Tideland movie full length review - well, that was really, uh...something...
Walking out of the theater with my friends having seen Tideland helped things, as we were able to talk about all the thoughts/emotions that we had regarding the movie.
And what a film this is. We were all rather speechless, seeing a filmmaker at work at either his best, his worst, or both. Terry Gilliam's Tideland puts other mind-benders to shame. The film conjures up so much in the viewer, and it really is, when it all comes down to it, attempting chiefly to put the viewer (most likely an adult, it's quite worthy of it's R rating) into the viewpoint, intuition, imagination and needed escapism of a 9 year old girl. And quite the, uh, unique nine year old girl at that. Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) lives a life that is surrounded, in the reality of it at least, by depravity, despair, and a kind of very weird, disturbing neglect. Her parents (Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly) are both heroin addicts, the latter of which overdoses on methadone. In shock, the father takes Jeliza-Rose off to the farmhouse he grew up in. Jeliza soon settles in, very comfortably it seems, into a house that is near dilapidated, with her doll's heads as her best companions and critics and followers (and, of course, imaginative voices for herself), and finds a friend in Dickens (Brendan Fletcher), as the two of them share a strong, delirious connection.
Meanwhile, as Gilliam uses Bridges's character's fate practically as a plot device, he also does something with the flow and direction of the story (of what's there anyway) that reminded me a little of Gondry's the Science of Sleep. This is really all a very subjectively done movie, and if the viewer can get into that subjective realm of the central character where fantasy and reality become blurred and pretty much one in the same, then the main chord of the film is struck into. It's understandable too after leaving the film how some people (and some of those being the critics in the press) would hate the film so much. In fact, this may be the most polarizing movie Gilliam has ever made, and even I at times wondered if Gilliam could go too far with the material, and he sometimes steps onto that line of decency, even in the subversive tragic-comic/fantasy realm, a little much.
There is much to be disturbed from in this film, and it may rank up there with the most disturbing works of pure absurdism (or surrealism, take your pick) of the past decade. Take the fate of Noah; he has that chair he sits in (I will try not to reveal too much), and then after a while when this changes around, the effect this has on the audience is definitely a lot more horrific than it is for his daughter, who merely faints at one point (though quite a point). But this same terror that can come from seeing things in the innocent, naive perspective of a child can also bring some interesting things too, and some of the more gruesome elements get mixed together with the other sweeter bits. There's one set of images that will stick with me for a while where the doll heads are performing some kind of 'experiment' inside of (I'm not kidding) Noah's insides. This visual imagination is expanded upon, even further than in past Gilliam films, which include a submersion in some kind of water as Jeliza swims about, a 'trip' down the rabbit hole, moments of talk with a squirrel, and the issue with that darn train, or rather 'shark'.
A lot of this seemingly would be so traumatic on a child, at least in terms of how being 'left alone' here is really not a joke exactly, and I often wondered how Gilliam directed Ferland through a lot of this. Maybe part of it was Ferland using her own imagination and, more crucially, innocence and always being truthful to that terminally dysfunctional but never boring state of mind she's in. Nothing is of the ordinary for her, and Ferland plays Jeliza-Rose in one of the best turns by a child actor I've seen in quite a while. Compared other characters- in fact maybe to everyone (particularly Dickens's Fletcher and Janet McTeer's Dell)- she's got all of her marbles together. But maybe not. Maybe her whole outlook is all based around being set inside this world where un-living things are very much alive. After a while, I understood all too well why a child would have to be in this outlook and state of mind- any sense of going past the abstractions would make things too horrible to contemplate.
So, would I recommend the movie, hmm...I still need to think about that, I think. I'm basically now still brooding over the images and themes and ideas and just the general tone of the picture. To say this about any Gilliam film might be moot, considering his track record, but Tideland is really nothing like any other film you've seen before. I was sometimes left in my seat saying 'oh my God', as well as getting very big and small laughs from how far Gilliam pushes things, even sometimes just with his camera via Nicola Pecorini's lens. He asks the viewer to try and take in the characters and the moods and sights and sounds and turns of events like a child who had no other portal of what's ordinary and regular and common to cling onto. From what's around Jeliza-Rose- death, addiction, decay, and nothingness to a degree- the more she has to latch into her own point of view. It's one of the most affecting films of the year, and at the least (I think after a first viewing) it won't leave you feeling indifferent.