Terry Gilliam’s Tideland is a stream of surreal images and literary references. Based on Mitch Cullin’s 2000 novel, the film is, in the director’s own words, something akin to Alice in Wonderland meets Psycho. The parallels to both are clear: A young protagonist uses her (hyper)active imagination to escape the brutalities of the reality she inhabits, at one point even falling into a rabbit hole; and the American Gothic quality of the film, along with a few gender-bending details and the disturbing drama surrounding a depraved family, readily call to mind Hitchcock’s 1960 psychodrama.
But Tideland owes just as much to William Faulkner, whose short story “A Rose for Emily” captured much of the same quality Gilliam is going for here. The movie borrows from Faulkner’s tale the very specific details of necrophilic fixation as well as the tragi-comic perspective that Faulkner often employed in his fictional explorations of rural Southern life.
Other influences are more subtle but no less significant. The film’s visual scheme, with its restless crane shots and views of a dilapidated farmhouse as seen from across a golden field, recall “Christina’s World,” the 1948 Andrew Wyeth painting that conveys a host of conflicting tensions and emotions. Gilliam has used the visual aspect of the painting as well as its emotional tone, creating a movie that keeps the viewer slightly off balance, much as Wyeth did with his painting’s low vantage point.
Tideland in many ways covers the same ground as Victor Erice’s 1973 film The Spirit of the Beehive (reviewed in the Daily Planet Sept. 29). Both movies examine imaginary worlds created by children in response to household turmoil, and both take place on desolate plains, the outside world gaining entry only via railroad tracks that cut through vast golden fields. But whereas Erice constructed a minimalist film that relied on mood and suggestion and for the most part only hinted at the dreams and associations in the mind of his lead character, Gilliam has uncorked a rush of visual techniques, from conspicuously canted camera angles to surreal special effects sequences, in an effort to bring the child’s fantasies directly to the viewer.
Gilliam’s style is an acquired taste, and one that I confess I have yet to acquire. There is little in his work that I find entertaining, and even less that I find artistically satisfying. But there is no doubting his talent, skill, imagination and uncompromising vision. Once again, despite the odds, he has made exactly the film he wanted to make, another entry in his canon of signature off-kilter projects, and one that will certainly satisfy his fan base.
Tideland opens today (Friday) at Shattuck Cinemas in downtown
Directed by Terry Gilliam. Starring Jodelle Ferland, Janet McTeer, Brendan Fletcher, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly. Playing at Shattuck Cinemas.120 minutes. Rated R.
Jodelle Ferland plays Jeliza-Rose, a girl who seeks respite from her troubled home life through an active and wild imagination. Photograph Courtesy of ThinkFilm