Because I’m an ultra hip dude, I saw, in a room full of nerds, a preview of Tideland, complete with intro and post-film Q&A with the man himself Terry Gilliam (the director, if this means nothing to you.) It was a good film to have a Q&A with.
From the poor reception with critics, I was expecting Tideland to be trademark Gilliam madness, but amplified. It’s difficult to forget the relentless bizarreness of Brazil and the insanity-inducing score and spiralling plot of Twelve Monkeys. Though fascinating to watch, when first viewing Gilliam’s work it can often be a tough ride. Like a feverish dream that you can’t quite escape from. Or, the technical term; a ‘mind-fuck’. I was quite concerned I would emerge from Tideland a broken nerd. But huzzah! This wasn’t the case.
Granted, Tideland isn’t a breezy summer blockbuster of fun. It follows little Jeliza-Rose as she moves out to the middle of nowhere. Her parents are useless junkies and her only friends are the heads of her dolls. Starving and alone, Jeliza forges friendships with a half-blind taxidermy-loving loon and a brain damaged bloke called Dickens. So far, so huh?
But this is where Gilliam’s introduction to the film helped (unfortunately I don’t think he’s available to sit in every screening of Tideland around the country.) Before the film he said he was fed up of the media’s current portrayal of children as innocents and weaklings, and he wanted to remind us that they were very resilient creatures. He also said to approach the film from a child’s viewpoint. And this approach is the only way to watch the film. Yes, sneak sly glances from your adult perspective just to understand the true meaning of what’s going on, but in order to process this film without being enraged you have to become a child. That way you can find someone teasing peanut butter past the bloated tongue of their father’s corpse amusing, rather than just plain disturbing.
It’s this child-like viewpoint of the world that made this film so captivating. Jeliza’s imagination is the driving force. Her flights of fancy, touching interpretations of the world and conversations with her ‘friends’ the dolls are all intriguing and competently handled by Gilliam. Jodelle Ferland, at just nine and a half, takes the lead and blows Dakota out of the water in terms of ‘oh-Christ-she’s-a-child-and-she’s-a-professional-actor’ and she’s solidly supported by Jeff Bridges, Janet McTeer and Brendan Fletcher. The film dabbles in humour, horror, fantasy and skims the border of inappropriateness in places. You’re never sure where you stand with it, or where it’s going to take you. Though this means you can never truly settle into the film first-time, it makes a refreshing change from the predictability of standard Hollywood cack.
For some reason Tideland has sparked out-rage in some parts of the world. I wasn’t offended by any of it, and can’t see how people could be upset at a religious fanatic who likes to embalm dead relatives to keep them ‘alive’. What may put some people off is how this film doesn’t conform to a typical plot structure. I’m not saying that all films that are ‘different’ are works of pretentious genius. Some are tosh (see Lost In Translation – or ‘over-long self indulgent mass of nothing’.) But if you accept its differences and are willing to open your mind, you may well enjoy Tideland, or at least find something to think about. It’s taken me a while to figure out how much I liked it, and I’ve boiled it down to this: it makes CF0, and I think I’ll give it an extra point because it dared to be a bit different, the performances were impressive, and the talking dolls heads were very amusing. Therefore Tideland gets CF1. Well done Terry.