Director: Guy Maddin
Cast: Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, Louis Negin and Udo Kier
Running Time: Club
Release Date: December 18th
The fear of infinity is a daunting concept, even if only considered for a few minutes. It is why most people love the idea of religion, or keep an events planner. If you can put a mark on a certain date somewhere off in the future, near or far, then you can feel in control of your path. A vast, unending expanse is a harrowing thought so naturally, any effort to ignore it is always welcome.
This is perhaps why Guy Maddin’s latest film, The Forbidden Room is such a fascinating piece of work. It is not enjoyable in the slightest, but this is deliberate, and extremely well done. The Forbidden Room strives to make the viewer feel completely uncertain of where they are, depriving us of a plot, and hence, a timeframe. Once the projector starts to run, the viewer is plunged deeper and deeper into a hellish void from which, no clear exit reveals itself. The only piece of good news is that there are in fact doors marked exit in the theatre, and during the screening, five attendants made avail of this opportunity. For the remaining eight, we chose to ride it out.
Originating from Maddin’s Séances internet project, The Forbidden Room is an eerie collection of utterly bizarre shorts, which warp like Francis Bacon paintings, and link together in a similar manner to Luis Bunuel’s dream logic feature, The Phantom of Liberty. Maddin owes a huge debt to the surrealists, having utilising one of the movement’s old games, Exquisite Corpse as a means of creating the film’s vaguely cohesive thread. The rules of this game are quite simple; somebody comes up with one idea, and the next person hones in on one small element contained within the first to launch a second, and so on. However, to complicate matters more, Maddin alters the game, until it resembles the deconstruction of Russian dolls. He opens the first doll to find a smaller one inside, and does this about five times, before closing each one up again, until we are back to the original doll. Then, he repeats the process another two times, getting increasingly more opaque and weird each time.
First we meet a sleazy American comedian, a Rodney Dangerfield type, doused in fake tan and wearing nothing but a silk robe. Delivering a lecture on how to take a bath, the water in his tub evolves into an ocean. Here, we are introduced to a submarine crew who find themselves in a pickle. Their cargo is an explosive jelly, which is melting, and could blast them all to smithereens were it not for the fact that the pressure of the sea overhead prevents combustion. However, they only have a limited supply of oxygen, so there is not much hope either way.
Panicked, they begin sucking trapped air out of a platter of flapjacks (stay with me now). Then, from one of the vessel’s hatches, a lumberjack emerges. Telling them that he has embarked upon a quest to save a kidnapped damsel named Margot, his flashback pulls into first into the tale of Margot, and then, her personal dreams. Here we see her perform in a club, sharing the stage with a crooner who sings about a man who lobotomizes himself to avoid staring at the buttocks’ of women. Each scene gets a return, until we meet the bathing instructor again, and as process repeats itself the process, the viewer becomes increasingly lost, unsure of what is supposed to happen, or where exactly the end will appear.
If the stories themselves were not enough to induce illness, then the visual aesthetic certainly will. Shot on what appears to be melting, crackling, and distorted celluloid, the style aims to replicate the feel of old lost films from the first half of the twentieth century. Maddin ups the ante on this front, by having his cast deliver their lines with absurd levels of expositional dialogue, to the extent that it eradicates any class of subtext.
Both giggling at old schlocky films, but paying them equal revere, it is apt that he chose lost movies for his inspiration. As is the case with such old reels, trapped in the unknown, and unlikely to see the light of day, The Forbidden Room itself occupies a similar limbo. The stories never reach a point of resolution. They do not really end, nor does the film itself. It could go on for much longer, and an earlier cut, screened at Sundance confirms this, since the edit that Maddin has released this time around is trimmed down to a modest 130 minutes.
He sought to produce a disorienting work, that pushes the viewer’s patience past their limitations, and he has done exactly that. One week on from sitting in the theatre, and still I can see the crew down in their submarine, never surfacing, but still alive. It sounds so cheesy to say, because it is probably the tagline for an old Hammer horror movie, but you really cannot leave the Forbidden Room.