"Brand Upon the Brain", the most recent Guy Maddin feature to be labeled as a silent psychodrama, is an ambitious film that honestly does offer up something new for curious, adventurous movie-goers. It exists in a world of its own, is a true original, and engulfs itself in a mysterious, but intriguing sort of cinematic fog. This is what I'm talking about.
Alas, I'll try as hard as I can - and I mean that - to summarize the experience of watching Maddin's film. Films can simply be films; they don't have to be moving stories of heroism, comedy, or whatever. "Brand Upon the Brain" is bizarre, and takes most of its influence from Silent Films (and as you can see, it is a Silent Film itself; making it a sort of clever "homage" to the era when these films were at their prime). This does not mean that the film lacks the qualities of movies we are used to; but even being accustomed to the rules of comedy, tragedy, adventure - all things we're familiar with by now - cannot prepare us for such an experience as this. But that's what I love about it.
A character named after Guy Maddin (the director behind the film) is asked to paint his mother's lighthouse. Almost instantly, Guy recalls his ill-fated and unfortunately conflicted childhood, in which he lived, loved, and lost. But I suppose this is how life is supposed to be experienced; and Guy's outlook on it was not cynical in spite of the troubles that he faced, or rather, the troubles that faced him.
He lived on an island, along with his sister and many other orphans, under the care and ever-so-watchful eye of his mother. Guy's father works as a secluded scientist shrouded in mystery; although a kid-detective, Wendy Hale, seems to have her eyes on him when it comes to exposing just what he does. Let's just say that Guy's father's business is often tormented and ugly.
Guy's sister becomes a big central character a little ways into the film. After a game of spin-the-bottle, "Sis" develops feelings toward Wendy. She disguises herself as Chance, a fake brother of Guy, in order to successfully and happily be with the young teen detective. Mother is angered and sexually jealous through realizing this. Things get weird when family tension arises, but oh, don't let me spoil it for you.
The film was originally screened with live-audio performances and narration by stars such as Crispin Glover and Isabella Rossellini. It was meant to be some sort of Rocky Horror-esque "event movie". It hasn't garnered such a cult quite yet, but if they bring back such special screenings, and I believe they should, then this might become an even bigger hit than it already is. This is a film that deserves to be seen if only for its intent; to be strange, weird, outlandish, and out-of-this-word odd.
Perhaps the magic of "Brand Upon the Brain" is in its style, and only its style. Here is a movie that tells its delicate and compelling little narrative through images that move by so fast and abruptly that you'd think this was the work of a master music video director. However, it isn't; and Guy Maddin is much more accomplished. He is a filmmaker, an artist, trying to show the world something new, and the world he has depicted here; it's something new, for sure.
You'll be wondering whether it's the best thing you've ever seen or if it's the worst. I know that I did. I finally decided that it's neither; but it's still a great film, and I still recommend it very, very highly. When you don't exactly know what the hell you're watching, yet you still enjoy the experience, you know you're witness to the latest radical cinematic acid-trip. I enjoy the surreal and the imaginative; and this is like a sweet, sweet dream. It is filled with images of sexuality, voyeurism, and even horror. There's so much crammed into one movie that you might even find it a bit pretentious. But filmmakers are allowed to do something that nobody else has the guts or talent to do. I know that Guy Maddin has certainly made something beyond what I've ever seen here, and that calls for celebration. Screw criticism; I say that this is a wonderful film, with a pulse. If you like silent films, you will like this modernized, stylistically-based one. It's nice to have a film that cares about not making too much sense on the first viewing. It requires me to revisit it. And I will do so like a gentleman should; and I won't complain, partially because I can't, and also because I won't.