Tideland full movie review - One of Gilliam's best films
Tideland is Terry Gilliam's most uncompromised and unique work in decades.
It expresses many of the themes and qualities that have fascinated those of us who consider ourselves the director's fans for over 30 years now, and at the same time pushes the envelope into new areas of imaginative cinema. Other recent Gilliam films have given us only glimpses into "Gilliamland" ? this film takes us on the guided tour.
The story this time takes us into very dark territory ? when first we meet little Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), she's fixing up a shot of heroin for her daddy (Jeff Bridges), a rock-star dinosaur type, and doing a pedicure for her similarly trashy ma (Jennifer Tilly). Probably the first sign of trouble for the audience ? if the audience requires the film-maker to show all of this in a particularly negative light they will be disappointed because Gilliam's avowed goal (sadly, made explicit with a somewhat heavy-handed introduction from the director himself on the DVD) is to show these events from Jeliza-Rose's perspective and to her these events are probably part of her everyday routine and would seem no more abnormal or horrific than setting the silverware on the table would be for most little girls.
First of all it should be noted that all the performances are exceptional. Particularly noteworthy are Freeland and Fletcher, whose characters also form a significant bond in the film. They seem to be the only characters who are really innocent, and the fantasies that they create represent the attempt to find meaning or purpose in chaos. The section of "Alice in Wonderland" that Jeliza-Rose reads from early in the film makes it clear that a central theme in the film is the sense of proportion or relation within uncertain and traumatic circumstances. Roughly "Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly....." Jeliza-Rose and Dickens don't really have the "equipment" to deal with the events taking place around them ? from a conventional point of view they should be crushed by these events, just as the adults around them seem to have been at various points in the past. The film examines the ways that these characters are able to use the power of imagination to first create a frame of reference for horrible and painful events and ultimately to literally escape them.
Upon the death of her father ? who JR truly seems to care for, although it's increasingly difficult to determine if the feeling is mutual ? she even makes a game out of her father's corpse, dressing the body up in a blonde wig (from gramma's attic) and makeup. Dickens, coming across this scene, befriends JR by allowing her access to his sea-captain fantasy and later by joining her in her play involving the corpse. The adult characters' reaction to death is a marked contrast ? upon the bee-inflicted death of her mother, Dell exacts a fiery revenge on her father's beloved beehives. Earlier, upon JR's mother's death, Dad (Noah) wants to gather up all her favorite things and burn the corpse. Dell on the other hand preserves the bodies of her loved ones, apparently unable to let them go. The 2 adult approaches to tragedy are thus opposite, but both contrast to JR's and Dickens' reactions insofar as they lack the sense of play and imagination. It's significant, for example, that dad gathers together mom's favorite possessions and Dell also insists that JR place some of her own beloved possessions (her talking doll heads, which she gradually disposes) into the mummy's chest. Both Dell and Noah exhibit traits of fetishism, and although their cases seem to be psychotic it could be that Gilliam is implying that they represent a more generalized societal neurosis. Dell in particular exhibits a strong need for order and categorization ? she is glad to see JR fondling and hugging daddy's corpse ("you're his, not mine" she tells JR in a schizophrenic fit) but loses self-control when she sees JR with her mom's preserved body.
Thus, both Dell's model of fetishistic (by which I mean ascribing spiritual or transcendent qualities to a physical object) corpse preservation and JR's games are examples of ways to contextualize the death of a loved one. But the first only gives Dell freedom from the pain so long as the fetishes themselves are preserved, while JR's offers the potential of escape. We see the process take place gradually as her friendship with Dickens grows deeper. First Dickens joins her in play with the father ? he identifies in particular with the blonde wig, which he says is "much prettier than my momma's hair." Soon Dickens himself has donned the blonde wig and invited JR to join his quest to vanquish the "monster-shark." Through this quest JR first confronts the ugliness of Dell's corpse fetishism and then is literally rescued by Dickens through his brave actions (misplaced though they would appear to someone outside the situation).
There is much more going on here than I have time or space to deal with right now. E.g., I believe it's significant that the actress who played the "woman" at the train wreck also supplied the voice for the squirrel, which both Dell and Noah fear and hate. JR bravely frees the squirrel from Dell's cage, just as Dickens frees her. This could also connect to the fact that so many of the things Noah says on the bus become literal aspects of JR's world. It tells us that we are not looking at objective reality but rather JR's personal world, without the aid of Gilliam's introduction. The introduction unfortunately plays like an apology as well as an explanation ? as if the great director suddenly feared his work would not stand on its own merits and speak for itself. He shouldn't have bothered ? this film will continue to astonish viewers and give us food for thought (and dreams) for many years to come.