Friday, July 10, 2009

Little Girl Landlocked

Tideland (2005) Directed By Terry Gilliam

Beautiful, bizarre, and heartbreaking. One of Terry Gilliams best films. Based on Mitch Cullin's novel "Tideland", this film goes overboard into disturbing territory that Pan's Labyrinth always hinted at, but in a much more isolated setting, and with less reliance on magic realism. All the fantasy is definitely in the main characters head, and its the viewers knowledge of the intangibility of the fantasies that gives the surreal moments their frail human dimension.A young girl named Jeliza Rose watches her wicked mother choke to death and her drug addled father attempt to give her a viking funeral in her bed, before Jeliza convinces him they'd better leave. He is the singer in a band, and a full time heroin addict, and in his grief he takes Jeliza to the abandoned and now dilapidated house he grew up in, out in the Texas countryside. He ties-off to take his usual "vacation" and she helps him shoot up, as she's done a thousand times before. He passes out on the chair, and she wanders the house and grounds, talking to herself. When she comes back he doesn't move, and she curls up in his lap and falls asleep. The next day she starts decorating his body with ladies hats and flowery scarfs she finds in the attic. She explores the plains and talks to several barbie doll heads, whom she assigns her feelings; the brave one, the frightened one, the clever one, etc. The next die the flies start buzzing and she's running out of snacks. She meets another local recluse in a strange mentally handicapped man, who lives with an ominous and ferocious bee keeper.Jeliza mythologizes all of her experience, insulating herself from her trauma by a making a fairy tale of all of it. The three form a makeshift bond, which leads to taxidermy of her father's corpse by the bee keeper (so he can sit at the table with them as they eat, as the man of the house). Whats truly amazing about it is that Terry Gilliam could take the famous dinner scene of depravity from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and imbue it with a quiet desperation. You want to play along with Jeliza and her new family, the horrors become so complete in the film, you wish the corpse would start talking or dancing around the room, so that Jeliza need never comprehend, her reality. But Gilliam gives us no respite from watching delicate fantasy worlds graze each other, teeter, and approach crumbling. If Jeliza could come to terms with what happened to her, she might be able to leave and go for help, but if she were to become fully aware of whats happened to her, whose to say she'd be in any condition to move (the movie hints early on Jeliza is brain damaged as a result of drugs her mother did during pregnancy, or so her mother shouts at her). This is the double edged nature of fantasy that Terry Gilliam has explored in "Adventures Of Baron Munchaussen", "Brazil", "The Fisher King", and "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" the main characters are kept alive and kept in jeopardy by the make believe games that define them, like drugs, romance, madness, in a push and pull of tides between self-destruction and salvation through their imagination. Beyond "Psycho", "Alice In Wonderland", and "Days Of Heaven" exists a crawl-space for this film. Another in a long series of little girl lost in a fantasy world films, only here there are no special effects, no talking animal Friends, only a desperate fantasy masking an even more desperate reality. Gilliam's latest film is a foray into the southern Gothic grotesque of Flannery O'Connor and Carson Mcullers, but also his most intimate, dramatic, and moving works since "The Fisher King". owing in large to Jodelle Ferland's performance as Jeliza. Visually it's his least reliant on special effects, sets, and costumes, but his trademark wide angle lenses and dutch angels, are used to even greater effect, expressionisticly stamping Jeliza's perpetually slanted point of view.Tideland gives us a traumatic view of childhood, but ultimately a resilient and even hopeful one.It takes a bigger tragedy to ultimately save Jeliza Rose, but she survives, by the last frame she is literally surrounded by wreckage, and she endures.

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