Susannah York won the Best Actress prize at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival for her superb performance as a schizophrenic woman whose hallucinations turn deadly in IMAGES, one of Robert Altman's least known films, but also one of his most challenging and entertaining. Alone in her luxurious apartment, Cathryn (Susannah York) receives a phone call from a friend,...read more
Susannah York won the Best Actress prize at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival for her superb performance as a schizophrenic woman whose hallucinations turn deadly in IMAGES, one of Robert Altman's least known films, but also one of his most challenging and entertaining.
Alone in her luxurious apartment, Cathryn (Susannah York) receives a phone call from a friend, whose voice suddenly becomes Cathryn's own and informs her that her husband Hugh is with another woman. When Hugh (Rene Auberjonois) comes home, he reassures his distraught wife that he's not having an
affair, but while he's speaking, Cathryn imagines that he's transformed into her former lover Rene (Marcel Bozzuffi), who died in a plane crash three years earlier. Sensing Cathryn's anxiety, Hugh decides to take her to their country house for a relaxing weekend, but Cathryn's hallucinations
continue there. She sees an image of herself going into the house, and later, sees Rene again and even speaks with him. Hugh goes to buy some groceries, and when he returns, he brings an old friend named Marcel (Hugh Millais), who was also one of Cathryn's ex-lovers, along with Marcel's
12-year-old daughter Susannah (Cathryn Harrison), who looks exactly like a younger Cathryn.
After Cathryn fends off Marcel's advances during a night of heavy drinking, Rene reappears to Cathryn and she "kills" him with Hugh's shotgun; although in reality, she has only succeeded in shooting Hugh's large still camera. When Hugh goes back to the city on business, Cathryn vanquishes the
image of Marcel by "stabbing" him, but then drives Susannah home and sees that Marcel is alive and well. Driving back home, Cathryn encounters the image of herself trying to flag down her car, but she intentionally runs it over and knocks it off a cliff and down a waterfall. Arriving back at her
apartment in the city, Cathryn sees herself stepping out of the shower and realizes that the "image" she ran over in the country was in fact Hugh.
Arguably Altman's most atypical film, IMAGES is, on the surface, a traditional GASLIGHT-like psychological thriller, that's transformed into a metaphysical "Twilight Zone"-style meditation on insanity and reality vs. fantasy. Stylistically controlled and tightly structured, Altman restrains his
usual improvisatory technique and open-ended shooting style to produce a riveting intellectual puzzler as well as a penetrating character study of a woman who's slowly losing her grip. Altman uses the recurring sounds of wind chimes and John Williams's excellent, atonal strings and woodwinds score
to create a creepy atmosphere of dread and foreboding, while Vilmos Zsigmond's brilliant widescreen photography contrasts Cathryn's feelings of claustrophobia inside the apartment and the country house with the expansive exteriors.
Spectacularly filmed on location in Ireland, the country landscapes become an intricate part of the psychological puzzle, as Altman juxtaposes images such as the "real" Cathryn standing on top of an enormous hill and looking down at "herself;" blood dripping onto a carpet that dissolves into the
rippling waves in a river; and mysterious shots of horses, clouds, and waterfalls that echo the voice-over narration of Cathryn's children's story "In Search of Unicorns" (which was actually written by Susannah York). York gives a sensational performance as the sensuous and alluring Cathryn,
making her seem both normal and crazy at the same time, while Rene Auberjonois and Hugh Millais, both member of Altman's '70s stock company are excellent, representing the triggers for Cathryn's sexual guilt and different aspects of the aggressive male psyche.
The film was criticized by some when it was first released for being "pretentious," citing as an example the fact that the actors' names are transposed onto the characters they're playing opposite, but this now seems to be just another piece of the film's jigsaw-like design. It's filled with
allusions to other films, (including REPULSION--the hallucinations; and PSYCHO--the shrieking violins that accompany Cathryn's stabbing of Marcel and the final shot of the water streaming out of the shower head), but its rich and ambiguous texture, both psychologically and visually, is pure
Altman. (Violence, profanity, nudity, sexual situations.)
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