“My life is a fucking nightmare. Every waking moment. Every time I close my eyes I just relive the trauma. I’m never safe. I can’t even tell what’s real anymore. Everything just blurs. I don’t sleep. I don’t eat. Just . . . walking through this dream. Ghosts haunting me.”
Just as its protagonist, Amy, describes in the above prelude, Felt is a hazy waking dream of a film, one haunted by a vaguely-defined sexual assault that occurred long before its first frame. It’s a story of coping, self-therapy, and retribution & as such it’s an ambiguous, wandering, deeply misanthropic work without any clear A-B narrative . . . until it reaches a shockingly violent conclusion. The purpose of the film, if there even is one, is intentionally left just as vague as the assault that started Amy’s emotional unraveling. Felt dares its audience not to get on its wavelength. Visual artist Amy Everson is deliberately obfuscated in her performance as the fictional Amy. The film’s warped dream logic structure stretches out its 80min run time to a downstream drift. Its full-on assault against rape culture & its deniers is sure to illicit some defensive balking. Still, if you can submerge yourself in the film’s striking imagery & connect with its protagonist’s frustrated emotional turmoil in any significant way, it’s an entirely singular work guaranteed to stick with you long after the end credits.
The men of Felt are a despicable bunch. They’re selfish, exploitative brutes who casually make rape jokes, pressure women to drink, and make them feel “constantly objectified and discredited for anything you do because you’re female.” Amy has a couple . . . unusual defense mechanisms for her world’s plague of predatory brutes, tactics that gradually escalate during the film’s runtime. Her first line of defense is a deliberately juvenile sense of scatological humor where “Ladies fart too” is more of a war cry than an obvious truth. She also indulges in fantasizing about torturing & killing men in a fanciful bid to reclaim power she lost in her assault. Amy’s most striking self-therapy & reclamation of her power, though, is in her trips to the woods where she dons self-made “superhero” costumes: a second, exaggerated skin that makes her look like gigantic, naked muscle men complete with hand-carved weapons & a lifelike penis.
In a world where men dominate public spaces, Amy finds her solace in the insular world of her bedroom/art studio & in the immense, primal embrace of Nature. It isn’t until she makes herself vulnerable to a male love interest by inviting him into these private spaces, only to be promptly betrayed, that her coping mechanisms are pushed beyond the point of no return & the film takes a nasty turn towards a psychological horror, one with a stomach-churning, blood-soaked conclusion. A lot of Felt echoes outsider art therapy themes you’d find in Miranda July’s work or in the documentary Marwencol and because most scenes are quick & visually intense, it often functions like a well-curated art gallery, a dream-like montage of gigantic, exaggerated genitals, fetal Hitler, and creepy bearded masks.
I’ve read complaints that Felt‘s images & dialogue are sometimes too “on the nose” (one of my least favorite critiques in general; subtlety often bores me) in how they relate to the themes of sexual assault recovery and the many forms violence & abuse can take in the patriarchy, but the film is so deliberately loose in its narrative & opposed to explaining its intent that I couldn’t disagree more. In a time where people are citing television as the next great art form, I find myself falling in love with films like Felt, Under the Skin, The Duke of Burgundy, etc. that achieve an aesthetic that can only exist in cinema & in no other format. Felt‘s “Life in general is awful” mindset & remarkably fluid procession of striking, subliminally horrifying imagery obviously amount to an overall bleak effect, but I found that allowing myself to get lost in its gloomy, loopy dream logic was invigorating in that it served as a reminder of how powerful & distinct cinema can be when it’s allowed to indulge it is own self-absorbed world. If you’re looking for a movie that’ll make you love movies, but hate people, Felt might be worth a gander. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before, which is always a great place for a film to start.