Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Walking Down The Tideland Myself

Tideland (2005) is said to be Terry Gilliam's darkest movie ever, a nightmare, so disturbing and repulsive as to be unwatchable. Depressing and hopeless, they say. American critics reviled the film, which struggled to find distribution in the U.S. It opened at a few theatres here in 2006, but it was such a desultory effort the director was forced to walk the streets wearing a sign to promote his movie.

Thanks to the DVD release (which crops the picture against the director's wishes), I saw the movie this weekend and all I can do is scratch my head and wonder at the negative reaction. Hopeless? Repulsive?

Weren't these critics falling all over themselves to praise Pan's Labyrinth that year? There were scenes in that movie I had to watch through my fingers, and I left the theatre feeling brutalized.

Tideland is even more upbeat than Gilliam's own Brazil (1985). Both movies depict an innocent person escaping traumatic circumstances into a fantasy world. In Brazil, a guileless bureaucrat is trapped in a dystopian, fascist police state with no way out. In Tideland, the circumstances take a couple of sad and disturbing turns, yet we see the innocent child at the center of it maintain her innocence, survive the situation, and at the end she seems to have found a way out, unlike poor Sam Lowry.

There is almost no violence - a single slap. As for disturbing images, I've seen worse on television medical dramas, and there is no malingering. The movie briskly moves along - not at the pace of a Hollywood blockbuster, perhaps. The narrative is linear, and the blurring of fantasy world and real circumstance is carried out in a straightforward manner.

Wisely, the little girl at the center of this spooky wonderland, and the pre-pubescent tension between her and her male friend Dickins, are kept perfectly innocent. It is, in fact, a very deft job by a director who is better known for big-budget, image-driven, large-cast spectacles.

Indeed, it lovingly portrays a child who uses her imagination to integrate a shocking event, in a way that is beautiful to watch. And for Gilliam, a very interesting artist who seems to be gifted with difficult luck, it is an achievement.

So I'm saying rent the thing and give it a try, won't you?

1 comment:

Mike said...

Thanks for the recommendation. The imagery in the trailer looks great!