' ' Cinema Romantico: Mandy

Monday, October 15, 2018


After a hard day logging in The Shadow Mountains of the Mojave, Red (Nicolas Cage) returns to his frontier abode to find his wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) drawing at her easel and proceeds to tell her an Erik Estrada knock knock joke. Indeed, if the soundtrack’s omnipresent synths and the blood red visuals evoking heavy metal album cover art don’t clue you in, this joke is here to tell you the time – it’s 1983. Ah, but don’t presume this is some nostalgia trip. No, if anything, “Mandy”, not so much directed and co-written by Panos Cosmatos as divined by black magic, is an acid trip, even if you haven’t dropped any, evoked in a sequence where Red and Mandy lie in bed discussing their favorite planets. Cosmatos imagines their bedroom as a roofless planetarium where they are bathed in the shifting lights of the cosmos, which Cosmatos eventually cuts to all on its own, reveling in its colorful splendor. And despite the movie’s ensuing repulsive bloodshed, this shot, more than any Pure Flix production ever could, makes you believe, agnostic or not, just for a second, in a Biblical firmament.

This indelible sequence epitomizes the overall pictorial majesty, where Cosmatos intends not just to visually convey the story but blow your mind. Terrifying close encounters flicker in and out like an arthouse haunted house and during a dinnertime conversation between our two lovers Red, both the person and the color, gradually dissolve from the frame, leaving merely Mandy, coated in a chilly blue, underscoring the foreboding nature of her words. Even the pauses between psychedelic palettes are meant to grab your attention, like when the heinous Children of the New Dawn cult is summoning demons with a mystical conch. As they wait, one cult member, evoking Jake Busey’s own cultish fiend in “Contact” (an obscure reference that “Mandy” demands), rolls his automatic car window up and down, up and down, nothing big perhaps but part of the whole everything-is-a-little-weird fabric.

The Children of the New Dawn are lorded over by Jeremiah Sand, played by Linus Roache with hair like Khan and sad-sloped eyes like Jeffrey Tambor in “The Death of Stalin”, a performance that pulls the immaculate trick of being both jaw-droppingly wicked and easily laughed at, and immediately renders Tarantino’s forthcoming Manson movie as no longer required. Sand vaguely references some sort of ascension, but it quickly becomes clear he lords over his charges less with bold promises than some kind of rocket fuel hallucinogen, outlined in a sequence after they have kidnapped Mandy. In an unbroken shot, Sand orates his faux-magisterial motivation, charismatically holding us in the palm of his hand, until it gradually becomes clear he’s totally full of it. Mandy knows it too, which Cosmatos initially communicates to us by the way he has her face metaphysically blend with Sand’s as he speaks, only to have her face vanish again, like he’s trying to acquire her soul and she ain’t having it. Nope, because when he’s finished, she laughs, she laughs at him hard, like the Laker Girls laughing at Kit Ramsey (an obscure reference that “Mandy” demands).

This leads her to death, which leads to Red’s revenge as he works his way through demons and men and women, one by one. The violent retribution evokes innumerable Cage works, but if so many of those other efforts have tonally failed to rise to its leading man’s patented bug-eyed, frenzied level, hanging him out to dry, making him appear comical and dooming him to memes when, in fact, he’s committed to the product more than the movie itself would ever dare to be, Cosmatos crafts a tone to match Cage’s. When Bill Duke makes a cameo in a part that may as well be his “Predator” character in an alternate dimension to explain exactly what’s going on, the operatic busted lip aggravation in Cage’s grimace as he listens harmonizes so precisely with the bananas lyricism of Duke’s words that Cage, for once, looks right at home in his movie rather than a crazed interloper.

Cage’s resplendent mania is what prevents the back half of “Mandy”, a relentless series of death, from becoming, despite oft-painterly innovation, like a chainsaw duet, from devolving into mere revenge porn. It also prevents the movie from straying too far into cynicism. An early moment finds Red at the wheel of his car, listening to Ronald Reagan’s famous Evil Empire speech before switching it off. This is the movie disregarding the values the 40th President claims Americans cherish before proceeding to take those values to the woodshed, not just through Red’s violent avenging and Sand’s repulsive insanity but in “Mandy” eventually mocking its own sense of mysticism. The latter is most gloriously evinced in the haunting conclusion where Red, his face splattered in blood, seems to see Mandy riding in the passenger’s seat of his car, a hallucination turning every Dream Lover movie scene inside-out. If it seems to lay bare the firmament as mere gas and dust, it is nevertheless still so eerily beautiful as to be uplifting.

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