This was definitely interesting, especially visually, but also in terms of the basic idea of the film but it ultimately kind of fell apart for me, especially in the final few WTF moments. Atmospherically, it’s pretty brilliant. Apparently, Altman conceived this idea in a dream and it’s shot like one. Everything has this ethereal quality and even the world they inhabit seems like something that belongs in a nightmare (these exaggeratedly sparse California locations, the weird bar they go to, the bizarre twins in the hospital who never speak to anyone). I think roujin mentioned that the screenshots I posted in the Random Screenshots thread looked like something out of The Virgin Suicides and the film definitely shares that same other-worldly quality but it’s probably closer in spirit to Persona and maybe even Mulholland Drive. I also think that both of those films are better than this one.
Both Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek are terrific in the film, especially Shelley Duvall who is almost hard to watch as this socially inept and awkward woman who seems completely unaware of how people perceive her. I can’t believe that Spacek was 28 when this film came out. She looks a full decade younger than that. I had no idea what the film was about going in and in the first few scenes, I was wondering if the reason I was finding everything creepy and off was just because Sissy Spacek + Shelley Duvall immediately trigger images of pools of blood in my head. But actually, the music, the camerawork, all combine to enhance this sense of dread that prevails throughout the film.
There’s a ton of symbolism in the film and I’m pretty sure I only caught parts of it. There’s lots of stuff about identity and how dynamic it is. About how we keep morphing / changing to try and appeal to other people. Also about what constitutes identity. Is it the little tics that give us away (Millie keeps getting her dress caught in the car door), is it how we perceive ourself or is it how people perceive us. There’s at least one character that features prominently in the film but we only see her as imagined by Sissy Spacek.
There’re some disturbingly well-acted scenes between Spacek and Duvall where both are basically lying to each other and it’s mostly just these trivial lies that we find ourselves telling all the time (“Oh your dress is so pretty”, “You don’t look your age at all”.. that kinda thing) and something about the scene in context just made me shiver.
The film also does almost too good a job of depicting of how cruel society is to people like Millie who are oblivious to how people see them. There’s also a sense that everyone just wants to find someone so they can be heard. The people at the rehab center seem to resent the twins just because they have each other and don’t need anyone else.
There’s probably also a reason why all of their names are variations on Millie with Pinky being a younger Millie and Willie being an inversion of Millie. There’s also lots and lots of water in the film (not sure what to make of that but something to do with being in a womb perhaps since Willie is depicted as some sort of mother figure) and people looking at their own reflection on different surfaces. I think part of my problem is that I found myself noticing all of this stuff but it never came together for me. I don’t know if watching the film again will change that.
The film feels macabre right from the start but gets even more surreal in the last act and this is where the film went from being intriguing and engrossing to just messy and bizarre. The ending is abrupt and pretty out there. I definitely didn’t get Mulholland Drive on first viewing but I was still able to piece a lot of things together and make sense of it after watching it. That wasn’t the case here. Secondly, somehow this film just wasn’t as engrossing to me as Mulholland or Persona, so I felt less compelled to do the hard work too.
I recommend it but mostly because I’m really keen to hear what other people here have to say about it.