“Well, pack the family and head on down to Disney World,” is not what you will be thinking after you watch this film. I find it amusing that my last entry (my 100th post, BTW) was about me complaining that critics made nothing into something, while this entry I feel like something was made into nothing.
Moore’s film focuses on the surrealist hallucinations of the protagonist, Jim (Roy Abramsohn), as he enacts middle-aged, libido-fueled fantasies whilst his nagging, child-obsessed wife Emily (Elena Shuber) stifles and emasculates him.
The real star of the film, according to critics, is Disney World itself, as the film was shot on location without permission from the cryo-frozen head of the man himself. While it is amusing to seem some childhood memories shot in psychedelic, deep-focus black and white, the film could have really taken place at any amusement park as they all have that creepy simulacra thing going on.
There’s another, more mundane layer to the film that deals directly with gender dynamics, parenthood, and the ways in which we all cope with stress. Each disturbed character, even though they are in the “happiest place on Earth,” comes off the rails in increasingly hostile and self-destructive ways as the film progresses. The film and place resemble a vortex, with the trajectory of all who are sucked in spiraling towards a personal nadir.
As a personal side note, I can remember seeing drunk people fighting at Disney World and being escorted off by security guards. I also remember the personal entitlement I felt as a child, feeling like the whole experience was mine. It seems a disgusting enterprise now, but I doubt I could communicate that to my six-year-old self. The nadir of the place is really for everyone who goes there (at least by the end of the trip), and I can’t really imagine anyone wanting to go back independent of having children who drag them back in.
I suspect there’s something to be said about the hedonistic, sociopathic nature of children here as well. They demand constant entertainment and attention out of adults. Jim, clearly on the last moments of tolerance at some points and preoccupied by the loss of his job, is left to fend for himself emotionally as his wife overcompensates for his increasing distance by doting on the children. There is something uncomfortably Oedipal as his young son locks him on the hotel balcony at the beginning of the film, then assumes Jim’s position in bed next to Emily with a disturbingly blank stare. Likewise, Jim gravitates towards two French girls (one conspicuously in braces), enacting his own inappropriate fantasy. Children, until they learn empathy, feel little more than need and anger, and we take them to a place that supposedly satiates the raging id. What then is left for the grown ups in this situation but perhaps to mirror the same behaviors: apparently drink and libido (Jim) and barely constrained aggression (Emily).
There is much more here to unpack than there ever could be in Leviathan, yet critics much preferred that film. The cinematography alone in this film is much more striking, and even though it sometimes plays like so many broken shards from a witch’s amulet, the whole is much more intriguing.
AV Club: B-
The Dissolve: 3.5/5