Directed By: Guy Maddin
Written By: George Toles and Guy Maddin
Starring: Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini, Udo Kier, Brooke Palsson, and David Wontner
Director of Photography: Benjamin Kasulke, Editor: John Gurdebeke, Production Designer: Ricardo Alms, Original Music: Jason Staczek
The world of Guy Maddin, a director who defies pigeonholing in every frame, has never been one to create a world even close to logic. His films exist in a bizarre universe that pulls together his personal memories, the silent and B-movies he grew up with, and subtext often sublimating to the foreground, which often discards the primal text in doing so. What are we left with? It’s often hard to describe what exactly he’s doing (you can watch a number of his shorts on YouTube), but if the word “auteur” still has meaning in film, Maddin is certainly exemplary of it.
His latest film, Keyhole, may, somehow, be the strangest yet, or at least the one that made me feel the most uncomfortable. Gone is the sense of wonder and nostalgia that pieced together films like The Saddest Music in the World and My Winnipeg. Keyhole, whatever it exactly is, seems driven by paranoia and fear, both of the outside world and the repressive sexual anxiety from inside. It’s probably also the most opaque of Maddin’s work, which is saying a lot, given the director’s tendency to avoid any idea of a clear narrative. And perhaps Keyhole doesn’t work on every level, but it’s still a unique piece of art that is clearly something out of the ordinary.
It also helps that Maddin has always been the best at casting actors in need of appreciation (My Winnipeg was the final film of Ann Savage, who starred in Detour in 1945). Here, it is the Jason Patric, who’s maybe most well known film is Speed 2: Cruise Control among other questionable films. But Patric is something of a revelation under Maddin, playing Ulysses, who must make his way home to his wayward wife and home. Yes, this is a retelling of the Homeric tale, except Ulysses is already home, but can’t find the right room where his wife Hyacinth (Maddin regular Isabella Rossellini), where she has had her father locked in chains for decades. And the film takes place in some sort of era of the 1930s and 40s, with Ulysses’s crewmembers made up of gangsters and the house made up of ghosts.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the impetus for this project, as it seems Maddin may have combined one too many ideas into forming whatever one should called this work. It is refreshing, however, given last year’s cinematic revival of nostalgia, that Maddin dabbles in cinematic references, but none of them are given any specificity, and certainly any hope for a better yesterday. Maddin drops them in to service his narrative, which is driven by Ulysses bitter knowledge of his destructive family, each room revealing a little detail, though perhaps only confusing us more.
But perhaps a little more humor could have made Keyhole more accessible, or even simply more personal (which is where Maddin communicates best). A few sequences—especially a bizarre one involving a double bicycle powered trampoline—represent the zany Maddin we’ve all come to love, and him delighting us in the absurd. Things don’t need to make physical sense in Keyhole, but it’s too difficult to follow the emotional logic, even if the director brings the psychosexual repression and guilt to the foreground. Maddin is operating on a whole different level, but Keyhole, as the inescapable house and locked doors may suggest, is a tale that we perhaps can’t access at all. We’re left outside in the rain, waiting for something to pop out and invite us in.