LSD On Some Insane Acid (Mandy)
Mandy is insane. Completely and utterly insane. And yet beautifully nightmarish in some messed up way. The film is centred on the concept of dreams and hallucinogens and colour, all manifesting into this out-of-body and out-of-world experience that follows this ridiculous, but still somewhat believable, turn of events. This is less like a film in my opinion and more of an experience. An experience virtually indescribable from your first watch.
Nicolas Cage plays Red Miller, a lumberjack living with his girlfriend Mandy Bloom, played by Andrea Riseborough. They are a peaceful mellow couple who are only shown to be completely in love and in sync with one another, appreciating the other's art work (Mandy seen to paint fantastical pieces) and the other's opinion (as they exchange their associations with the planets). The build-up of their relationship takes over an hour. And it is lethargic. But it should not matter. Revenge stories are inconsequential if there is no basis or motive behind it. There are various scenes of them being in complete silence, a drawn-out monologue, or a slow exchange between the two of them. But it does not matter. Their love and relationship is built up and you understand the bond of these two characters and what motivates Red through his killing spree.
When I die Bury me deep Lay two speakers at my feet Wrap some headphones Around my head And rock and roll me When I'm dead
The film begins with an aerial shot of the forest in which Red works at. The thing you notice throughout this movie (especially when you rewatch it) is the masterful use of colour. Here, the use of colour is light, it's not being used as intensely as it most definitely will later on. But as you progress, almost every scene is dominated by one colour, everything being simply a shade of it (be it red, blue or green). Benjamin Loeb is the genius behind these shots and should be definitely be appreciated as it transforms this film into one that is phantasmagorical and dream-like (Loeb was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography this year, but did indeed lose to Sayombhu Mukdeeprom for Suspiria). After having a few seconds to establish Red's profession, we cut to him driving away, listening to a radio broadcast of Ronald Reagan talking about people disapproving of pornography before Red switches it off. Pornography and sex in general is a mild but recurring theme in this film which we'll get into later. The first title card appears,and we are now in The Shadow Mountains 1983 a.d.
The next hour, like I said, is dedicated to Red and Mandy. They are seen together discussing their favourite planets, with Mandy choosing Jupiter and Red opting for Saturn, before deciding upon Galactus (the planet-eater). None of it really makes any sense, but it's not the actual words you're focusing on, it's the two's cohesion and relationship with each other.
"He had something to show us, and so we all gathered 'round, and he emptied what was in the pillowcase on the ground. And it was a... It was a bunch of baby starlings. And he told us that he was gonna show us how to kill them. And he lifted the crowbar up real high...and then...brought it down real hard on the little baby bird. So hard that it pushed it in the ground. It was so deep in there, like a little grave, you know?" - Mandy
While they are laying together, Mandy tells Red about the "starling when I[she] was a little kid". She says how her father hated the birds around their neighbourhood because of how loud they were. So to retaliate, the father taught the kids of the neighbourhood to kill the starlings, giving them each a turn to crush one with a crowbar. This is what certain films lack: development. Why does Mandy disagree with Red with leaving their home and living elsewhere: because her past is painful and she does not want to reintegrate herself back into that world. Why do they live in the woods and why does she hold such a strong reaction to the death of that deer: because her affinity with nature was borne from pain and death (the starlings). Mandy's character is developed. Mandy's relationship with Red is developed. It's interesting to think that the title card Mandy appears at the seventy minute mark because after that, it is Red's story, not Mandy's. This first part is about Mandy and her character.
And then we are introduced to Jeremiah Sand. Sand is, in Red's words, the cult leader of some "Jesus freaks" who are a group of loyal followers who view him as some Messiah figure. We are introduced to Sand and his posse after a l o n g slow-mo follow of Mandy walking down a path, the entire scene covered in red. The music spikes as she looks up and sees a van in the distance. We are then transported into the van where we see the antagonists for the first time. We have Jeremiah Sand. We have Brother Swan, Sand's most loyal companion. We have Mother Marlene, a loyal but incompetent (in Sand's eyes) servant. We have Sister Lucy, my personal favourite character. And we have a bunch of other characters with the actors looking satanically damaged without even trying. And now we're given the next title card with a font more demonic than the fairytale one that preceded it: Children of the New Dawn.
Now the story is panned onto Sand's brotherhood. Mother Marlene's ineptitude is exemplified through Sand's assertion that nothing she does is right. Brother Swan's loyalty is reinforced after he is tasked to find Mandy. And Sister Lucy's oppression is introduced after she's called in to Sand before the scene ends; one can assume so that Sand can force himself onto her. We are then introduced to the Black Skull gang. A group of, I want to say, alien-like creatures who are all black with spikes inserted in them, driving quadbikes and motorcycles. They're creepy as hell and they're called by Swan so they can capture Mandy as a team. Cosmatos' style is definitely evident here, with flashes of light showing disjointed moments of Mandy's capture. It's very artistic and wholly unrealistic, but who gives a shit, it looks awesome.
Then Mandy is brought to Sand. I read a review of someone saying this film is misogynistic. I do not see that. I see the exact opposite, especially in this moment. Sand, after having Mandy drugged and stung by a tarantula hawk (I believe the second most painful sting of any creature), plays Mandy his music and proceeds to strip in front of her, informing her how He (God, I presume) said to Sand that he can take what he wants: meaning, Mandy. This is his attempt to assert control. And Mandy destroys that. By laughing. Nothing else, just laughing. She shames Sand who orders his followers to look away. He tries to masturbate to this new feeling but is completely emasculated. This is true human and female defiance here. Mandy completely denigrates Sand in his presumed position of power, and one can only commend her for such a feat. I assume this is the position Lucy was in, forced to be, essentially, a sex slave for Sand to enact his desires upon. Mandy, despite her apparent reputation as a slut, is not willing to allow that denigration to occur, and would rather face death than that fate.
Cut to Red. Tied to a fence. With barbed wire. Ouch. Sand complains to Red and says how the latter and Mandy are not in love and how Mandy was a whore anyway. He says it in that way that teenage boys call a girl ugly after being rejected, like that. He proceeds to prove what "real love" is, forcing Lucy to perform Russian Roulette. She obviously looks uncomfortable, doesn't say a word, stares at the protesting Red the whole time, and survives the ordeal. Line Pillet (the actress) is so emotive in her apparent oppression of Sand, and it's incredible to watch. This therefore only solidifies Sand's control of his minions as even his most defiant of followers (through her emotive rejection of Sand's ideas) is made to prove her loyalty. Red is then stabbed by some fancy knife and is then made to witness the spectacle that will construct his motivation. Mandy is dragged out in a bag. Suspended in the air. And burned. The freak followers watch gleefully. Lucy watches sorrowfully. Marlene smirks. Swan watches approvingly. Sand seems mildly sad but proud. And Red despairs. No body in their right state of mind can watch this film and believe that Nicolas Cage did not do a great job. He is incredible. And that's the end of Mandy, the character. We don't see her put in the bag. We don't see any noticeable indication that it is her in the bag. We just see this bag with a clear body figure inside being burned. There is no last moment with Red other than their meaningful stare when being captured. There is no hope for Mandy to escape. She is simply burned alive. For no genuine reason.
"The darker the whore, the brighter the flame." - Swan
Red escapes. Coz duh. The gang have gone anyway so he's left to mourn over the charred remains of Mandy. He enters the house the gang were situated in and sleeps. There are multiple moments where Red dreams in this film, and each moment is accompanied with this anime style depiction of Mandy. As the film progresses, however, the image of Mandy becomes less like a zombie (as it begins like) and more into the form Red is comfortable and familiar with. Again, development. Anyway, Red wakes up and goes into the bathroom, finds a bottle, and genuinely gives the greatest scene. He starts screaming. That's really it. No dialogue. No specific call for action. Just Cage going insane. And you feel it. The emotion. The pain. The remorse. Cage is a good actor. And that is mostly because he displays emotions like no one else can. He doesn't need words to act. Sometimes it is good (National Treasure for instance), but sometimes it is not the best (211 for example). In this film, you get the best of both worlds. You get Cage's dialogue with Mandy in the beginning and you get Cage's silence in the most part of his revenge. Cage is a great actor, and this film is custom made for him more than any other film.
"What do you see?!" - Sand "I see the Reaper fast approaching." - Mandy
Red then goes to see his friend Caruthers who has been holding onto his crossbow for a long time it seems. Waiting for Red to come and ask for it. The name of the crossbow? The Reaper. The line above is said by Mandy when she is with Sand being interrogated. A subtle but super nice bit of foreshadowing; Mandy is aware of Red's capacity for revenge, and is predicting the cult's demise alongside her own. Red gets his gear back and learns of the Black Skull gang. The next scene is of Red forging an axe sort of thing... sure, moving on. Now we get to the final title card: Mandy. This is where the revenge starts.
Cut to Red waiting and proceeding to shoot one the Black Skull gang members with a bolt while the latter is riding on their motorcycle. Seems a bit implausible but whatever you say. He then gets in his car to run the son of a bitch down but the Black Skull are not really earthly, so it's strong enough to send the car flying just from Red driving into it. Red is now captured (coming out of a sleep as it was another anime sequence), handcuffed to a pole while his other hand is nailed to the ground (guy cannot catch a break). Red toys the Black Skull member in a way ("That was my favourite shirt" after the guy rips it) and proceeds to detach the pole from the wall and send the guy into the pit conveniently there in this building Red is being held in. Moving on.
Red passes a bedroom with a man dead and slumped over a bed, his ass covered in blood (you'll find out why in a sec). Red then turns into the living room where another member of the Black Skull is doing a fat amount of cocaine while watching porn... with his knife penis out. He has a blade of some sorts for a penis. That explains... the blood. Moving on. The two fight (Red obviously being careful to not be stabbed by the guy's *cough* knife), with Red slitting his throat and having the guy's blood pour all over his face. This may seem like a cheap ploy to get some gruesome nature into this film, but I think it really pushes home the character's name and his motivation. The Black Skull member from before then appears and also fights Mandy. Mandy struggles for a bit but then breaks the guy's neck with the most Nic Cage face you can possibly get.
"You ripped my shirt! You ripped my shirt!" - Red
You don't fucking rip Nic Cage's shirt. Unironically one of the greatest lines of dialogue and delivery in cinema. Watch it on YouTube, it's genuinely outstanding. And it's not just some funny line I don't think. Mandy was wearing that shirt when she was abducted (it being Red's originally) and Red finds it in the house after Mandy is burned. The shirt means a hell of a lot to him and while Cage delivers it in a comedic manner, it has so much more depth to it.
Cage leaves the building, approaches one of the members standing with his back to him, facing a burning car. Red shoots an arrow thROUGH HIS NECK! The Black Skull guy is unfazed. He just removes the goddamn bolt like it's nothing. Red then takes the Reaper and fights the guy before pushing him into the burning car, setting him aflame. He then ends the last of the gang by cutting the guy's head off. Just to make the moment that much cooler, Red picks up a cigarette from the floor, and lights it from the flames of the burning guy's head. This movie is just too goddamn awesome.
Red then turns his attention... to Sand's cult. He boobytraps the van that Swan and Lucy are driving, forcing Swan to exit the vehicle oblivious to what is going on. He is attacked by Red who pushes him to a tree. Swan has been characterised by his speech. He knows what to say to Sand to please him and always has some remark to reflect the morbidity of the situation. Red doesn't allow it here. He pushes the sharp end of the Reaper into Swan's mouth and pushes it into his head, piercing him and letting him choke on his own blood as his brain is penetrated. Lucy, however, is saved. Lucy, like I've said, doesn't seem to be a true part of this cult. She has one line of dialogue and that in itself was cryptic as hell. She is spared by Red because she did nothing wrong and you can tell she is as much a victim as Red and Mandy were to Sand.
A few murders and a chainsaw fight later, we reach the church that holds Sand. Marlene tries to seduce Red but is unsuccessful. This film, like i mentioned before, is heavily focused on the idea of pornography and sex. The radio broadcast at the beginning; Mandy is perceived as a notorious slut; Lucy is a forced concubine for Sand's pleasure; the Black Skull Gang are obsessed with porn and defiling sexual intercourse; Marlene attempts to win her freedom by offering Red pleasure. It's an exaggerated look at the world Cosmatos created but it works so well with this apocalyptic stance of this Earth. Red reaches Sand in the crypt and announces his presence by throwing Marlene's decapitated head behind Sand.
"Can't you see this was all part of your journey, the journey that led you to me? To your salvation. To your cleansing by my hand. [CRYING] I'll blow you, man. I'll suck your fucking dick! Is that what you want? Oh, please, please, please! Please don't do it. No, no! I don't kneel before you! You kneel before me! I carry God's gift in my heart, not you, so you kneel before me, motherfucker!" - Sand
Sand is now helpless. Red has eliminated everyone in his wake and Sand knows there is no escape from his demise. He tries every trick in the book to convince Red: state this was the plan all along; suck up to him (literally as you can see); and try to overpower him. Red is unwavering. Resolute. And ruthless as he delivers the final line of the film, in the demonic voice we've heard before: "I am your God now". He drags Sand to the ground. Wraps his hands around his head. And crushes Sand's skull with his bare hands.
Red leaves the church, burning it in the process, and drives away. Watching this I thought Red had lost his way. I though that by saying what he did that he had lost his motivation that had been so meticulously built up. But Cosmatos assures us that is not the case. As he drives off, we get a flashback to Red and Mandy meeting at a party back in the day. Again, no dialogue, just strong hues of colour and music to match. He imagines Mandy in the seat next to him. And that's how it ends. Red imagining his love with him, proud of what he's done. While what he did was deplorable, he did it for love and did it for Mandy. Not to become Sand's deity or to enact blind merciless revenge, but to avenge his soulmate.
You could watch this film and think it's mindnumbingly boring with no deep message to it. And that would be fine. I would think you're wrong, but that would be fine. Art is not subjective. But the interpretation of art certainly is. You may interpret this film as having no substance, but you cannot deny that this creation is a work of art. The directing of these particular events. The performances from literally everyone. The cinematography and score unrivalled. This is just a wonderfully crafted film that has so much hidden within it that its rewatchability factor is undeniable. This isn't an attempt from Panos Cosmatos to create a film that's experimental enough to just be for show. This is an experimental film that has every aspect of an actual movie. There is an establishment of a relationship, of characters, of revenge. This isn't unnecessary art, this is a real film and deserves every praise it gets. It's not for everyone, of course, but if you have the chance to see it (especially in a cinema), take that opportunity. Regardless if you like it or not, you will not be disappointed.