There have been a lot of “artsy” films that have come out recently, which is great for me as it gives me more to write about on here and is equally something that is totally accessible to anyone who is an avid reader, as you can go away and watch them, rather than having to travel half way around the world to see an original piece of art work.
If you have previously read any of my film reviews, you will know that I am usually pretty black and white about them, either I loved them, and I will rave about them, or I hated them, and you will know why I call myself Widow Cranky.
Mandy has left me baffled on so many levels that I don’t know if I loved it or hated it. On the face of this film it is a cult kidnapping of a woman that takes too many drugs, she is then burned alive in front of her boyfriend who then goes crazy and kills everyone remotely involved with an axe while taking copious amounts of cocaine, swigging vodka and facing an evil biker gang that look like the Coenobites from “Hell Raiser”.
That last paragraph probably should have had a spoiler alert as that is about as much story line as you will get from this film… but I have been left thinking about it, mused over a few articles on it and there is a potential that there is some deeper mystical meaning, although you need to look really hard for it.
Panos Cosmatos is the director and writer to this film which came out in the back end of 2018, and his filming techniques and eye for detail has defiantly set this in 1983.
My thinking, much like the film probably needs to be broken in to several sections, so I am going to try my best to explain this film as I have seen it. There are tonnes of theories out there, but nothing covers all the elements I wanted it to, so I am going to throw my hat in to the arena. This is bound to be a long post as there are lots of elements, and if you don’t want any spoilers (not that I think I could possibly spoil this film) I suggest you look away now.
Mandy and Red
The first third of the film is taken up with the identification of Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) and Red (Nicholas Cage). Red is a lumberjack and it appears that his break from reality is his girlfriend Mandy who minds a store, while reading sci-fi books, and created psychedelic sci-fi paintings in her spare time. The films very slowly builds their relationship as one of interdependency, and almost being on a “higher plane” as they are in tune with each other in some cosmic 1980s way.
There are indications that Mandy may or may not be otherworldly. Her artwork is ethereal on a grand scale, reflecting the sci-fi books that she reads. She has Anisocoria (an enlarged pupil in her eye) making her stand out, and a scar down her face which is never explained but looks like a bite of some sort. They both sleep in a room which is off to the side of their house but has no walls, but just the structural standings and then mosquito net over it so that they can sleep under the stars. They talk endlessly about all different things, at one stage having a discussion about a universe that eats planets.
Mandy is almost the epitome of beauty and innocence (well in this film anyway as I find her a bit funny looking) and there are certain elements which have been introduced to make you feel that she is almost goddess like. There is a shot where she is walking out of the Crystal Lake which they live by in the Shadow Mountains which is reminiscent of the water nymphs of Greek mythology, and she walks towards their fire, making her look almost elemental.
There is also a scene where Mandy and Red talk about a memory she has about her father killing baby starlings as he hated them and making the children of the neighbourhood take turns in killing the birds with a crowbar. Mandy naturally runs away as she is too at one with nature to be involved with such mindless violence. The memory is invoked when Mandy finds a still born deer in the woods around them, and she stares at it for quite some time almost as if she is in disbelief that nature, that could be so beautiful could also be so cruel. This discussion within the film, gave me a bit of a conundrum, as it appeared to be really oddly placed, but there are a few things that I think that this could be attributed too. Firstly, it could be to show that this is a fairly new relationship where the couple involved don’t know everything about each other, but they are at the stage where they can be open and honest without the fear of judgement. Secondly if you have ever seen starlings migrate, then you will appreciate either the beauty that they make in the sky or if you are less sympathetic to the whole nature thing, see why Mandy’s father hated them as they cause a lot of noise. The migration patterns that the starlings create in the sky could be thought of a bit like one of Mandy’s paintings, causing swirls and patterns in the sky. Perhaps another indication that Mandy is more animalistic that human in her approach to life, having a certain nativity in the way that she is.
The relationship between Red and Mandy is that he worships her, in awe of everything about her while he sees himself as mortal and potentially a destroyer of the world (his job as a lumberjack) while she is the creator.
The Children of the New Dawn
Enter the hippy cult. As Mandy is walking to work one day in her Black Sabbath T-shirt, a yellow van (which looks quite a lot like the mystery machine from Scooby Doo) drives past her which has the small cult of the Children of the New Dawn, led by Jeramiah Sands (Linus Roach). He stares at Mandy as they pass her.
Later you see Jeramiah ordering members of the cult to “get him that girl” professing that he feels “naked” without her. He hands the horn of Abraxas to one of his followers and they take off to fetch the girl.
Now… Abraxas is an interesting being to use, as (and this has the potential to get confusing) he was considered a God in early Egyptian, Roman and Christian thinking but was later demoted to a Demi-God and then even later moved to be thought of as a powerful demon that would present himself as a God to fool people in to following him. Hold on to this thought as I will come back to it.
Some of the brothers head out in the yellow mystery machine and go to a clearing, where one jumps out and blows the horn of Abraxas, then they wait, before too long, some coenobite looking bikers (who you later learn are called the Black Skulls) turn up, they are given a blood offering for their assistance.
Back to Red and Mandy who are sleeping, when the Children of the New Dawn and the Black skulls turn up, knocking Red out and dragging Mandy off.
Red is then tied up in the garden with barbed wire as Mandy is taken to be “prepared” to meet Jeremiah, by the less than impressed female contingent of the New Dawn. In preparation LSD is dropped in to Mandy’s good eye and she is stung with some bloody huge wasp. She is then led down a hall way, as some trippy psychedelic filming begins. You will probably find this whole sequence which has been filmed in hues of raspberry and blue quite claustrophobic, all the movements and voices are slowed, so you are feeling the trip that Mandy is on.
Jeremiah then puts on a record which he explains is his own, explaining that he was “misunderstood” which I can only think is code for terrible, and as his song about himself plays, he talks to Mandy about how she is special and how God has revealed himself to him. This ends with Jeremiah “revealing” himself to Mandy and as he stands there in his birthday suit Mandy laughs at him. Enraging Jeremiah, this blatant disrespect for him tips him over the edge, instantly deciding Mandy is a whore.
Jeremiah heads out to the garden with one of the women and tells Red that the love between him and Mandy is not real, and plays a bit of Russian Roulette with one of the female followers, as if she is showing true love because she is prepared to die for Jeremiah. They they stab Red in the side with a ceremonial dagger, before bringing a bagged up Mandy out and burning her alive in front of Red
The Children of the New Dawn leave, while Red stares on and the ashes. Eventually he is able to wiggle out of the barbed wire (would be a really dull film if he didn’t) and he crawls to where the love of his life has been burned. Lifting her charred head, Red lifts if only for it to be blown away.
Red manages to get himself back to the house, and picks up a T-shirt that is over the sofa… (it is important to note at this point he is wearing a Tiger T-shirt and he has a snake tattooed on his arm). As he stands in his living room an advert for “Cheddar Goblin” plays on the TV. This is a weird advert where a puppet goblin vomits mac and cheese over children, which is supposed to represent the absurdity of life in the face of trauma. Red watches the advert to the end, then crawls on to the bed and briefly sleeps. A small animated interlude, which will now be a recurrent theme for when Red is out of consciousness, where Mandy has her back to him, bat as she turns her face melts.
Red wakes with a start and runs to the bathroom, grabbing a bottle of vodka, gulping it down and screaming as madness of watching a love on die hits. Now, it is quite well known that I am not a Nic Cage fan, but with the absence of dialogue, he is actually quite good and plays madness really well.
From here on out the film turns in to a revenge movie, with a whole intricate meaning (I think) behind it. So while the next section of this may seem ridiculous, bear with me.
Red, changing into the other T-shirt heads off to retrieve “The Reaper” from a friend, indicating that he used to hunt. His friend (Bill Duke) sheds some light on the Black Skulls, explaining that they were drug dealers who got a tainted batch of LSD from “The Chemist” and it turned them into beings that love pain and suffering. Red takes “The Reaper” which is a crossbow, and his friend gives him some arrows that will “cut through bodies like a fat kid through cake”.
Next we see Red forging his own killer axe… because everyone has a forge that they can turn to when their lover has been brutally murdered. Dressed in his 44 T-shirt and aviator sun glasses, he makes his weapon, before heading off to find the Black Skulls.
This is pretty easy as they are riding around the country side and he tries to take one, but ends up chained to a radiator with a hand nailed to the floor. As one punches him in the head, it says to him “you have a death wish”, which is shortly followed by what I think is the best line in the movie… “You are a viscous snowflake”. Stupidly they have chained Red to a lose pipe and he obviously escapes, killing one Black Skull and taking his leather waistcoat. I will note here that on the back of the waistcoat is the sigil of Lucifer.
Walking through the home that he has been taken to, he finds his weapons again in the mess (drug dealers are always so messy in films) and snorts some cocaine off of the blade of his axe that was just conveniently on the kitchen counter. He then finds a jar of goo… which turns out to be the tainted batch of LSD and he takes a tiny amount, which pops him in to some Peter Jackson style hallucinatory trip where his head melts. This seems to give Red the same drive as the Black Skulls, as he kills another on his way out in a horrendous fashion.
Red kills another Black Skull that is watching a car burn outside in a poorly choreographed axe battle, but does use the disembodied head to light his cigarette… smooth move Red…smooth!
Taking one of the quad bikes he goes off on a journey which ends up with him finding “The Chemist”. The Chemist has a caged tiger (remember the tiger T-shirt from earlier), which I think is symbolic of Red’s state of mind, as the Chemist has some sort of one way conversation with Red, he lets the tiger go, almost as if he is gifting Red with the freedom to kill the Children of the New Dawn as he tells him where to find him.
I am just going to throw this out there, that I think that the Chemist is supposed to be God, as he created the Black Skulls by giving them the tainted batch of LSD and he is also aware of their actions without ever being told, he also knows that the Children of the New Dawn have been up to, and says that Red has a “Cosmic Darkness” around him. There is a shot of hundred of huge centipedes at his feet (remember this, I hopefully will make it clear).
Red heads off, briefly passes out where he see’s Mandy again in animated form, and wakes up by a stream where trees have been felled and a quarry. In the quarry, he sees that the Children of the New Dawn have built a Church.
Red throws down spikes to puncture the mystery machines tires and he kills the brother driving with the axe, leaving the younger female follower unscathed.
Red kills one of the brothers outside in a chainsaw fight (oh yes) where his chainsaw is regular size and wont start, but the brothers is huge and starts first time… Red kills the brother after some struggle and a lot of blood.
Entering the church (which is very dramatic) he encounters the older female contingent who offers sexual favours for her life. The next scene you see Jeremiah in a cave in his pants telling Red not to come any closer as “God is present”. Red throws the head of the old woman at Jeremiah which catches him off guard and sends him into a mental tailspin. Red enters, grabbing Jeremiah’s head and forcing him to his knees. Jeremiah goes through a range of emotions from begging for his life and offering sexual favours to demanding that he is set free as he is the chosen one.
Red crushes Jeremiah’s head with his bare hands and sets fire to the church. Leaving and jumping in one of the cars outside. He has a flash back of meeting Mandy, where you see he was wearing the 44 T-shirt on the day he met her, making this his favourite T-shirt.
The image of Mandy still in the car, Red is covered in blood and manic as he drives off.
Hold out for the post credits clip as it shows one of Mandy’s sketch books with a drawing of Red in front of a tiger.
Does this film sound bonkers enough for you? Because no matter how crazy I have made it sound… honestly it is beyond what I can describe.
So lets revisit a few things… The tiger, well this is a symbol of balance and protection. There is a link between Red wearing the tiger T-shirt when Mandy gets killed to the caged tiger which is set free, in that Red is set free to do his bidding.
The Chemist acting as God and Jeremiah believing he has been touched by God. Well, think back to Abraxas. I think that Jeremiah had actually seen Abraxas, and believed that he was God, making Jeremiah a false prophet, enabled by a demon to do what he liked, giving him the inflated ego to take women and do what he wanted. The Black Skulls, were a representation of the demon forces as they are summoned by the horn of Abraxas and take blood sacrifices to complete tasks. In some views Abraxas is serpentine, which is a bit odd that Red had a snake tattooed on his arm, and why did the Chemist create the Black Skulls, knowing how they would behave? Well for God to exist there has to be a divided between good and evil, which ultimately if you read any religious text where there is one God who created everything, he would have created the evil. The centipedes at the Chemists feet being a symbol of the serpents in an admission that he created the darkness.
If I then go back to Red being the tiger, he is the bringer of balance, having to restore order to the world where something beautiful has been destroyed (Mandy).
There are other indications of the serpentine presence throughout the film… The book that Mandy is reading in the beginning for example is called “The Eye of the Serpent” and her art work is filled with animal symbolism.
Now it is really up to you as the viewer to decide what happens in the end, as you need to remember that Red has faced “God” and a “False God” he has also taken the tainted batch of LSD and he has murdered more people than I care to think about and watched his one true love die. He could now become his own false prophet, starting the cycle again, picking up the young female contingent on his way out the quarry as he knows that she would be a loyal servant, or does he now wonder the Earth trying to right the wrongs that he sees.
This film has gathered an instant cult following as it replicates many prog rock films, which a seemingly basic story line which will leaving you pondering for days as you try to decipher what you just watched.
I still don’t know if I think this film is amazingly clever or just self indulgent bilge, perhaps I will come and update this article when I have figured it out.
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