Jesse Jarnow

tideland

I’d heard about Tideland, but my first notice of its release was when I looked down at the Daily News (I think) while eating a taco at two in the morning and seeing (I think) a half-star review of a new movie. Wondering what could possibly be so awful, I was informed of the existence of a new Terry Gilliam movie. I missed it during its New York run, and sat on the DVD for a month or so after it arrived. My suspicions were met head on when Gilliam himself arrived, in unflattering black and white, to introduce the film himself.

“Many of you are not going to like this film,” Gilliam says. “Fortunately, many of you are going to love it, and a great many of you are not going to know what to think, but hopefully you’ll be thinking.” The math is a little dubious. It is not optimistic, and — after Gilliam tells what, exactly, we should be thinking — it certainly contributes like a self-fulfilling prophesy to the ruin of the movie, which plays out like the most hideous recesses of the adrenochrome nightmare Gilliam hinted at in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (with Jeff Bridges as the anti-Dude doing his best impersonation of Bernie of Weekend at Bernie’s fame). Tideland‘s fundamental language is no different than the fantasy-infused grotesques of Brazil or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but — as Gilliam’s totally unnecessary and film-mauling introduction seems to emphasize — it plays the grotesques for almost pure shock as opposed to building blocks towards larger truths.

It’s nice to see Gilliam getting arty and strange again after a decade run at the mainstream. It’s a logical step for him, artistically. All the darkness, of course, lurked near the surface of his Flying Circus animations for Monty Python — which is exactly what gave them their power. I hope he keeps chasing this particular muse. Maybe he’ll get it next time. (Don Quixote, sadly, seems the perfect manifestation for it.) I am not going to repeat Gilliam’s instructions for viewing Tideland, because they give concrete shape to what could be an oblique and implacable experience. (Though you can watch the intro on YouTube.) (No, you can Google it yourself.)

“Don’t forget to laugh,” Gilliam reminds us, sounding like a total sourpuss. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he gravely intones at the end of his message. The image switches to color (?!) for a frame or three. Only then does Gilliam smile. The joke is definitely on somebody.

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