got it nominated for seven Academy Awards, is the mute, heaven-pummeling, gaping-like-a-baby unformed vowel of a human soul crying out.
“In the gray light, Clayton (George Clooney) climbs the pasture. Halfway up the slope, three horses are standing: sculpturally still, casually composed in a perfect triptych of horsitude. Clayton stops, wobbles slightly. The horses watch him, three velvety dinosaur heads scanning this end-of-his-rope man with a balance of priestly inquiry and animal indifference. They breathe, they nod, incense of horse-exhalation in the cool air. He breathes, he nods. Something is exchanged. Something is understood. Something is absolved. Something is released.
“Behind him, in a gassy wallop of flame, his car explodes. The horses wheel and take off, with the air of having suddenly remembered a superior engagement. And Clayton, understanding after a few seconds of confusion that somebody just tried to kill him, blunders back down to the blazing vehicle and clumsily, hastily, tosses into it his watch, his wallet, whatever is in his pockets.”
Wells interjection: When the cops investigate the blackened vehicle, they’ll naturally assume that Clayton was in the car despite the absence of skeletal remains or teeth.
Back to Parker: “The law does its work, finally, in Michael Clayton. It mops up the corruption. The system functions. Society holds. But for the individual, for Michael Clayton, there has been a reckoning. Conflagration, transformation.
“The film ends on an extended shot of Clayton’s face as he rides in the back of a cab, doleful and emptied-out, redeemed and ashen, jolting through the lumps and craters of Manhattan. We’re all implicated, all coated in psychic slime like Arthur Edens, and each one of us has world-reversing power.
“So when you feel Shiva’s heat, when the cleansing, incinerating moment comes, seize it. Give the trappings of your identity to the flames. Throw your wallet into the exploding car. Burn it up, and be renewed.”