Storytelling and Reality in The Fall and The City of Lost Children

The power of fairy tales and stories in childhood can impact a lifetime not least due to the bedtime story whereby the adult attempts to lull the child to sleep with tales of wonder, and aid in the creation of dreams. Dreams, according to Freud, unconsciously assist with the resolution of a conflict and will be considered later, in greater detail, through an analysis of The City of Lost Children (1995). However, it is the action itself of storytelling which is intriguing, specifically between the adult, the child and the space they commune or what Maria Tatar refers to as a “contact zone”[1], a place of mutual meeting and experience as depicted in a film like The Fall (2006).

By distinguishing between the adult and child Tatar creates ambivalence, how can these two individuals share a mutual experience when she herself sets them apart from each other? Not to mention their individual reader identification and expectation[2]. The contact zone can be said to exist but it is not more likely a mutual meeting of contradictory experience (or even be described as repellent)? A story’s narrative sets both adult and child onto different paths. Adam Gopnik suggests that “the grown up wants a comforting image of childhood”[3] and is driven by nostalgia while the child uses the tales to move beyond childish things, a way of bypassing childhood and venturing out, albeit figuratively, into the world. There is even a suggestion that this contact zone/story space may extend to the dream-world specifically when considering Jeunet & Caro’s The City of Lost Children.

Fairy tales have, over the years, been the cause of much debate. Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim stated that the tales speak directly to children[4] while Danish Folklorist Bengt Holbek maintained that fairy tales were written for an adult audience with children occasionally listening to narratives not meant for their ears[5]. What if they were written with both in mind? After all children are small(er) adults and adults are grown up children. Why should the listener or audience miss out on revisiting an aspect of childhood by vacating the realm of youth? It is the intention of this article to examine two original screen fairy tales in relation to the dual protagonists depicted, the notion of storytelling and the distinction of the ambivalent “contact zone”. The use of this concept, has been renamed the “story space” and may be a basis for the adult/child casting, however, this doubling or duality of character representation offers other possibilities, some of which will be explored.

In Tarsem Singh’s The Fall the protagonists consist of an adult and a child, strangers brought together by accidental circumstances. The film opens with an intertitle: “Los Angeles, long long ago” and scenes from the opening sequence quickly establish the setting in circa. 1915 California. Stuntman Roy Walker (Lee Pace) is languishing on the male ward of a picturesque hospital, confined to his bed after a stunt fall ends badly. Walker is a broken man in more ways than one, he has, not only, lost the use of his legs but the love of his life to the film’s leading man. Romanian immigrant Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) is on the other side of the compound in the children’s ward, her left arm in plaster following her fall from the top of a fruit picking ladder. Neither is necessarily destined to meet but both are isolated with few visitors. One day the wind blows Alexandria’s note to Sister Evelyn (Justine Waddell) out of her hands, into an open window and onto Roy’s lap.

So begins two exposition stories, one weighted in reality the other in an alternative world where the outcome is dependent upon how the real infiltrates the imaginary. Roy’s epic tale is a story of six unlikely companions; buccaneer and explosives expert Luigi (Robin Smith), ex-slave Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley), Charles Darwin (Leo Bill), The Indian (Jeetu Verma), a Mystic (Julian Bleach) and The Blue Bandit (Emil Hostina) and follows their quest to defeat the evil Governor Odious (Daniel Caltagirone).

From the start there is an indication that the visuals are formed through Alexandria’s imagination, elements within the fantastical realm are linked to the sights she sees around the hospital. She is providing the pictures while Roy creates the words. For example, much like The Wizard of Oz (1939), characters are drawn from the real world and find their way into the imaginary, Otta Benga is played by the man who delivers ice to the hospital and Odious’ henchman are costumed to closely resemble the Radiographer Alexandria is afraid of. Often the images and description do not correspond with each other, and the Indian of Alexandria’s mind is a man from India who wears a turban and who is mourning the death of his wife while Roy’s, unreliable, narration describes the man living in a wigwam and marrying a squaw[6].

The inclusion of the villainous Odious in the form of Sinclair (Caltagirone) the actor who has stolen the heart of Roy’s actress girlfriend once again confuses the narrative and thus the cinematic narrator[7] has to take over. It is also following this first segment of story that the audience is aware of the real reason behind Roy’s affection of Alexandria’s company. He is using the story space to manipulate the small girl and will only continue the tale after she has located a bottle of morphine for him so he can finally “sleep”.


Alexandria is dark-haired and adorably plump and when she is first shot, she is framed within a doorframe, a crucifix mounted on the wall above her thus suggesting that she is inextricably linked with the divine. She has a special relationship with the hospital’s priest and even steals the Eucharist from the chapel and shares it with Roy who asks her if she is trying to save his soul. Her green eyes, missing teeth[8] and stilted English make for an engaging and naturalised performance not least because the audience can occasionally miss snatches of dialogue. Her left arm is perpetually outstretched away from her body for the majority of the film’s runtime and she is almost always dressed in a white nightgown and taupe cardigan which she cannot wear properly due to the frame of the plaster cast. The wooden box she carries, which looks like a book, contains items she “likes”, photographs of her family, a spoon, small toys; a nostalgia box of memories.

Roy is also a brunette and despite their gender difference they are often clothed the same and often mimic each other’s body language (see images below). This may be an attempt by the adult to place the child at ease or perhaps is the visual depiction of the contact zone / story space previously discussed. Roy and Alexandria’s mutual experience of a fall, hospitalisation and subsequent isolation is the meeting place for them both. The story they both appear to enjoy, whether Roy wishes to return to his childhood or Alexandria wants to surpass hers, as Gopnik ascertains, remains to be seen.


On the surface, it can be argued that the girl represents the child Roy may never have. He has lost the love of life and the severity of his injury is never fully explored. For Alexandria, he may be a replacement father-figure having lost her father in a house fire. These are easy summations to make, however, another reading may suggest that Alexandria is Roy’s repressed inner child, or as described in Jungian theory, the Divine Child[9] who has manifested through his suicidal despair. This archetype, according to Jung, is weak by design, under developed but one which can bring happiness and instil hope when it has been lost.

While this, in part, is true, Alexandria is stronger and more mature, even at six, than the infant images which are associated with the Divine Child. She is just as manipulative as Roy and changes the narrative at will, even inserting herself into the story when it looks like the original narrator is close to death. Rather than embodying the child archetype she can be read as Roy’s shadow, quite literally becoming his double once she is a part of the narrative and injects herself into the imaginary world, referring to herself as the Bandit’s daughter, stronger than ever, with two perfectly formed front teeth.


In reality, the roles have reversed in the sense that it is Roy who is now visiting a prostrate Alexandria. She has made a second attempt at getting the bottle of morphine pills, broken into the dispensary and fallen again which has resulted in a serious head injury and Roy is visibly distraught at what he has caused. It is worth noting that after her fall, Alexandria’s recovery is seen through a series of cinematic stills whereby her back-story is shown through live action images and animatronics. Her life literally flashes before her and this sequence is much darker than Roy’s beautifully invented panorama suggesting a real ambivalence between experience and innocence.

Roy admits that the story was a subterfuge to push the girl into assisting his suicide but Alexandria stubbornly refuses to believe this, even after Roy begins murdering the tale’s protagonists one by one. She begs him to stop and he tells her that it is his story, to which she answers “mine too”. Roy, who was also inserted into the fantasy after the death of the Blue Bandit and is now personifying the vengeful Black Bandit, allows Odious to drown him while his double-in-miniature looks on. Back in the hospital, both Alexandria and Roy are in tears and she begs him “Please. Don’t kill him I don’t want him to die. She loves him”.

Alexandria then makes an admission, she has known all along what Roy intended to do with the morphine pills “I don’t want you to die”. In preventing Alexandria’s despair, Roy has to save himself and in the fairy tale world he bursts through the water, re-born, and saved by his blessing in disguise[16]. This confirmation of mortality, as experienced through Alexandria, is further explained by Bettelheim “[the] psychosocial crises of growing up are imaginatively embroidered and symbolically represented in fairy tales […] but the essential humanity of the hero, despite his strange experiences, is affirmed by the reminder that he will have to die like the rest of us”[10].


In The City of Lost Children, one character who is in denial about death is Krank (Daniel Emilfork). He is ageing at a progressive rate because he cannot dream; a lack of imagination is slowly killing him and so, he kidnaps children against the backdrop of a timeless, surrealist, Paris in order to extract their dreams and manipulate them as his own. He does this without realising that in his company they too cannot dream only produce nightmares which terrorise the thief in slumber.

Visually this text is very different from The Fall, where there was a palette abundant in colours and light, here there is limited light and the dominant colours are (as in Jeunet’s later film Amélie [2001]) red and green. This lack of light is metaphorical of the disorientating struggle displayed in the mise-en-scéne; this is a place where babies are left out in rubbish bins and not missed. Krank’s “uncle” Irvin is a disembodied brain which survives in a tank and in the opening twenty minutes serves as the intradiegetic narrator and sets the scene:


“Once upon a time, there lived an inventor with a gift for giving life. […] Having neither wife nor child, he decided to make them himself. His wife’s gift was to be the most beautiful princess in the world. Alas a bad fairy gene cast a spell on the inventor so that when the princess was born, she was only three inches tall. He cloned six children in his own image, so similar you could hardly tell them apart but the bad spell meant that they all had the sleeping sickness. He needed a confidant, so, inside a fish tank, he grew a brain that had many migraines. Finally, he created his masterpiece, a man more intelligent than the most intelligent men. Alas, the inventor also gave him a flaw. He couldn’t dream […] it made him so unhappy that he grew old unimaginably fast [and then] died in dreadful agony, having never had a single dream.”

This is hardly the ideological filmic representation of hopes, wishes and desires that Jack Zipes describes when he is discussing the screen fairy tale[11] but a social commentary on the complex use of technology versus religious fundamentalism. The inventor creates his family through technology and essentially ‘plays God’ only to be worshipped by a cult of Cyclops who, in return for their sight, kidnap the children Krank requires for his dream-catching. The messianic figure of One (Ron Perlman) whose back story is linked with other fairy tales (Jonah and the Whale and Pinocchio[12]) enlists the help of an alluded-to Wendy[13], Miette (Judith Vittet) and her gang of Lost Boys/ urchins to rescue One’s little brother Denrée (Joseph Lucien). Miette and her fellow orphans work for The Octopus (Geneviève Brunet and Odile Mallet) identical twin sisters who dress, function, speak and work as one entity, conjoined at the leg.


While these dual characters are literally mirrored in their representation there are other characters which are connected subconsciously. Krank is beyond childhood without having actually experienced one and yet acts like a child, prone to tantrums and crying fits. Miette, on the other hand, is still physically in childhood but has the demeanour of an adult. Her orphaned abandonment has enabled her to mature quickly and her instinct for survival has her resorting to any means necessary to live, she is wise and tough far beyond her years. Miette and Krank are, in essence, two facets of the same person.

As described by Gopnik in his 1996 New Yorker article, Krank wants a way back into childhood while Miette wishes to embrace adulthood, even envisioning a relationship with the man-child strongman, One. When Miette and Krank come together in their contact zone/story space it is not through traditional storytelling but a dream in which they get to embrace their shadow selves and share a mutual experience.


Jung articulated this exchange in this way, “beneath the social mask we wear every day we have a hidden shadow side, an impulsive, wounded, sad or isolated part that we generally try to ignore. The Shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality, and acknowledging it can be a pathway to healing and an authentic life. We meet our dark side, accept it for what it is and we learn to use its powerful energies in productive ways […] By acknowledging and embracing The Shadow as deeper level of consciousness and imagination can be experienced.” [14]

Krank is dispossessed of a soul, an imagination and empathy and upon sharing consciousness with Miette – the girl who does not dream – can finally experience what he has been missing. In the same token, Miette can embrace her youth and rescue the man she loves. The child in the crib is dressed in pyjamas which are the same colour and style and the boy’s hair has been reddened, he resembles a young One, this is evidently how she reconciles the contact zone.


Interestingly, only when the child starts to morph into Krank does the ageing process begin, the Shadow selves meet. Unlike The Fall, where assumptions are made regarding Alexandria and Roy’s future selves, here Krank accepts his Shadow and so begins his regression. In opposition, Miette begins to wither and age until the demented dream-catcher is a baby. Miette must embrace her biggest fear so she can move forward and that is imagining One dead. This interchange of dreams kills Krank in reality thus substantiating the importance of imagination, use of enchantment and originality.

Fairy tales give the adult reader a re-presented imagination. Understandably, the physical child may have evolved but these screen tales enable the repressed child to re-emerge through viewer identification. Perhaps, just like the children in these texts they enforce a sense of hope, strength and resilience which has long been forgotten.

The inclusion of a child within an adult diegesis serves more than just viewer manipulation[15]. This division of realities and mirroring of locations, narratives and characterisations is an integral part of the postmodern film and more specifically this dual nature is present in screen fairy tales. While the texts that have been considered here have a very distinct separation between the real and imaginary, it would be worth considering the screen fairy tale which is based in reality and consider what purpose they may serve for an adult audience.


[1] Maria Tatar, Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood (New York/London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009). A term borrowed from Mary Louise Pratt. Tatar changes the context of the original contact zone and sets about making her own.

[2] Ibid. p242. “The power of reading together derives in part from the fact that it involves a transaction between more than a single reader and a text. The dialogue that takes place between the [storytelling] partners fuels the transformative power of the story, leaving both the child and adult altered in ways they might never have imagined. [Mary Louise] Pratt found in contact zones a process of transculturation, with colonizer and colonized entering into lively, two-way cultural exchanges”.

[3] Adam Gopnik, “Grim Fairy Tales”, The New Yorker (November 18, 1996) p96. [accessed 10 January 2012].

[4] Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, (UK: Penguin, 1991).

[5] Bengt Holbek, Interpretation of Fairy Tales: Danish Folklore – A European Perspective, (Denmark: Suomalainen tiedeakatemia, 1987).

[6] These differences can also be examples of Pratt’s ‘contact zone’ specifically with the cross-cultural experience between American Roy and Romanian Alexandria.

[7] Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film, (USA: Cornell University Press, 1980).

[8] Missing teeth as a motif are used throughout the picture. Roy tells Alexandria that power is symbolically associated with teeth and that she is currently “missing some strength”. Upon further investigation, however, teeth can be associated with illness and death and even a lack of faith (Greek) and in Chinese culture missing teeth symbolise telling lies. Some cultures believe that losing teeth can be sign that an individual has placed more faith in the word of man and has lost trust in God.

[9] Carl G. Jung, Essays on a Science of Mythology: The Myth of the Divine Child and the Mysteries of Eleusis, (USA: Princeton University Press, 1969).

[10] The movie’s tagline is quite apt here. Only at Roy’s lowest ebb did she manifest.

[11] Bettelheim, 1978 pp39-40.

[12] Jack Zipes, Happily Ever After: Children and the Culture Industry, (New York/London: Routledge, 1997) p9.

[13] One is an ex-whaler and following the loss of this job is hired by a travelling circus, of sorts, as a strongman. Aside from size he is for all intents and purposes a boy.

[14] J M Barrie, Peter Pan, (UK: Puffin [Re-issue], 2014).

[15] Jung, cited in Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf, Romancing the Shadow: A Guide to Soul Work for a Vital Life, (UK/USA: Random House Publishing 1999) p21.

[16] Karen Lury, The Child in Film: Tears, Fears and Fairy Tales (UK: I B Tauris & Co Ltd, 2010). Lury likens the child to a pet and even refers to both as ‘it’, she ascertains that the inclusion of children within a narrative is merely to serve an emotional purpose for the viewer.


Review: Thelma (Dir. Joachim Trier, 2016)

Thelma opens with a picturesque long shot as a young girl and, presumably, her father walk across an ice-covered lake to the deep blanket of – audibly underfoot crunching – snow where father and daughter head into the woods to go hunting. The man stops and lifts his rifle, taking aim at an approaching deer only to turn it onto the back of the head of the small child dressed in red. It immediately calls to mind Snow White and her trip with the Huntsman and even a little Red Riding Hood.

Fade to black – signifying a time lapse – and an aerial shot slowly zooms in and follows a young woman (also wearing a red tone) as she walks across campus and into a biology lecture. So sets the scene of Joachim Trier’s fourth feature. Once again he partners with screenwriter Eskil Vogt to bring something a little different yet equally as beautiful and resonant as Reprise, and Oslo, August 31st, if far more supernatural and allegorical in tone.

Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a shy loner, has stiflingly over-protective and controlling parents (Blind’s Ellen Dorrit Peterson and Henrik Rafaelsen) and begins to experience seizures, seemingly triggered by her meeting Anya (Kaya Wilkins). Slowly, she begins to integrate herself into a social circle, her Christian upbringing a source of fascination for some of her new friends. Torn between fulfilling her parents’ expectations, self-acceptance and suppressing everything else – including her attraction to Any – Thelma’s psychogenic seizures begin to debilitate until she seeks medical help and the truth about her condition is revealed.

While a coming-of-age with supernatural elements is nothing new, Trier’s evocative, moody and visually arresting love story manages to sustain its mystery for the 116-minute runtime. Some may be reminded of Carrie but this has more in common with Let the Right One in (2009) and When Animals Dream (2014) riffing on the Female Gothic, Nordic-style, via horror tropes/themes offering a melancholic and deliberately paced affecting drama. True to Trier form, there is the signature neutral colour palette of greys, blues and muted tones punctuated with the occasional burst of colour, the slightly voyeuristic camera courtesy of Jakob Ihre’s cinematography, along with the jarring soundtrack (that occasionally diminishes into deafening silence) by composer Ola Fløttum.

Okay, so the Freudian/religious imagery is a little on the nose but for a modern day gothic fairy tale-come-teen-drama, Thelma deals beautifully with the ambiguity of growing-up, trauma, and the end of oppressive patriarchal control, as well as the need for autonomy, self-love and acceptance.

Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: Videodrome (Dir. David Cronenberg, 1983)


Arrow Video’s new restoration of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) follows in the footsteps of Rabid (1977) and Shivers (1975) also restored and re-released on dual format this year. Each film with its disc-filled extras is clearly a labour of love.

Just preceding the Video Nasties Act of 1984, Videodrome, I’m sure would have gotten Mary Whitehouse’s knickers in a twist with the film’s provocative, paranoiac and altogether pleasure-seeking premise. The narrative centres on Civic TV executive Max Renn (James Woods) and his quest to find the next ‘big thing’ in sensationalist programming. His station is responsible for “soft core pornography and hard core violence” which Renn unapologetically justifies as a result of economics. Moral questions arise surrounding the over-stimulation of the consumer following exposure to dehumanising images via the media. These questions are depicted through metaphor, potential Freudian imagery and the former protégé of Dick Smith, multi-Oscar winning make-up effects Wizard Rick Baker (Smith famously created the exploding head in Scanners). Fellow Canadian, composer Howard Shore, yet again, provides the score (Shore and Cronenberg have worked together on all but The Dead Zone) and employs the use of a Synclavier II synthesiser alongside an orchestra. This electronic sound adds a dark, ominous, even metallic, tone to the film and aids with the 80s nostalgia along with the coiffed hair, shoulder pads and leather ties.

Renn stumbles upon Videodrome – a pirate television station which depicts the torture, brutality and eventual death of its subjects. Becoming obsessive to continually transgress social boundaries, Renn shows the footage to his girlfriend Nicki Brand (a hypnotic Deborah Harry) who, by her own admission, is the perfect over-stimulated test audience. She is sexually free (connoted by her costume, both cut and colour) and is immediately enamoured at the premise of the snuff sequences. Her enthusiasm for all things dark and painful grows and she even disappears to audition in Pittsburgh upon hearing the show is filmed there. Left alone, Max begins to suffer hallucinations; disturbing, intriguing visions which only seek to feed his need to consume the morally ambivalent visual media and further blur the line between fantasy and reality. His interactions with the Marshall McLuhan-inspired Brian O’Blivion (velvet-voiced Jack Creley, only ever visible via a television screen) increase the bizarre especially when we learn O’Blivion’s history to Videodrome. It is an aesthetically pleasurable film; body parts are fetishised, Betamax tapes pulsate and television undulate and literally swallow the flesh.

Anybody familiar with the articulately intense septuagenarian director will immediately recognise the body consciousness which is prevalent in a large percentage of his oeuvre.  The man, who has cited Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa as main inspirations, presents the limitations of the human body within his own artistic nihilism. Ideologies are often invasive and monstrous, the embodied becomes disembodied whilst sex and violence surrounds, causes, or indeed invades the diegesis. There can be contradictory readings of Cronenberg’s films; does he fight for the patriarchal pleasures he depicts and stray dangerously close to misogyny or destroy said pleasures while reinforcing the fragility of the physical body and mind? While the male consciousness is seen in crisis and at odds with the social world around him, it is the female body which appears abject and the site of disgust. In Videodrome, the male mind becomes more abhorrent through feminine imagery; Renn’s torso is repeatedly violated via the vagina-like opening. Or perhaps, it is like the man himself stated a few years ago; he plugs into the zeitgeist, examines and plays around with it. In simple terms Cronenberg’s films are about life and death yet he cleverly uses the horror and prosthetics as a distancing tactic. He questions who or what we are and presents, albeit through social paranoia and viscera, the evolutionary limitations of the human body and the emotional terror of the waking nightmare.


Videodrome has never been more relevant in the face of the current media and image appropriation. It is disorientating, visually audacious and presents an ideology which is fascinating, wholly original but is, perhaps, one of the more convoluted Cronenbergs. That said, as a first time viewer (yes, I know…) the experience of it was exhilarating.

Blu-ray Extras

Never one to scrimp on material, Arrow has collected an array of goodies and following the film, there are numerous options for the viewer to take, although do yourself a favour and hit them all.  

Cinema of the Extreme – The 1997 BBC documentary featuring Repo Man director, Alex Cox, David Cronenberg and George A. Romero  briefly discuss cinema extremes. These verbal tidbits are intercut with clips of Shivers, Dawn of the Dead (1978) Videodrome  and Crash (1996). It is a slight, fairly insignificant documentary which never goes into great detail but Cronenberg’s thoughts on censorship are always worth a listen (Cox’s on Seven, not so much). 

Forging the New Flesh – Visual Effects artist Michael Lennick narrates (and stars) in the first of his four contributions to these extras and discusses the techniques used in the making of the film. This, unfortunately, short but fascinating featurette contains behind-the-scenes footage and interviews Rick Baker, Bill Sturgeon, David Cronenberg and star James Woods. 

Fear on Film – One of the highlights of the disc extras is a roundtable discussion originally aired in 1982; presented by Mick Garris and featuring David Cronenberg, John Carpenter and John Landis in tweed, flared jeans and big hair respectively.  The conversation centres around the horror genre, what scares the filmmakers, films, as well as their individual takes on censorship and ratings. Although, less than 30 mins long, it is a highly entertaining and lively chat and well worth watching.

Samurai Dreams – The complete and uncensored Japanese series Samurai Dreams with optional commentary by Michael Lennick who is still revelling in the Videodrome/Samurai Dreams experience some 32 years later. 

Helmet Camera Test / Why Betamax? – Bite-sized early test footage showing Max Renn’s virtual hallucination chamber head-gear and a second segment which very briefly details why Betamax was the format of choice.

Promotional Featurette – This is an extension of Forging the New Flesh documentary although written and directed by Mick Garris and features behind-the-scenes footage and the making of Videodrome. Interviews include: Cronenberg, Harry and Woods As with the previous featurettes, these are brief but still interesting. 

Audio Commentary is provided by author Tim Lucas (Videodrome: Studies in the Horror Film).

Cronenberg: Early Works Blu-ray 

Transfer of the Future – The ever entertaining and jovial Kim Newman discusses, examines and critiques Cronenberg’s early career and labels him a child of Romero and genre auteur along with fellow underground directors Brian De Palma and Tobe Hooper. 

The Early Works – Restored by the Toronto Film Festival, Criterion Collection and Arrow Films respectively, these films show the progression of Cronenberg as an art student and his shorts through to the first feature film which was made some five years before Shivers

  • Transfer (1966) 
  • From the Drain (1967)
  • Stereo (1969)
  • Crimes of the Future (1970)

In Transfer, shot on a snowy Canadian landscape, an analyst (Mort Ritts) and his patient Ralph (Rafe McPherson) thrash out their doctor/patient relationship via farce and Freudian speak; while in From the Drain, two men (Mort Ritts and Stephen Nosko), seemingly war veterans sit clothed in a bathtub awaiting something ominous which may or may not come out of the drain. Stereo was the first short feature film shot on 35mm and has an establishing shot reminiscent of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) and appears to be heavily influenced by Bergman. It stars Ronald Mlodzik (later seen in Shivers and Rabid) whose costume looks deliciously Hammer-House-of-Horror-like. This is the best of the bunch, definitely my favourite; shot in black-and-white, silent save for a voiceover, the canted camera angles add to the general creepiness and sterility of the sanatorium set amidst the Ontario north woods. Subjects are placed in isolation and operated on, telepathic ability and extra sensory perception is monitored through sexual interaction. Finally, the last feature is Crimes of the Future a potential follow-up to the preceding film. Restored exclusively by Arrow Films from a new 4k scan of the original 35mm negative, again starring Mlodzik (as Adrian Tripod), and again silent but for the added commentary, only this time in colour. In the House of Skin all women are extinct and Tripod is in search of the enigmatically named Antoine Rouge. 

It is fascinating to see the early attempts of an artist, to witness how he develops and to note his visual interests and motifs even back then. There’s the Freudian terminology (which all eventually came to a head in A Dangerous Method [2012]), themes of consciousness, sexual experimentation, telepathy and the oddly monikered characters which have all been seen over the  Cronenberg oeuvre at one time or another. They may not, necessarily, be to everybody’s taste but they are revelatory in their style, content and deserve to be seen in all of their restored loveliness. All-in-all, Arrow has produced a beautiful box set which cannot be recommend highly enough.


Review: Enemy (Dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2013)


Enemy sees French-Canadian director, Denis Villeneuve and the ubiquitous Jake Gyllenhaal re-team for their second filmic outing after Prisoners. Based upon Jose Saramago’s Nobel Prize-winning novel O Homem Duplicado (literal translation: The Duplicated Man), the film opens with a group of seemingly voyeuristic men in a Gentlemen’s Club. It looks exclusive as naked women parade around; cries of distress follow with a close up of a scuttling spider. Cut to University lecturer Adam Bell delivering a lecture amid words like ‘censorship’ ‘dictatorship’ ‘oppression’ and scrawled in chalk on the board behind him the phrase ‘chaos is order un-deciphered’.


That is the pleasurable thing about Enemy, trying to decipher the film long after viewing. It is an elliptical puzzle that fascinates from beginning to end. Bell is stuck, it seems, in his own Groundhog Day, destined to repeat the same daily mundanity of lecturing, marking coursework, engaging in passionless sex with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent), who promptly dresses and departs when they have finished. Then a colleague recommends a film, something he is loath to try but does anyway; something to break the cycle. He then notices that the Bell Boy, onscreen, looks oddly familiar, identical even… and that is when he seeks out Anthony St. Claire.

Enemy is weird, mysterious, and highly entertaining. Scenes are cast in a yellow hue which makes the world seem jaundiced, Adam’s visions – if that is what they are – are unwieldy and steeped in symbolism, is it reality or is he losing his mind? Anthony is the steady hand to Adam’s nervous wreck, leather wearing to tweed, straight-standing to stooped, lover of blueberries while Adam deplores them. However, they are not entirely different. Villeneuve likes the concept of duality – see his previous two films, the afore-mentioned Prisoners and Incendies – mirroring, mother-figures and the uncanny; the familiar and unfamiliar often meet and collide. Here it takes the form of the doppelgänger; two Jakes (or is there only one?), the seemingly alternative worlds they inhabit and the pretty blondes they each love, Laurent and Sarah Gradon who plays Anthony’s wife Helen are also visually strikingly similar. There are recurring motifs dotted throughout and the religious aspect of the characters’ names is intriguing.


Personally, I applied Freud to my reading to Enemy and this added coherence; as the male subconscious is exposed, questions of mothers, fear of fatherhood and existential crisis surround the contempt of the inner self but hey, that’s me. The film is complex (and entertaining) enough to withstand any reading and still be profound, and that ending will leave you astounded long after the credits roll. The only minor criticism is the vapid representation of the female characters especially the two main women, neither is explored fully and both tend to blend into the waxy yellow surroundings. Isabella Rossellini makes an impressionable cameo and then is gone all too fleetingly but then, perhaps they are meant to, and really one is not supposed to understand any of it…chaos un-deciphered.

At one point Adam turns to Anthony and asks “What’s happening?” To which Anthony replies, “I think you know…” Nope, haven’t got the foggiest but that is all part of the fun.