THE KEYHOLE (2011):
“Who here is dead?” So begins a film where myth and memory take a turn for the weird. This movie is simply too bizarre NOT to be written about. Tonight, I was at the OSU’s Wexner Center for the Arts for a presentation of Guy Maddin’s The Keyhole. (My first movie with a student discount!) It’s a trip through the house and hideout of a criminal gang leader and husband Ulysses; Guy Maddin’s tribute to The Odyssey.
The house is haunted, and each room locked represents a repressed memory. Ulysses is trying to save his wife Hyacinth from the ghost of her naked father, to whom she's chained. But first, he must separate the ghosts from the living and unlock the doors, thus regaining his memories of places and who’s dead and who’s not. What’s real and what’s not.
Guy Maddin, the presenter reminded us, as a director, is comparable to David Lynch. “The dialogue is cryptic…scenes don’t make sense…” and to that I add, there is a lot of trademark quirky eroticism that I suppose is meant to toy with memories and emotions. “All of the happiness a house remembers vanishes,” we’re told in a narration. “But, sadness…Sadness must linger.” Ulysses must sort out his gang, and regain his memories: There’s Bighead, Rachelle, (who speaks French.) a blind woman, a kidnapped man bound and gagged, and Ulysses adopted black son, Heedly. I find that the aloofness of Ulysses' character adds some humor to what would otherwise be a grim Kafkaesque horror story.
But, it’s not particularly horror. It’s Guy Maddin. It’s disheveled, tragic, and quirky. The presenter said (and the opening credits remind us.) that Guy Maddin directed this film with a grant from The Wexner Center, and it is likely that they chose the themes, and this is Guy’s response. A Freudian gangster/horror-comedy to represent sense memory. If you know his previous work like The Saddest Music in The World, you know it’s almost typical.
For a “typical” Guy Maddin film, I must say I was equally disturbed and amused. After his adopted son is shot, he goes off with the blind woman to find his actual son, who it turns out was the kidnapped man all along walking behind him. Then, he eyes his wife through the keyhole, and quickly surmises she won’t remember him unless he orders the room how she remembers it. He catches his adopted son in bed with his daughter, but remembers that he’s dead, and that this is his house.
This is weird, surreal, psychoanalytic stuff. It fired off a lot in my emotions and imagination. The humor comes from the surrealism and the character’s amnesia. He finds his other son in a closet. Shall I say, this film is not for the weak of heart? For although it has a crust of comedy and quirky sexuality, at its heart is Freudianism; which means a lot of nudity. From both genders. But, here it drives home the film’s central premise. Happy memories fade quickly, but sadness lingers.
All in all, it’s a surprising film. I’d certainly watch it again. The dialogue was cryptic, the scenes themselves riddles, but they all lend themselves to the idea that in order to set your house in order, you have to get rid of your old ghosts. Plus, some VERY funny scenes, like when Ulysses is hooked up (By his gang!) to an electric chair operated by bicycles! But, do not go into this movie expecting a comedy! Prepare instead for a deeply subliminal and awesome freak out flick!