Master Gardener (2023)

Paul Schrader is a controversial figure. Once upon a time, the writer of The Last Temptation of Christ, Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver was an easy person to point to as, inarguably, a man who understood how to tell a story and tell it well. A professed Christian, it’s hard to pin down what exactly he believes in. In 2016, his online outbursts about the soon-to-be-inaugurated 45th U.S. president were so vitriolic—he even invoked the name of John Brown, the famous abolitionist who was martyred following his attempts to incite slave rebellions prior to the Civil War—that they prompted an investigation from the NYPD’s Counter Terrorism unit. Last year, however, in another social media post apparently inspired by the Academy Awards sweep by Everything Everywhere All at Once, he criticized the “wokeness” of the Oscars, and the year prior, he referred to the positive critical reappraisal of Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles in the Sight & Sound decade-ending poll as a “landmark of distorted woke reappraisal.” With that in mind, one has to wonder what he means with his latest picture, Master Gardener, as he was both writer and director on the feature. Technically, there are spoilers ahead.

Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) leads a team of groundskeepers at the historical estate of Gracewood Gardens. He is meticulous in every word and deed; his interactions with his staff and his employer include very precise word choice, his planning of the grounds and deliberate choices of which flowers should be planted in which quadrant to ensure complementary and continuous blooming demonstrate a profound punctiliousness, and his small home—which sits on the grounds just near the main house at Gracewood—is rigidly organized and maintained. In his journals and his dreams, however, we learn that his mind is not so painstakingly groomed and patterned. Early on, he refers to the moments of anticipation leading up to the blooming of a flower with the use of a violent simile: that it is like the moment leading up to the pulling of a trigger. As we learn through a series of flashbacks, Gracewood is not where Narvel was hired, but is in fact where he was placed, as part of the Witness Protection Program. A former member of a neo-Nazi militia, he turned state’s evidence and has resided at Gracewood ever since. (I know that, for some, this will constitute a spoiler, but I also feel it important to take note of this, since I went into the film with no knowledge that this would be part of the film, and this is a sensitive topic that I feel it is important to have some forewarning about.) 

His world begins to change when the ancestral owner of the estate, Norma Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver), informs Narvel that he will soon be responsible for the apprenticeship of her great niece, a young woman named Maya (Quintessa Swindell). Maya, the product of an interracial marriage, formerly visited the grounds with her mother, the daughter of Norma’s sister, when she was a child, but those visits came to an end with Maya’s mother took ill and died. In contrast to Narvel’s overt but distant racism, Norma’s is genteel but still very much present. She refers to Maya, derisively, as being of “mixed blood,” and in the scene in which we learn that there are elements of sexual transaction in Narvel and Norma’s relationship, we see that she regards the medley of racist tattoos that Narvel keeps hidden beneath his gardening clothes (the numbers 88 and 14, the Confederate flag, cracker bolts, and the obligatory swastika) with gratified admiration. While Narvel interacts pleasantly and respectfully with his diverse staff, Maya, and even his WitSec contact Oscar Neruda (Puerto Rican-American Esai Morales) in a way that demonstrates that he has shaken off the hatred of his past, Norma still occupies what is clearly and inarguably a former plantation house, and the way that she carries herself and interacts with both her staff and her last living relative, whom she considers tainted by her non-whiteness, demonstrates that her passive racism and white supremacy is harmful in the same way that Narvel’s past neo-Nazi activities were. Things take a turn for the worse when Norma banishes Narvel and Maya from Gracewood when she falsely assumes that the two have developed a sexual relationship. Narvel invites Maya to come with him, detox and get sober, and continue to learn to find meaning in the horticultural arts, but even though he has pruned himself in such a way that he has grown into a different person, his worries that his roots (pun intended) in violence and white supremacy may taint him and his actions forever. 

I see this film being listed as a crime thriller in most postings, and while it definitely has elements of that genre (there are certain segments involving vigilante activity that feel like they could have been lifted directly from the 2014 version of The Equalizer), Master Gardener is, first and foremost, a character study, and frequently has moments of black comedy as well. Narvel is a man of contradictions, formerly a member of the worst kind of terrorist organization who now stands as the human bulwark between the aging Norma and her staff. When Maya sees his tattoos and confronts him about them, asking why he hasn’t had them covered up or removed, he has no real answer for her, only stating that he had looked into it and decided not to (which I interpret as Narvel having left them on his body for Norma’s sake but not wanting to say this outright, but that’s just my reading of the text and is by no means canonical). In an early sequence in which Narvel’s journal is presented to us in voiceover, he recounts that while it was once thought that seeds had a lifespan of less than two centuries, but that some that had been uncovered by archaeologists millennia after they were harvested were able to be sprouted, speaking to the perseverance of nature, but in the same sequence, he refers to his tattoos as seeds as well, and it’s left ambiguous what this means. Does he think that hate is eternal? What does he expect them to germinate into? We never get a clear answer. 

This is a rich, beautifully photographed, and sumptuous film. Immediately after, when my viewing companion and I were discussing it over dinner, neither of us was sure if we had enjoyed it or not, and I’m still not sure, as I write this a day later. It’s certainly leagues better than the last Schrader film that I saw (The Canyons), and there’s a beauty in its ambiguity that I have to admire. It recalls Schrader’s most well-known film, Taxi Driver, insofar as it is about a man with a dark and troubled past whose obsessive devotion to a younger woman leads him to violent acts, but where it differs is that the older film is about a man who becomes a proto-incel because he can only see the ugliness of the world, while Gardener is about a man who is seeking redemption, and maybe finding it. 

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Lagniappe Podcast: Edward II (1991)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and Alli discuss Derek Jarman’s playfully, defiantly anachronistic adaptation of the Christopher Marlowe play Edward II.

00:00 Welcome

02:35 Strawberry Mansion (2022)
06:05 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
14:00 Ed and His Dead Mother (1993)
17:07 Parents (1989)
22:10 Freaks vs. The Reich (2023)
26:20 Candy Land (2023)
28:38 Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023)

37:03 Edward II (1991)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

-The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Ed and His Dead Mother (1993)

Ed Chilton (Steve Buscemi) is a mama’s boy; he may, in fact, be the mama’s boy to end all mama’s boys. See, her voice is still ringing in his ears, a year after her death. The late Mabel Chilton (Miriam Margolyes) went to her grave a full twelve months ago, leaving her hardware store to Ed, where he employs the kindly (Gary Farmer) and fields phone calls from the murderous Reverend Paxton (Rance Howard), who has frequent questions about what hardware would be best to kill his adulterous wife. On an otherwise normal day, Ed finds himself visited by A. J. Pattle (John Glover), a salesman peddling resurrection for the late Mabel, payable on delivery. Ed agrees, much to the chagrin of his live-in uncle, Benny (Ned Beatty), the exact kind of peeping tom horndog that pegs this movie to 1993. The object of Benny’s desire is next-door-neighbor Storm Reynolds (Sam Sorbo credited under her maiden name), who, in fairness, parades around intentionally, trying to attract attention. Uncle Benny is even further perturbed when his sister reappears in the flesh, little worse for wear. She and Ed both have something to fear from the unstable Rob Sundheimer (Jon Gries), a former employer who was convicted by Mabel’s testimony and who’s out on parole with vengeance in his mind. 

There’s something very familiar about Ed and His Dead Mother. It’s very tonally inconsistent in a way that really pigeonholes it as something that could only be created at a certain time; it felt a lot like My Boyfriend’s Back and Stepmonster. And wouldn’t you just know it, all three films were released in 1993 (there’s also a little hint of 1991’s Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead).  There’s some played-for-laughs not-quite-body-horror here that’s very reminiscent of Boyfriend; for one thing, a distinction is made between bringing someone back to life and bringing someone back from the dead, and as Pattle notes while upselling Ed another product, only latter was promised, not the former. As such, Mabel is forced to consume “life,” meaning living things (mostly roaches), but she isn’t above considering a neighborhood dog, or worse. We never have to see Mabel eat roaches like it’s Fear Factor, nor are we confronted with the image of a canine in distress; like Boyfriend and Don’t Tell Mom, there’s no real gore (at least until the end, where it’s still not very realistic), and there’s very little real sense of menace. Like Stepmonster, it places itself in a very specific time when someone can peep on their hot lady neighbor and the film acts like this is perfectly acceptable behavior that doesn’t soil our protagonist’s character, and here, this goes beyond simple safe-for-TV underwear shots, but a full-on bare-assed striptease and even frontal nudity, a little more than you’d expect from a PG-13 flick and especially something that you wouldn’t expect in a film where the humor feels as juvenile as the aforementioned movies. The sex factor is too high for kids in this movie, but the jokes are either too heady or too obvious for a more upper-teen demographic. It is still darker than any of those, however, as none of the end in a cemetery in which a man must bury his mother’s head in one corner and her body in another, lest she rise again. 

There are a lot of bits here that are quite good. The increasingly unhinged Reverend whose rage at his wife’s infidelities (with all of the church council no less, even the women — all at once!) is a lot of fun, and when we get to see another side of Pattle, whom we’ve only seen as a hectoring salesbully with Ed, sheepishly being lectured by upper management about draining Ed of every cent that he got from his mother’s insurance instead of giving so many discounts. Margolyes is clearly having a lot of fun chewing the scenery as Mabel, especially when she’s cartoonishly grinding meat, chasing dogs, and locking herself in the fridge. Glover is always fun, especially when he’s getting to push people around, and Buscemi carries the thankless lead role of the feckless Ed effortlessly. I just wish it was funnier, that it made me laugh a little more. Maybe I’m just not in the target demographic, but then again, I don’t know who is.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Things sure do seem awfully final these days, don’t they? There’s a part of my brain lighting up right now that hasn’t been active since my last days of high school, alongside parts of my brain that hadn’t felt this flush with fear hormones since the last time I was worried about the Rapture. Past lovers have reappeared at a rate of about one per month since last summer like my own personal Broken Flowers, a succession of insights into the me that could have been. Things are so dark and bleak sometimes that I’m not really sure what to do with myself. So much of what I’ve been seeing and writing about lately are about completion, ending, and finalizing triptychs that it feels pervasive. Then again, I’ve always had an unfortunate tendency toward apophenia, and my brain chemicals have been all over the place since, within the past two weeks, I spent days upon days expecting that I was going to have to put down my elderly cat (he rebounded, the little comeback king—he’s dying, but not today, and not this week). It’s also theorized that the human brain is wired to find patterns even where none exist, and since the smallest number of “things” in which we can find patterns is three, it’s possible there’s something innate and instinctual in humans that causes us to see triptychs and trilogies and triads and three-part godheads as complete. We’ve known this for hundreds of years, given that Aristotle wrote in RhetoricOmne trium perfectum”—essentially, “Everything that comes in threes is perfect,”—in the 4th century B.C.E. Brandon and I texted about this recently, as he wanted to give me the chance to write about Beau is Afraid before he took a crack at it since I had covered both Hereditary and Midsommar. Also relatively recently, and more in line with what we’re talking about today, I wrote about how I went to see the most recent Ant-Man out of a sense of obligation to close out the third and final part of something that had relevant sentimental value to me as a person and as a member of this site. 

I wasn’t planning to see this movie in theaters, if at all, ever. No one’s public persona is 100% accurate to them as a person, but Chris Pratt’s bungling of the goodwill that Parks & Rec and the first film in this series bought him via (at best) poorly conceived social media posts has made me not really all that interested in seeing him in a big budget film. I don’t expect celebrities to adhere to an old-fashioned studio contract morals code, and I appreciate that people in the public eye are expected not only to tolerate the fact that they have virtually no privacy but to even use what little privacy they have to essentially buy more stock in the interest economy by posting their private moments to their verified social media accounts. I really do. But man, there was something about that post about having a healthy child with his new wife that left a really bad taste in my mouth, even if it wasn’t an intentional dig at ex-wife Anna Faris or a reference to their special needs son; it churned my stomach. On top of that, I just haven’t been able to make myself care much about the MCU, as I’ve mentioned the last few times I’ve covered it, and with that last Ant-Man being such a miss for me, I can’t work up the interest to check these things out most of the time, let alone the compulsion. But, on a night when all my friends had plans and I was facing some pretty strong writer’s block, I took my MoviePass down to the [redacted] and I got myself a hot dog and a blue ICEE and sat in a sparsely populated theater on what seems like it’s the last of these. And it was good. 

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 opens on a downbeat note. Peter Quill (Pratt) is still in mourning for the loss of Gamora (Zoe Saldana) in Infinity War, a situation exacerbated by the fact that a different, time-displaced version of Gamora from before the two met now exists somewhere out there, not caring at all about his existence. The Guardians have settled in on Knowhere, which you may (and are expected to) remember as the severed head of a long-dead god-adjacent being. A depressed Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is forcing an entire settlement of people to listen to Radiohead’s “Creep” over the loudspeakers and as a former radio DJ who struggled with mental health issues, I have to say: relatable. His reverie is interrupted by the arrival of Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), who puts our little raccoon friend into a coma, and the Guardians are unable to use their handy automated medical equipment because there’s a kill switch on his heart. You see, the man who cyborgified Rocket in the first place, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) left behind a failsafe to protect his proprietary interest in Rocket, whom he is attempting to recapture. Nebula (Karen Gillan) proposes that they reach out to one of her contacts who might be able to get the group inside the headquarters of the H.E.’s megacorp and get the shutdown code for the kill switch so that they can get Rocket medical help before he dies. This involves the rest of the team, including Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Groot (Vin Diesel), and Drax (Dave Bautista), reuniting with the version of Gamora who does not know them. It’s not as simple as all of that, of course, as the attempted heist goes awry and requires them to track down the Evolutionary himself, with all the unusual fleshy detail that we’ve come to expect from James Gunn, a jailbreak of nice Village of the Damned kids, a telepathic dog feuding with Kirk from Gilmore Girls, an octopus man selling drugs in a back alley, bat people, and unexpected needle drops from the likes of Florence + the Machine and Flaming Lips. As this plays out, extended comatose flashbacks reveal the extent of the torturous experimentation that left Rocket the difficult, bristly, prosthetic-obsessed sapient Procyon lotor about whom we’ve all been suspending our disbelief for the past eight years. 

There’s a lot more going on thematically in these movies than in the other recent products/content than this organization is creating, and as a result there’s a narrative cohesion here where all three movies are in greater communication with one another than, say, the Thor movies, which went from decent origin story to dour table-setting to wacky throwback comedy to whatever happened in Love and Thunder (I don’t know; I didn’t see it). On a very surface level, these movies, like a lot of Gunn’s work, can be described as a feature length Creepy Crawlers commercial, but there’s something that’s genuine here underneath all of that, and more moving than it really has any right to be. Personally, I think that the scenes in which we see Rocket bond with other more abominable abominations that have been experimented upon by the High Evolutionary set foot a few inches over the line into saccharine territory, but schmaltz, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It’s a foregone conclusion that the sweet otter character voiced by Linda Cardellini at her most warm isn’t making it out of those flashbacks alive, so you’re never able to relax and appreciate the scenes that they’re in because the other shoe is always hovering just out of frame, ready to drop. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that seeing the frail and dying body of Rocket hit me personally because of the resemblance to the recent extreme health situation of my cat; it ended up pushing too far into the treacly territory for me as a result, but that won’t be the case for everyone, and hasn’t been based on the reviews I’ve seen. 

These movies are about fathers, and about god, and about the fact that we (in the west at least) form our images of what constitutes “god” around the concept of “father.” In the first film, Gamora and Nebula are constantly at each other’s throats to prove themselves to their shared father, Peter viewed Yondu (Michael Rooker) as his surrogate father even though the man had actually kidnapped him as a child, and Drax’s motivation to join the team was as vengeance for his lost wife and daughter. The second film saw Peter meeting his biological father, who was also, in many ways, a living god; Yondu sacrifices himself for his surrogate sons and finds meaning in bettering himself through fatherhood, and Gamora encourages Nebula to break free from the influence of their father as she has. Peter’s father being a nigh-omnipotent living planet was a kind of apotheosizing of that father-as-god concept. Now, in this third and presumed final film, the narrative is once again focused on the relationship between one of these characters and their father/creator, but this time it’s Rocket, and it plays out as a story about a god who, in seeking an ephemeral “perfection,” created something that he didn’t understand and which threatened his ego by demonstrating the ability to exceed the creator’s own intelligence. That’s not normally the kind of story that’s told through creator and creation; that’s the story of a father and the son upon whom he heaps all of his own insecurities and coping mechanisms. Beyond that, the jailbreak mentioned above ends with Drax finding himself with the opportunity to be a father again, in a new way.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I often divide finales/endings, at least of mass media, into two broad categories: the “Everybody goes their separate ways” ending and the “The adventure continues” ending. They’re both equally valid, conceptually, and the former is frequently the right narrative choice for a broad spectrum of stories; sometimes a piece of fiction ends in a place where characters have no choice other than to separate, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not sometimes bummed out by them. They can’t all be “God bless the brick house that was! God bless the brick house that is to be!” This is a definitive finale, and I don’t think it’s a surprise that the ending, despite concluding on an optimistic note, left me a little blue. That’s not to say that there weren’t jokes aplenty here (it took me until about the halfway mark for me to reach a point where it felt right to laugh, despite many gags throughout), but there’s a surge of love for the movie that feels more like people are just happy that there’s a good Marvel movie that everyone went to see rather than interacting with the text directly, because the text is weird in a way that mainstream audiences are normally more squeamish about. There were moments that made me think of Basket Case 2, of all things, which is a strange thing to say about a movie in this larger franchise, owned and operated by a monopolistic media empire. The consensus on this one is positive, and you can count me amongst that number, but at this point, these films have to advocate for themselves or not. This one does.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Lagniappe Podcast: Yes, Madam! (1985)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and Alli discuss the Michelle Yeoh & Cynthia Rothrock action hero team-up Yes, Madam! (1985).

00:00 Welcome

02:50 Night Visions (2001 – 2002)
07:25 Vibes (1988)
08:50 Beau is Afraid (2023)
25:40 Gossip (2000)
27:30 I Went to the Dance (1989)
31:00 Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie (1995)

36:00 Yes, Madam! (1985)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

-The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Beau is Afraid (2023)

Middle-aged Beau Wasserman lives in a nightmare. To be more accurate, he lives in several nightmares, some of them in succession, some layered atop one another like an onion of misery. Beau is a man who is haunted: by images of overflowing bathtubs, by visions of choppy water, by memories of an unconventionally abusive childhood, by the gap in his life where his father should be, by the ever-present preoccupation with the possibility of death imposed upon him by congenital health issues, and by a thousand other intangible things that aren’t immediate threats but which nevertheless ostensibly guide him through his choices, moment by moment, day after day. Beau is also a man who is endangered, not by those things which haunt him, but by real menaces that confront him on a daily basis. His neighborhood is parodically dangerous, as if the entire area is the product of a fever dream of someone whose brain was rotted by conservative cable news fabrications about hellish city life. Just going home from his appointment with his therapist requires Beau to start sprinting down his street from blocks away so that he can get into his building and lock the door behind him before a menacing vagrant can chase him down; not in the abstract, either, as he’s actually racing against his attacker. There’s no real order or authority in the world; a dangerous nude murderer wanders the streets, there are men gouging each others’ eyes out between Beau’s building and the Cheapo Depot across the street, and there are automatic weapons being sold on the street with abandon. His home itself provides little comfort, as there is a known brown recluse in the building and he spends the entire night receiving increasingly threatening notes slipped under his door in regards to an increasingly loud sound system that does not exist. Beau is afraid, and he has every reason to be, but things really only get worse for him from here. 

Beau is Afraid is almost a picaresque. In fact, it opens almost exactly the same way that one of the foremost examples of the genre, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, does: with the protagonist’s birth. However, unlike Tristram (or Candide, or Huckleberry Finn), there’s not much appealing about Beau. He’s not roguish, or courageous, or even much of an active player in his own life. A series of horrible things happen to him and his only option, over and over again, is to run, because he has no defense against the things that haunt or endanger him. In each of these vignettes, things seem to be taking a turn for the better for Beau before deflating every potential chance for his luck to improve. He’s hit by a car, then nursed back to health by kind strangers, then that situation falls apart because of the impulsive actions of the family’s youngest child and he is pursued into the forest by a shell-shocked veteran, then he’s found by a woman who’s part of a traveling forest theatre troupe which performs a play that transports him on an emotional journey by playing out this hope-to-despair cycle in miniature, then the performance is disrupted by a spree killing, and so on. 

In the first scene following the opening P.O.V. birth sequence, Beau’s therapist asks Beau if he would return to a well that made him sick the next time that he was thirsty. This is a film with nigh-constant imagery of water, in its abundance and in its absence, and in the film’s first (of many, many) acts, we the audience are introduced to the arc words “always with water,” which is Beau’s therapist’s warning to him about his new prescription. Beau is adrift on that water (literally, by the end); he bobs in it and he is pushed by its motion as it surges and recedes like waves, and he is never in control. Beau’s journey truly begins when he is forced to leave his building to cross the street for a bottle of water in order to finish taking his pills because the water in his apartment is out. Because of circumstances beyond his control, he has to leave his building and apartment open in order to get back in once he does so, which results in his home being invaded and destroyed. After getting back inside, he immediately receives terrible news, resulting in his bathtub overflowing even before he can get in. 

This absence-to-abundance-to-absence imagery cycle is obviously no accident. Between the opening horror show that is Beau’s everyday life and the next vignette (which is at first hopeful and then violently terrifying, another cycle to be prepared for in this narrative), he flashes back to a childhood cruise that he took with his mother and on which he met his first and only love, Elaine. In all of these sequences, however, there’s one thing that we never see: the ocean. Characters dine above deck, sunbathe above deck, and take walks in the moonlight, but for the audience, all of this is happening against a backdrop of sky alone, as if in a void. In his dreams, Beau is in a bathtub (one that overflows, naturally, in abundance), watching a braver version of himself standing up to his mother and being punished for it by being sent into the attic. When he is being cared for by Grace and Roger, great attention is paid to the fact that he is given water in the monogrammed cup which belonged to their son, who was killed in action overseas. When he finds the actors in the woods, we see water pour over a point-of-view shot from Beau’s perspective as a fresh head wound is tended, and in the sequence in which the drugged, concussed Beau becomes the character on the stage who builds a life that is completely destroyed by a flood. In the end, Beau meets his destiny on the water, sailing out to face judgment for his supposed sins. The waves go forth and they retract, and a buoy rises and falls, and through it all, Beau has no agency in what moves him. 

This absence and abundance is everywhere. When Beau is taken in to be cared for by Grace and Roger, he is put in their teen daughter’s room, where she has posters for various K-pop acts and similar-to-but-legally-distinct-from Marvel “grrl power” pin-ups on her walls. With regards to the former, she has posters both for a solo artist named Only1 and a gigantic boy band called KI55, as a reference to the number of members, all of whom are crammed onto the same poster in quarter-sized photos. I’m sure that there are many more that I’m missing or didn’t pick up on, because this film is dense, and for someone like me who loves details and puzzle pieces, there’s a lot happening. Much criticism has been directed at the film with regards to its length, but I only felt its runtime in my bladder, not in my attention. With that said, I’m not at all surprised that this movie hasn’t been to everyone’s liking. 

Beau is Afraid largely concerns itself with guilt, but it isn’t titled Beau is Guilty because Beau isn’t guilty, he is simply made to feel guilt. His therapist projects guilt onto him, his mother’s lawyer lays a guilt trip on him for his worthlessness, and his mother herself, in flashbacks and in the present, manipulates him over and over again and then pelts him with guilt when he reacts in just the way she has set him up to. Before we see her in flashbacks or the present—when she’s no more than a voice on the phone—we see that Beau has one photo of each parent; his father is a blur, his snapshot taken while he was moving, so that there’s no clear image of his face at all, and in the photo of his mother, she is holding him as a newborn, his bald head in the foreground, but instead of a gentle hand supporting his wobbly noggin, her long, pointed nails create an image of her son trapped in her claw like prey, which is all that he ever is. There’s even the implication that everything that he has suffered (or at least large parts of it) are the result of her machinations, given that there’s a photomosaic of her face at her home that is composed of her employees’ staff photos, and it includes a character who appeared earlier as a good samaritan Beau encountered. This isn’t the kind of movie that “makes sense” in the traditional way, as it’s a surreal fantasy that’s not supposed to be treated as a straightforward, rational narrative, so even when the film implies Beau’s mother has been acting behind the scenes, we’re still then treated to the revelation of who (or more accurately what) Beau’s father is, in a way that defies any attempt to rationalize what’s happened to Beau as being merely a protracted trial to demonstrate his love for his mother. 

There are two major touchpoints that the film reminded me of: mother! and Marie NDiaye’s 2007 novel Mon Cœur à l’étroit. In the case of the latter, there is a scene in the film’s first act in which Beau, unable to return to his apartment, climbs the scaffolding outside of the building and is forced to watch as his home is ransacked and destroyed, which was reminiscent of the scene in Darren Aronofsky’s film where the titular character is running from room to room, unable to stop her husband’s unruly party guests from destroying her meticulously planned and curated home. That sense of helplessness and desperation that you feel when empathizing with Jennifer Lawrence’s character in that movie is present here as well; everything in this movie is happening to Beau, as he has no choice but to continue to be compelled forward by the motion of the sea on which he is adrift, the tide carrying him to an unjust damnation. Mon Cœur à l’étroit, which was translated into English as My Heart Hemmed In in 2017, is about a woman who awakens one morning to the sudden realization that she is hated by everyone around her. Where Beau most resembles it is in the way that people interact with him. The protagonist of the novel, Nadia, is confused by all of her neighbors’ and friends’ sudden antipathy toward her, which is only further agitated by the fact that, when she confronts them, they all start to voice an accusation that trails off without providing any real information. This happens to Beau as well, as the people he encounters continuously approach him with variations on “You know what you did” and leave notes for him to find that say “Stop implicating yourself.” How much his mother was influencing things (not to mention how much that matters to the reading of the text, really) is up for debate; how much Mona Wasserman shaped her son’s reality is less important than how she shaped his perception of reality, which was … a lot. He can only perceive reality through the lens of guilt, both when she’s gaslighting him directly and when she’s gaslighting him by proxy through the way her abuse has shaped his brain so that he induces it in himself. 

Like Mon Cœur à l’étroit, mother!, and Tristram Shandy for that matter, Beau is Afraid will not be for everyone. It’s been pretty divisive, and I’m not surprised. Between the length of the movie, some detours into the kind of wacky ground that wouldn’t be out of place in a movie by The Daniels, and mainstream American audiences’ overall aversion to anything too complicated to be half-watched while you fart around on your phone, there are sure to be plenty of people who find this one off-putting, not fun, and too strange to enjoy, but I’m not one of them. 

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Galaxy Quest (1999)

There’s something really special about Galaxy Quest that’s hard to describe. It’s not just the loving send-up of classic Star Trek that permeates the film, because if that were all it had going for it, then it wouldn’t resonate comedically with an audience that’s unfamiliar with the old sci-fi juggernaut’s quirks and foibles, and I’ve witnessed enjoyment of the film by many a non-Trekkie. My most recent re-watch of the film was at least the twentieth time that I’ve seen it in my life, including an attendance during its theatrical run the summer I turned twelve, and I still get a kick out of it every time. Other genre parodies and pastiches have come and gone, but Galaxy Quest‘s enduring popularity even led to a 2019 documentary about the film, twenty years after its initial release. I’m not surprised by how beloved it is, however, as its appeal has never worn off for me, either. 

The film opens some twenty years after the unresolved cliffhanger finale of kitschy old school space opera series Galaxy Quest, at a fan convention for the show. The show’s stars have seen little success in their careers after the show ended and the fan convention circuit seems to be the only way that they provide for themselves, other than Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), who portrayed Kirk-analog Peter Quincy Taggart on the show. Allen plays Nesmith pitch perfectly, with a massive ego that’s just a few degrees off of William Shatner’s real life braggadocio, pairing it with a very un-Shatner tenderness with fans that makes him more sympathetic than Shatner is (sorry, Bill). He also hints at an ongoing attraction to former castmate Gwen DeMarco (a blonde Sigourney Weaver), who played Lieutenant Tawny Madison, whose sole function on the series was to look pretty and repeat everything that the computer said. Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman) is our not-quite-Leonard-Nimoy here, with a few shades of Patrick Stewart, as a classically trained British theatre actor whose role as the alien Doctor Lazarus—complete with a prosthetic rubber “head” that covers his hair—has so dwarfed anything else that he could possibly do that he openly laments that he will be repeating his character’s corny catchphrase until the day that he dies. True to his veteran stage nature, he can always be coaxed onstage with the reminder that “the show must go on.” Clearly (but for the sake of the film’s PG rating not explicitly) stoned Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub), who was the ship’s engineer Chen is also present, at least physically, as is Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell), who played the pilot of the Protector on the show as a child, like Wil Wheaton did as Wesley Crusher on The Next Generation

Nesmith overhears some teenagers mocking him while in the bathroom at the convention, which results in him blowing up at eager young fan Brandon (Justin Long), which even the castmates who dislike him find out of character. After blowing off a group of people that are presumed to be alien cosplayers at the convention, they come to his home to pick him up for a mission, which he interprets to be the group simply maintaining character as Galaxy Quest LARPers for a side appearance that he accepted. Hungover from drinking himself unconscious the previous night over the embarrassment of being mocked and then exploding at teenagers afterward, Jason fails to notice that he has been transported up to a real spacecraft, where the leader of the group, Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni), brings him into contact with Sarris (Robin Sachs), a reptilian warlord who has attacked Mathesar’s people, the Thermians. Jason directs the aliens to fire, half-asses a Kirk Taggart speech, declares victory, and asks to be sent home. The Thermians, worriedly, allow him to leave, but they send him back via teleportation via goo, which shocks him and makes him realize that his experience has been real. When he tries to share this news with his castmates (and bumping into Brandon again, accidentally swapping out the functional communicator that Mathesar gave him with the kid’s toy), they believe he’s having a mental breakdown, but when Fred points out that he might have been talking about a gig, they race to catch up with him and then experience their own epiphanic space transport. Also along for the ride is Guy (Sam Rockwell), a convention emcee whose sole stake in the show was playing a Redshirt credited only as “Crewman 6,” but who is also living off of the convention appearances. Once aboard the real Protector, he immediately assumes that his status as a “non-character” means that he’s doomed to die first, which sets off a great running gag in which he, as the only person who watched the show, is the only one who has any genre awareness about presuming that there’s air on a planet or that seemingly cute aliens might be vicious predators. 

So how did this all happen? Why is there a real starship Protector? The Thermians received the broadcasts of the Galaxy Quest show and, having no cultural reference for fiction, presume that they are “historical documents” and reverse engineered what they saw on the show into something that actually functions. Their pacifism, however, made them easy prey for the hostile Sarris, and so they did the only thing that they could think of, which was go to Earth and enlist the help of their heroes, not realizing that they were simply actors. Upon witnessing what happened to the previous leader of the Thermians, who was tortured to death by Sarris, the actors attempt to flee back to earth, but are unable to leave due to the arrival of Sarris, and have to do in reality what they’ve only ever accomplished on screen. 

There are so many little details that really make this one punchy. When we see some of the cast members’ homes, Alexander is living in squalor while Gwen’s bedroom looks comfortable but modest; Jason, in contrast, lives in a gorgeous mid century modern ranch style house with huge windows. He’s not hard up for money like the others are, which not only means that he’s been more successful but also that he doesn’t really need to go to these conventions to stay afloat financially like his old co-workers, but that he does it to stoke the fires of his own ego. Still, we remain sympathetic to him, as he does seem to truly love his old role, even being able to remember a monologue from an episode that he filmed decades before when he stumbles upon the episode on late night television. Another really great detail is the costuming in the convention; when Gwen poses with a group of fans who are all cosplaying as her character Tawny, each Tawny’s costume is clearly based on the one she wears in the show but are different from one another in ways that reveal their homemade nature. It’s really an inspired touch that the movie includes a half dozen people wearing their own interpretation of the same outfit, just like you would see at any other convention. Look at any photo of a real Star Trek convention and you’ll see the same thing, with several Doctor Crushers all posing together in variations on a style, a non-uniform uniform of black and teal and maybe a blue lab coat, but none identical. It reflects a love of not just the source material but the people who make up the community that enjoys it as well. There are hundreds of inspired choices throughout here, and you don’t have to know or care about Star Trek to get the jokes under the jokes, but if you do, it’s even more of a rewarding experience. 

Somehow, the easter eggs scattered throughout the narrative aren’t distracting. A perfect example is the scene in which Jason has to fight first a desert pig/lizard hybrid and then a full on rock monster. His friends decide to use the ship’s version of the transporter device, which the Thermians have never successfully tested. Fred’s first attempt to use it, a test run on the pig thing, results in the creature being turned inside out before exploding. On the planet below, Jason somehow loses his shirt while fighting the rock monster, all while being coached through the event by Alexander. In a second attempt, Fred manages to beam Jason out of there moments before he’s squashed. The scene is funny regardless, with the gross teleporter accident explosion, Rickman’s perfect embodiment of a true thespian whose patience with a gloryhound colleague ran out years ago, and Shalhoub’s panicked performance as Fred, but if you’re versed in the deeper Star Trek lore, you know that Shatner, when directing The Final Frontier, wanted Kirk to fight a group of rock monsters, which was then reduced to a single rock monster for budgetary reasons, and was ultimately cut because of how goofy looking it was; here, not!Kirk actually does what Kirk never got to do, which adds a layer of enjoyment that’s not strictly necessary but reflects a genuine affection for what it’s mocking. And that’s not even getting into the various transporter accidents that occur over the course of the franchise, perhaps most notably in The Motion Picture, where it’s a relief to learn that two people who are horribly mutilated when the device fritzes mid-transport “didn’t live long … fortunately.”

The chemistry between the cast is great, especially between the Allen/Weaver/Rickman trio. Weaver is the one most playing against type, a role she sought out largely because she was the opposite of her most famous character, Ripley. Her rising frustration is palpable and she deals with it very unlike Ripley would, but Ripley would also never find herself on a ship that has giant, functionless, metal chomping machinery in the bowels of the ship just because a writer in the late seventies/early eighties wanted to have Taggart fight a reptile monster there in one episode. Rickman so thoroughly throws himself into the role of an actor who loathes the one person with whom he’s been forever joined in the public consciousness that his eventual grudging respect for his longtime foil packs a true emotional punch. His reactions to the Thermians’ expectation that he resemble the character that he hates are comic gold, but when he repeats his despised catchphrase in earnest after the death of an alien who respected him, it’s genuinely emotional. Some things haven’t aged well (the goo transport thing in particular stands out as a bad effect), but for the most part, it looks like a movie that could come out this summer. In fact, to give the film a little extra verisimilitude, they forsook the traditional “shake the camera and have the actors stagger around” effect of demonstrating weapon hits and built the control room set on a giant moving stage called a gimbal, and there is a noticeable uptick in the suspension of disbelief as a result. 

For me, this is a comfort movie. It’s extremely well crafted, conceived, and executed, and it’s an easy pick if you’re looking for something that doesn’t take itself too seriously but gets everything right. 

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Vibes (1988)

As is often my wont, I was recently extolling to a friend about the virtues of our local library, and declared I would purchase said friend an inexpensive DVD player the next time I saw one at an estate sale (there’s a one-in-four chance there will be, in my experience) so that he could enjoy some of the more obscure picks that are available. This was perhaps days before the announcement that Netflix would be discontinuing its DVD-by-mail service, which was very close to my heart and which flung wide the doors for me to discover a plethora of movies and shows that had been out of my reach before. I couldn’t afford to have internet in my home when I was in college, but even at nineteen I could spare $8 a month for a constant stream of discs into my apartment, and although my local library can’t boast that it has a copy of everything (and for some reason doesn’t do interlibrary loans for media), there are thousands of things that are otherwise inaccessible now. My friend joked (I hope) that everything is streaming now, and that there’s no reason to own such a thing; I pointed out that I have been watching a lot of episodes of Ebert & Roeper at the Movies recently and that it’s opened my eyes to a huge number of movies that I never would have known existed otherwise. Every episode, the boys discuss 4-5 movies, with two of them usually being films that have remained in the public consciousness or otherwise has some kind of name brand recognition (your Top Gun, your Beauty and the Beast, a Silence of the Lambs), one or two movies that fall into the moderately obscure “oh, yeah,” category, (Uncle Buck, for instance, or She-Devil, or Major League: Back to the Minors; anything that you’d watch at a hotel when you’re on vacation and it’s raining on a Saturday afternoon), and then one or two movies that have, for all intents and purposes, vanished from the face of the earth. Is it worth listing those? We Think the World of You from 1988 and 1994’s BackBeat aren’t the kinds of titles you drop when you’re trying to impress someone. Buried among these episodes, I stumbled across their review of Vibes that sparked my interest and, having finally seen it (thanks, libraries!), has also stolen my heart. 

Ostentatious but insecure Sylvia (Cyndi Lauper – yes, really) meets staid museum curator Nick (Jeff Goldblum doing the platonic ideal of a Jeff Goldblum performance) under strange circumstances; they and several others are guests of Dr. Steele (Julian Sands), a parapsychologist. They’re both psychics; he’s a psychometrist, meaning that he can read the history of an object and even information about the people who have touched it, while she gained clairvoyance via a psychic guide named Louise, whom only she can see and hear. Louise, via Sylvia, warns Nick that his long-term girlfriend has been unfaithful while he’s been away, and although he doesn’t believe it, he’s confronted with the truth when his powers inadvertently reveal her deceit. Sylvia, meanwhile, meets her occasional flame Fred (Steve Buscemi) at the racetrack, where she is cajoled into using her powers to pick a winning horse on his behalf, only to be unceremoniously ditched for another woman moments later. Returning home, she finds a man named Harry (Peter Falk) in her kitchen, where he offers her $50K to help find his son, who has gone missing in Ecuador. Sylvia then enlists Nick to go along as well, since two psychics are better than one, and he opts to go rather than continue to spiral out and stew over the failure of his relationship. Once they arrive, Nick deduces with his powers that Harry has deceived them, and the older man admits that he’s actually seeking a fabled room of gold in the mountains, which was previously discovered by his business partner, but the latter man has since been hospitalized in a persistent vegetative state. The two psychics reluctantly agree to go, falling in love while being pursued the whole way by Steele, fellow psychic Ingo (Googy Gress), and a sexy assassin (Elizabeth Peña). 

I mentioned above that Gene and Roger reviewed this movie; I didn’t mention that they both hated it. Not hated hated hated it, but neither was very impressed. In fact, most critics seem to have felt this way, as it’s sitting at 13% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve never considered that a perfect metric for a movie’s actual quality, but as a measurement of critical favor, it’s very telling. About halfway through this movie, my best friend, after several chuckles aloud, asked me how the film could have been reviewed so poorly, and neither of us could believe it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that long after this that the film’s quality dipped, to the point where I could understand how a general audience may have been turned off by the pacing issues in the film’s third act. We can’t really go any further without noting, however, that Lauper is incredibly charming here, and a delight to watch. 

I can’t remember the last time I watched one of these kinds of movies—you know, where a non-actor performer (or sports star) is trying to break into pictures—and the non-traditional actor really disappears into the role. She has great comedic timing for someone with no real background in that field, and she and Falk have amazing chemistry. She and Goldblum are a delight to watch together as well; according to her autobiography, they didn’t get along, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from how well they play off of each other here. Goldblum’s decision to go full Goldblum matches her energy perfectly, as even though Lauper’s hair, make-up, and sartorial choices are always completely over the top, her vibe (sorry) is much more subdued than the man standing next to her, eyes bugging and stams stammering. 

The first few scenes in Ecuador are fun, as the trio arrives there to head for the mountains, albeit there’s some All in the Family-era racism from Falk’s character that doesn’t pass the sniff test these days. At first, these seem like mannerisms of the character Harry is playing, of the terrified father of a missing boy, but he spouts off a few other Bunkerisms even after the reveal that are jarring in an otherwise very goofy movie. Travelogue scenes set prior to the cresting of the mountain are gorgeous, capturing the natural verdant beauty of the Ecuadorian mountains, like something out of a movie with a much higher budget. Unfortunately, once Sylvia, Nicky, and their pursuers get to the mountaintop where Harry’s partner found a small, glowing pyramid in the film’s cold open, the plot drags considerably. All of this takes place on a set, which is fine, but the effect of being at the top of a high peak with nothing in the background makes the whole thing feel like it’s taking place in a void. Right before they arrive, we’re treated to a gorgeously rendered matte painting, but once on the actual mountaintop set, characters move around and make choices that feel like shuffling the deck before the denouement. This goes some way to explain why contemporary critics may have turned on the movie when the third act trended toward boredom, but I’m more forgiving, especially when there’s so much charm and appreciable humor on display. 

The film manages to run the gamut of different comedic styles. When the trio first arrive in Ecuador, Sylvia teases Nick for bringing so much luggage, assuming that he’s overpacked. He reveals that one of the suitcases contains an entire month’s worth of dehydrated rations; when Sylvia points out that it’s normally the bacteria in the water that caused travellers of the time to become ill, Nick reveals that another suitcase is full of giant jugs of water, which he also brought along. Later, after Harry’s deception has been revealed, he and Sylvia find themselves at the tiki-themed hotel bar, where he is drinking directly from one of the jugs, which has a festive paper umbrella embellishment. It’s a good visual gag, one among many, including one in which the 5’3” Lauper and the 6’4″ Goldblum perform a tango that ends with her arms around his shoulders, essentially being carried, with her legs dangling back and forth. It all leads one to believe that the contemporary audiences and critics of the time may simply have misunderstood that the film understands that its zany, sometimes cartoony plot is intentional, not the result of poor writing or direction. 

The real crime here is that the public reaction pushed Lauper to abandon film business, albeit not completely. She’s effervescent here in a very real way, like she’s trying some things out. At one point, when Nick rejects her because he misunderstands the reasons that she’s expressing interest, Lauper shifts into an affected Transatlantic accent and mockingly blurts “I want you bad all right. I dream about you and me and a house in Long Island. I’m only half a woman until I make love to you.” For someone who’s not really part of the business, she’s making interesting acting choices that reveal a talent range that most people wouldn’t assume. Reportedly, Dan Aykroyd was first interested in the project (which makes sense, since he’s a big believer in the paranormal in real life) but left because he refused to be in a movie with Lauper, which is both absurd and for the best, since Goldblum’s take on Nick is a much more believable match for Sylvia than I could imagine Aykroyd providing. As a fun bit of fluff, this is one worth tracking down. 

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Lagniappe Podcast: Kamikaze Hearts (1986)

For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and Alli discuss the porn industry meta-drama romance Kamikaze Hearts (1986).

00:00 Welcome

02:02 Nope (2022)
06:40 Men (2022)
11:40 Picard
13:33 Galaxy Quest (1999)
17:01 Gosford Park (2001)
22:45 Power Rangers: Once & Always (2023)
35:45 Beau is Afraid (2023)
41:12 Rope (1948)

44:33 Kamikaze Hearts (1986)

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherTuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

-The Lagniappe Podcast Crew

Tár (2022)

I didn’t really have any interest in Tár when it first appeared on the scene. For one thing, Brandon’s Tár/Triangle of Sadness mash-up review invoked the name of Aaron Sorkin twice, which made me think he was actually associated with the production, which was a turn off for me (he’s not, and I was forced to retreat from a pre-viewing argument in embarrassment when this fact was pointed out to me after I claimed it, but in my defense, the last time Todd Field made a movie, I was nineteen years old). For another, I have an intense aversion to most “Oscar bait” movies, which this seemed to be in every conceivable way. But after watching Maggie Mae Fish’s video essay “Tár on Time”, I knew it was only a matter of, ahem, time before I would fall into its orbit. Because this isn’t just an Oscar bait feature, it’s a movie that falls into my favorite not-quite-a-genre: women on the verge. And what a rich and rewarding text it is (to me, anyway, even if that makes me, in Brandon’s words, one of “the most boring people alive”). 

Tár is the story of Lydia Tár, an elitist célébrité, a woman of prolific success in one of the most misogynistic artistic professions, musical conduction. But she’s not just that, of course; she’s also an accomplished composer, a studied musical anthropologist, an instructor at Julliard, and a forthcoming author. Outside of the realm of art and instruction, however, her personal life is … well, not “messier,” since every part of her life is ordered, measured, and precise, but definitely less in her command, even if she thinks that she’s in complete control. Her existence is a perfect curation of an image of who “Lydia Tár” is and what she means, and it’s built not on a solid foundation as she thinks and pretends, but hangs like a spiderweb, intricate and beautiful but incredibly fragile at the same time. Her marriage is perfunctory, passionless, and transactional, and the only person in her life who reciprocates her love without expectation, her daughter Petra, often goes long periods without seeing her, and even when she does, she calls her “Lydia,” not “Mom.” 

Her professional accomplishments, which include completion of an EGOT, draws a curtain over the fact that, like countless men who have come before her in the same profession and who have abused every iota of power which has ever been accorded them, she is a predator. Lydia Tár, over the course of her career, has left a bevy of scarred women in her wake, students upon whom she has heaped her affections and with whom she has carried on power-imbalanced affairs, all with the expectation that, under (or after) her tutelage, said women will reap the benefits of her largesse in the form of placement into a competitive composition program or coveted conductor position. When the film opens, however, the first crack in the ice over the deeper waters of her abuses of power is starting to form: Eliot Kaplan (Mark Strong), who oversees the Tár Fellowship (the organization that launders her sexual predation into academic acceptability), notes that they’ve placed every one of the previous fellows into a conservatory somewhere, Lydia herself notes “except one.” Although her house of cards was bound to fall eventually, it’s that one, a woman named Krista Tayor, who will be the catalyst that brings about the fall of Tár. 

In some ways, Tár is a ghost story, and Krista is the specter, regardless of whether she is on this plane of existence or not. She is a ghost, existing permanently on the outskirts of our perception, and perhaps Lydia’s as well. We never see her face: in early scenes and before we are aware of who she is, we see her from behind as she takes in the spectacle that is the walking, talking performance entitled “Lydia Tár”; she appears in Lydia’s dreams, but the warping of space that is the common element for these nightmare sequences occludes her; even the newspaper article that Lydia reads about her uses a photograph of Krista in motion, conducting, a great lock of her fiery red hair obscuring her face like a mask. She is present and non-present at once, like a vapor that Lydia tries to disperse with a waving of her conductorial hand, but which lingers, waiting for Lydia’s comeuppance. Although it’s not my interpretation, it’s possible to read that there is something supernatural at play here as well, as there are certain moments that imply a more conventional haunting is at play; Lydia is forever aware of various noises behind the walls or out of her sight. While running, she hears screams coming from somewhere out of her range of vision (keen-eared viewers will recognize these as, of all things, Heather’s screams from The Blair Witch Project); while trying to work on her newest composition, she is constantly interrupted by a two-tone sound reminiscent of a doorbell, which is later revealed to be the emergency tone of her dying neighbor on the other side of the wall; she is awoken by the humming of her refrigerator and the ticking of a metronome inside of a cabinet. It’s the last of these that’s most intriguing, as the metronome’s face is inscribed with a Kené pattern, which is not only used as a form of writing by the Shipibo-Konibo people of Peru who were the subject of five years of study by Lydia, but also appears in other places; notably, this pattern was added to the title page of Vita Sackville-West’s Challenge that is left anonymously at Lydia’s hotel (and which was presumably drawn in by Krista), as well as appearing in Petra’s bedroom in the form of clay that the child has been playing with.

Notably, this scene with the clay occurs after we learn that Krista has died. Is this just something that Petra saw in her mother’s work that she’s recreating, or a pattern that she stumbled across purely coincidentally? We know that Lydia gives her keys to her assistants based on an interaction with Francesca, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the inscription and activation of the earlier ticking metronome could have been something that Krista did intentionally in order to get under Lydia’s skin, but the clay remains unanswered. The fact that Petra is not allowed in Lydia’s office is mentioned several times, but immediately after observing the pattern in her daughter’s playthings, Lydia then finds Petra in that very office, a ghostly silhouette in the gossamer curtains, where the child has hidden from her sitter. Did Petra start the metronome while playing around after bedtime? Is Lydia sleepwalking and creating these patterns herself? The film doesn’t (and shouldn’t) provide a solid answer, and while I am firmly of the belief that there’s nothing supernatural happening here, the film doesn’t completely rule out that interpretation for the viewer who is so inclined. 

Frankly, that everything is happening might have a rational explanation, or that perhaps in her spiral Lydia is seeing patterns (literally) where they do not exist as her past catches up with her, is much more frightening and anxiety-inducing. Frequently, Lydia is seen responding to sounds, or perhaps impressions, that she perceives but which we do not. While listening to NPR, she mocks the tone of the voice on the speaker, then turns to look behind her suddenly as if she just saw something out of the corner of her eye. This happens several times throughout the film, and it paints her as a person who, although seemingly thoroughly self-possessed, is always looking over her shoulder for her past to catch up with her. That’s what makes this a “woman on the verge” picture: the mask of sanity is slipping. To quote her directly, Lydia knows that her fall from grace is coming, inevitable even, and we know it too; she “know[s] precisely what time it is, and the exact moment we [Lydia and we the viewer] will arrive at our destination together,” and that destination is her downfall. 

Everything about Lydia Tár is a lie, but she doesn’t see it that way; she’s conducting the way that people perceive her, even if that means out and out falsehood. She steals her wife’s medication before the movie even starts, gets replacements while abroad, and pretends to find a pill in a drawer when she returns home to find her wife in medical distress. She claims that she never reads reviews but in fact takes a detour on her miles-long run to visit a newsstand off the beaten path, where the proprietor has already pulled the publication with her most recent review for her; they do this all the time, and she adds this latest to a box of many more. She claims that other women doth protest too much about sexism in her field but she knows that this is an out and out falsehood. Her fellowship is supposed to help support women who want to get into the field, but it’s really little more than a recruitment front for the next ingenue who will become her sexual prey. She rejects gendered terminology and prefers “maestro” to “maestra,” but when confronting her daughter’s bully, identifies herself as Petra’s father, because she knows that, outside of being witty, urbane, and dismissive of the power of patriarchy as part of her public persona, maleness, with its power to intimidate and threaten, is still substantial, even if that masculinity exists only in perception and not reality. Even her impassioned defense of Bach to a queer, BIPOC student is not about Bach, but about herself: one must separate the art from the artist, she insists, but she’s really talking about herself, because beneath all the layers of tailored suits and carefully choreographed photoshoots that the art which is entitled Lydia Tár must be separated from the artist, Linda Tarr (as we learn she was named before deciding to play her own game of identity politics). It is a preemptive apology, not in the sense that it precedes her many ethical failings, but in the sense that it precedes their discovery. She’s already on the edge, verging on the fall, and she can hear her destiny sneaking up on her, even if there’s nothing there when she turns to look at it. 

This is a rich, detailed, many-layered, and beautiful text, one that lends itself to a multitude of interpretations. It’s dense with meaning and subtleties that exist to be cleaved and inspected. Now that it’s available to a wide audience, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s demanding, but it’s worth the reward. 

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond