I haven’t had much exposure to David Cronenburg, but what I’ve seen of his films I’ve liked very much (Scanners, EXistanZ, and of course… The Fly!). This film however took me by surprise because it was unlike these other films. There were no sci-fi elements whatsoever – it was purely psychological.
Seeing Life Through His Lenses
We follow Mr Cleg, a mentally ill man, after he has been let out from the asylum he had been hospitalised in for an undisclosed amount of time. He is taken to a safe house so that he can learn to gradually gain independence in a safe environment, along with other ex-patients. There is a woman there who I believe to be some sort of carer, but none of the people kept there really like her (one even calls her a tyrant).
The storyline dips in and out of his reality, into his memory/fantasy of a reconstruction from a specific time in his past. Like the puzzles he tries to complete in the safe house, he is trying to piece together the events that lead up to this very important event in his life, and which we the viewer are to believe is the reason he has become this broken man we see now. I liked what is friend says to the carer about why he wears four shirts all the time: “Clothes maketh the man. And the less there is of the man, the more the need of the clothes.” That broke my heart when he said that because I can feel his pain, and having meet people like this in my real life, I know too well that this saying is what many vunerable people, mentally ill or not, go through.
Mr Cleg – not the former Lib Dem MP, but the protagonist in this low budget movie – scribbles down recollections as he pictures himself in the scenes, kind of like how Ebenezer Scrooge observes those in his community when visited by the three ghosts (that reminds me – Merry Christmas people!! Subscribe and leave comments please. x). When I tried to read what he was scribbling in this book, all I can see were pencil marks that looking nothing like words. He is so paranoid someone might read this tiny book that he hides it under his bedroom carpet.
It’s peculiar to watch this man watch himself as a child. He revisits his childhood home and we see how much love he has for his mother, and how she keeps the peace at the dinner table between him and his father. His father likes to go to the pub frequently, and though the mother does go once, she is not so keen to. Eventually because of this, the boy (the his grown up self) sees that his father is starting to see another woman at the pub.
One day, his wife gets suspicious as he why his husband isn’t home yet, and so goes to the pub his frequents. It turns out that no-one has heard of him there, which she finds odd. Next, she goes to the most likely place after that where he might be: in his shed down by the allotment. She swings open the door and there he is, straddling the bimbo from the pub. The father, in fright, clouts his wife on the head with a shovel, which sends her unconscious. He are to believe that she is dead. They bury her there in the allotment patch, with the grown up version of the boy watching it all unfold. Thinking back on it now, his feels like a figment of Mr Cleg’s imagination. I say this because why would a young boy like him be at the allotment at that time on night? But then again, his was a rather curious and intelligent boy, and so it cannot be ruled out that he was in actual fact there at the time. Damn you David Cronenburg! Damn you for making me think!
With this man’s imagination, it is hard to separate sometimes what is fact and what is fiction. In his reality today, he visits a cafe regularly and stares up to a poster on the wall of countryside hills. We are then transported to a scene where he is in fact in the countryside, talking with his now tenants at the same safehouse he lives at currently. Are we seeing them actually there, or are we seeing him imagining he is there? It’s hard to say for sure which.
This is the same with the ending. His real mother always told him that he was go with his hands, and so with that he devised an elaborate mechanism made entirely of rope that can be pulled from his bedroom to turn the gas stove on in the kitchen. He did this knowing fully well that his father’s lover would he in that room, possibly asleep (and drunk). Once the gas was enough to reach the upstairs, his father got his son and evacuated him from the house, then pulled out the woman onto the street. He cries to the neighbour for help but no-one comes. The scene ends with his father telling him that he’d killed his own mother, and when he looked down to see her, the face had changed to prove that his father was indeed telling the truth. This chilled me to the core.
Because he was re-enacting this in his mind, it triggered him to see that the carer in the safehouse was much like the replacement of his mother, and so should be destroyed. The moment his mind’s eye saw his father’s lover morph into his dead mother, he was in reality now standing over the carer’s bed, holding a chisel and hammer over her head. He realises what he is doing now but it is too late as the carer wakes up to see him lurking over her body. “What have you done Mr Cleg?” she says to him, and alas he is taken away back to the asylum.
The mood was rather bleak throughout this minimalistic film, but though it wasn’t filled with anything massive in spectacle, it still gripped me to the very end. And that ending – I was not expecting that! I was tempted to conclude that it was him who had killed his real mother, but the ambigutity leaves one to wonder. It’s so cleverly done, so subtle, like a silent ninja piranha that knows where you live.
Just to let you know, I plan to watch this film again (once I’ve watched all of David Cronenberg’s films. Any tips on which one I should watch next?).
And because I’m the kind of guy who loves to spoil ya, here is the movie. I’d be interested to here what you think of it. X