Release date: October 27, 2006 Director: Terry Gilliam
Terry Gilliam’s films have always been a bit challenging. Most of them have to grow on you, as is the case with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Fisher King. Some of his films are instant classics, such as Brazil and Time Bandits. However, nothing that Gilliam has done in the past will prepare you for the extraordinary, deeply unnerving experience of his 2006 film, Tideland.
Tideland tells the story of Jeliza-Rose, a ten year old girl with an overactive imagination, whose only friends are four Barbie doll heads which she attaches to the tips of her fingers. Jeliza-Rose lives with her drug addled parents, Noah and Queen Gunhilda. A normal day for the young girl consists of prepping her father’s daily dose of heroin with a lighter and a spoon, so that he can go on his daily “vacation”. Afterwards, it’s off to the bedroom to massage her mother’s feet. Late one night, Queen Gunhilda graphically dies of an overdose. Noah frantically wraps her body in a bed sheet, and he and Jeliza-Rose flee the scene. They catch a train to a farmhouse in Texas, where Noah’s mother supposedly lives.
Once they arrive, they find that the house has been abandoned, except for the dust, cobwebs, and a couple of pesky attic-dwelling squirrels. Later that evening, Jeliza’s father dies of a heroin overdose, leaving the girl to fend for her self in unfamiliar territory. In an attempt to cope with the sudden loneliness and fear, Jeliza retreats into her vivid imagination, as her father’s corpse rots in the living room. On waking the next morning, Jeliza-Rose goes outside to play with her “friends”, and has her first encounter with Dell, an older woman with a short temper, an eye patch, and a thick Southern drawl. Jeliza also meets Dell’s younger brother, the mentally-handicapped Dickens. Jeliza and Dickens form an innocent bond, which turns into an amorous crush for the young girl – in a subplot that would seem extremely inappropriate, if it were not handled with such care. Dell feeds the starving girl, and even helps her tidy up the house; however, Dell is not the nurturing type. She’s more interested in the return of her long-lost lover, Noah. She steals his body away, and moments later, it is revealed that not only is Dell a fantastic chef, she is also an amateur taxidermist. Confronted with one horrific scenario after another, Jeliza-Rose continues to drift into the dark recesses of her mind, and as a result, her sanity begins to slip away.
If this film sounds extremely weird, that’s because it is. Using shades of Lewis Carroll and Alfred Hitchcock, Terry Gilliam pulls no punches for the entire two-hour running time. His direction is flawless. He is clearly in his element. Some will hate this film. Others will love it. It will have to grow on some, assuming that they sit through the film in its entirety. Much of the horror within Tideland lies in the reality of the situation in which Jeliza-Rose finds herself. Although the film is filtered through a fantastical lens, this is anything but a joyous trip down the rabbit hole. If you were to strip away the fairy tale elements from the narrative, the experience would be unwatchable. The fact that Tideland is told from the happy-go-lucky perspective of a precocious young child makes the film easier to digest on an emotional level, while also making it that much more frightening.
The performances are all amazing. Jodelle Ferland is wonderful as Jeliza-Rose. She exudes the childlike innocence that is required for the role. Janet McTeer is unforgettable as Dell, as is Brendan Fletcher in the role of Dickens. Jeff Bridges is great as usual, and Jennifer Tilly is appropriately revolting in her small role, in which she is barely recognizable. The score by Mychael Danna is incredible, guiding us along on Jeliza’s journey into darkness.
Tideland is one of the best films of 2006 – haunting, disturbing, and, yes, beautiful in many unexpected ways. It is not to be missed.
Adam is a hardcore film fanatic. Some would call him a film snob. They’re probably right. He's been writing film reviews for as long as he can remember, and it is truly one of his passions. Aside from writing film reviews, he is also a screenwriter. He's written two shorts in the last year, one of which he plans to shoot in the spring of 2013. His favorite filmmakers are Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, Ingmar Bergman, Michael Haneke, and David Lynch – simply too many to list here.