Wednesday, May 23, 2012
In 1986, Guy Maddin began his career with a little film called The Dead Father, chronicling a family vexed by the reappearance of their deceased patriarch. Twenty-six years later in Keyhole, he gets around to telling the corpse’s side of the story. A sort of reverse ghost story, the film follows gangster Ulysses Pick (the name is derived from the original absentee parent and, I don’t know, a lock pick) as he holes up in his family home, lugging around a stuffed wolverine, a blind mind reader, and his bound-and-gag son. His goal is to reach his wife, Hyacinth, locked up in her bedroom, where she lounges with her mute lover and her naked father. Meanwhile, one of the Kids in the Hall rapes a ghost, the police have the place surrounded, and Ulysses’ gang is cobbling together a bicycle-powered electric chair in between orgies. As a pseudo-pornographic gangster movie set in a haunted house, the film is perhaps a tad overstuffed.
But as far as Maddin’s ongoing cinematic therapy goes, Keyhole is an important step forward for the director, even if the end results are sometimes jumbled and confused. His world has always been one of failed fathers, all of them missing, dead or simply disinterested in the families they have abandoned. For once, we see the fractured family from the father’s perspective, and the results are unsurprisingly ambiguous (lock the doors, daddy’s coming home). Perhaps that is due to the unfamiliarity of this terrain for Maddin, but it’s also a side effect of Jason Patric’s fascinatingly incongruous performance as Ulysses. Whereas Maddin’s stock company provides the usual mannered performances, Patric offers a terse naturalism unique to the director’s filmography. Charismatic and doomed, Ulysses seems to exist on a different plane from the rest of this world. Charging through the house, he stumbles onto a new memory in each room, clutching at ghosts as he sinks deeper into the past. After a while, it’s impossible to tell who’s haunting who.