Chainsawder Reviews: Downloading Nancy (2008)

Note: Some may consider what has been written below to be spoilers but the final outcome of the film is well known and is used to describe the movie in its entirety. While the ending is apparent, much has remained unwritten as it is more important to the film then the actual end result of the main character.

Directed by: Johan Renck

Written by: Pamela Cuming, Lee Ross

Cast: Maria Bello, Jason Patric, Rufus Sewell, Amy Brenneman

Genre: suspense, dark drama, based on a true story


Nancy: It’s like walking on fake ground upside down, choking.
Carol: Oh, is that what you think love feels like?
Nancy: No. Death is like sucking pure oxygen.
Carol: And life?
Nancy: It’s like being trapped inside the wrong house looking for a way out.


No introduction, well-written or not, can rightfully sum up the act of suicide or murder. Life and the taking of it has been debated since man first realized how easily it all can be taken away. Death is feared and in some cultures honored. It is the end of everything and for some the beginning. For Nancy, her life can only truly begin the moment it ends.

The plot of Downloading Nancy focuses on Nancy Stockwell (Maria Bello), a woman who is deeply depressed. After being a victim of sexual abuse as a child, Nancy is still affected by this abuse in her adulthood. The abuse has come to define her and her perception of love and life. Nancy has moved beyond therapy, medication, and feelings. All that remains is violence, the only form of coping that she has ever known. Suffering in a lifeless marriage, her husband (Rufus Sewell) is so obsessed with his work that he does not even bother to make the effort to give Nancy what she needs. Nancy goes on to find what is missing over the internet. Believing that only death can complete her, Nancy searches for someone to kill her. Not seeing this action as suicide, she meets a man named Louis Farley (Jason Patric), who will complete her.  After telling her husband that she is leaving to see friends, Nancy travels to meet with Louis. After realizing he had not heard from his wife after nearly a week, he begins to search for the answers that at one time he could have cared less to seek out.

Downloading Nancy is based on the true story of the death of Sharon Lopatka. In 1996, Lopatka used the internet to search for a man that would torture and then kill her. In her search she found several people who showed interest but quickly backed away from her request. After exchanging a number of e-mails with a man named Robert Glass, the two agreed to met in North Carolina. Glass agreed to fulfill Lopatka’s request and strangled her with a nylon cord after torturing her for a great length of time. Four years later Glass would plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. The death of Lopatka is the first recorded case were the internet was used as a tool to commit consensual homicide.

To understand Nancy is to understand her view of existence and how she exists in the world. Her existence is defined by finding herself and the meaning of her life through free will and choice. In her search to understand who and what she is, she makes choices based on her beliefs and experiences. Her choices become distinctive regardless of any form of truth. Nancy believes she has come to the point where she must choose a final solution and while being responsible for that choice she will do so without the help of societies fundamental  beliefs of death.  When the viewer begins to understand Nancy’s belief of her own existence her choice of death becomes easier to comprehend. This comprehension forges sympathy.

The film is shot in a documentary fashion that still feels like a normal film but pulls the viewer in. Certain camera angles feel purposely shot in order to comes across as being as if the audience was there in the room with Nancy. The movie does not follow the traditional trappings of normal documentary styled films. The shots flow smoothly from scene to scene. This is only complimented by the use of drab colors that give the film a lifeless feel. The dull color tone of the film portrays the message that there is no hope or healing for Nancy. This use of or lack of use of color creates an emotional impact as it prepares the viewer for the enviable.

Maria Bello, who plays Nancy, gives a performance that can only be dreamt about by lesser actresses. There is no one word to describe Bello’s performance other than perfect. She fully embraces the role of Nancy. Every emotion seems genuine. Every word spoken seems as  if it comes from the heart. Every action and gesture serves a purpose. It takes a great deal for me to speak so passionately about any actress. Over the past couple of years I have grown very cynical of many of the actresses in Hollywood. Beauty has replaced the actual ability to act. Acting is meant to be an art form. There is much more to it than reciting lines while looking pretty. Bello is a wonderful reminder that real actresses still do exist within such a superficial world.

The reviews for Downloading Nancy have been shaped due to ones level of empathy. Those who feel for Nancy have given the movie rave reviews. Those who saw the film as simply torture porn could not see past Nancy’s enjoyment of the pain she received from Louis. The pleasure she receives from the pain is not the point of the movie but merely a side note. It is a key to understanding why she seeks death. Some mistake the images of pleasure as sexual. When one lacks the emotional ability to feel, pleasure can be expressed through the act of feeling something, feeling anything. Having the ability to understand or relate to another’s  life experiences gives Downloading Nancy a depth that many may not see or dismiss. An issue that may confuse those who do not like this film is that certain scenes are so deeply emotional that they may be mistaken for something other than the complete bearing of one’s soul.

The end result of the film leaves the viewer wondering if they should be sad or happy for Nancy.  Is it pain you should feel for Nancy or something else? Having been sexually abused as a child and now living in a emotionally cold and dead marriage, Nancy can only feel through the act of cutting herself. She has died on the inside and it is only her flesh that waits to follow it. She finds so much happiness in the pain of torture because it brings her closer to death. Are we meant to feel some emotion related to relief for her as she dies? Death is something she seeks and begs for. She has come to terms with her end and embraced it with open arms. The film does not tell us how to feel. It does not hold our hand and guide us through the emotional journey that Nancy takes in order to be murdered. The film leaves the viewer to wonder  what they have just seen and come to their own conclusion as to how they should feel about and for Nancy.

Downloading Nancy is not an endorsement for suicide or homicide. It does not justify the taking of one’s life or the taking of another’s.  It has no message. The film does not set out to inform the viewer about a subject or tell the viewer how they should feel about it. It simply tells a story. Downloading Nancy is about the sad hopeless people it focuses on and their decisions. It has nothing to do with you or I. It has nothing to do with an opinion or belief. It is about Nancy and that is all it really should be about.

Downloading Nancy receives a 8 out of 10


6 Responses to “Chainsawder Reviews: Downloading Nancy (2008)”

  1. This review is well written and it really makes me want to see this movie! It’s not very often that a movie’s plot interests me to the point where I actually want to rent it to watch. And the reviewer gives just enough detail without giving the entire story away.

  2. Wow. Great review. You not only make me want to watch this movie, but you make me feel like I have to. I love reading your reviews.

  3. Damn it! I was trying not to read this review because I didn’t completely know what this film is about, but I caved in. That’s okay though, because I probably would’ve never watched this and now I will. Sounds a lot more interesting than I was lead to believe. Once again, great review. You’ve become the star around this place.

  4. chainsawcheerleader Says:

    Thank you, guys.

  5. Your points about a viewers capacity for empathy being proportional to how much they will like this film is spot on. My review below…

    Those who struggle each day with dark, hidden pain will find this movie to be a sudden shock of heavenly light and mind bending hope. Jason Patrick has proven himself an actor of the highest. He bares and unleashes our daily pain, and our desperate grasping for truth, love and a life without cruelty. He tells our truth in every moment, in every act, in every reaction. The compassion he unveils is breath taking, redeeming, almost holy. He makes us look beautiful, dignified, promising, loving and most importantly loveable. Mr. Patrick is our generations finest actor.

  6. Right here is the perfect site for everyone who hopes to find out about this topic.
    You realize so much its almost tough to argue
    with you (not that I personally would want to…HaHa).
    You certainly put a brand new spin on a topic which has been discussed for years.
    Wonderful stuff, just great!

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