By turns fascinating and intolerable, Terry Gilliam's uncompromising adaptation of Mitch Cullin's disquieting novel of adolescent fantasy and madness further cements Gilliam's reputation as a unique, visionary artist, while reducing his audience to only the most adventurous. By the time Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) settles into her late grandmother's derelict...read more
By turns fascinating and intolerable, Terry Gilliam's uncompromising adaptation of Mitch Cullin's disquieting novel of adolescent fantasy and madness further cements Gilliam's reputation as a unique, visionary artist, while reducing his audience to only the most adventurous. By the time Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) settles into her late grandmother's derelict farmhouse on the vast, empty plains of what appears to be the American southwest, both her parents are dead. She and her junkie father (Jeff Bridges) fled the city shortly after finding mom (a particularly slatternly Jennifer Tilly) dead from a methadone overdose, and within hours of their arrival at his mother's house, he also succumbs to an overdose. Alone in the middle of nowhere, with her father's decaying body and a head full of his tall tales about resurrected bog men, Queen Gunhilda and faraway Jutland, Jeliza-Rose turns to her four disembodied dolls' heads for companionship and begins to reconstruct the world around her. She follows a gibberish-chattering squirrel into the attic and dons her grandmother's feather boa and blonde wig. Huddled in the overturned school bus close by the railroad track, Jeliza-Rose calls the fireflies by their fairy names and imagines that the strange black-clad figure in a beekeeper's hood she sees skulking through the tall grass is a witch. In reality, the woman's name is Dell (Janet McTeer) and she's a bee-phobic taxidermist who once loved Jeliza-Rose's father and now lives with her brother, Dickens (Brendan Fletcher), in a nearby farmhouse. Dickens also lives in a fantasy world of his own making. His scalp bears the vivid scars of an only partially successful operation to control his epilepsy; he flops around in a tattered wetsuit, flippers and diving mask, pretending the fields are the floor of a vast ocean, his tent a submarine named "Lucy" and the train that comes screaming across the prairie a dangerous monster shark — a fantasy he ultimately takes a step too far. Young Ferland is on screen every moment and embodies not only the bizarre character of Jeliza-Rose but her four dolls as well; it's a remarkable performance, but not one many will want to watch for two solid hours. The rest of the film is filled with inspired flights of dark fantasy that further explore the enchanted landscape Gilliam last charted in the underrated THE BROTHERS GRIMM (2005). What makes this foray particularly disturbing is that this nightscape where sleeping beauties turn out to be mummified corpses, the rabbit hole is filled with floating hypodermic needles and Prince Charming is a half-witted epileptic with dynamite stored under his bed, exists mostly in the mind of a young girl. The childish imagination can be a very dangerous place, indeed.
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