The title (above) comes from the William Blake lines I quoted in the previous posting. Here they are once more:
“I give you the end of a golden string
Only wind it into a ball:
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.”
He’s talking about the imagination.
I saw some fairly good films over the holidays:
Charlie Wilson’s War was better than I’d expected, as was The Spiderwick Chronicles. I really enjoyed Hairspray — anything involving Christopher Walken is worth watching. I didn’t care for The Prestige. But the movie I want to talk about that really impressed me is one that I’m guessing a lot of people missed — which is partly why I want to talk about it:
Tideland (2005) was directed by Terry Gilliam, and it was written by Gilliam and Tony Grisoni. It’s based on a novel by Mitch Cullin.
I have no intention of giving away the plot here, but one reviewer referred to it as a gothic Alice in Wonderland (and in fact, in the opening moments, we hear the lilting voice of a young girl reading from Alice in Wonderland in a Texas accent — there are all sorts of deliberate, conscious references to Alice in this story).
Another reviewer described Tideland as “a poetic horror film,” and I think that’s accurate. Warning: although it has a child protagonist, the film deals with extremely dark subject matter and adult themes, so don’t go gathering your kids and popping Tideland into the DVD player to watch with them. Unless you have some pretty sophisticated kids.
What I like so much about the movie (aside from the haunting musical score, the skillful use of the stark, rural Texas landscape, and the brilliant writing, direction, and acting) is that it’s essentially a story about the imagination — particularly childhood’s imagination. It’s a fascinating study of how a child’s imagining transforms the grim circumstances she’s in, and how it makes them — at least for a short while — not only bearable, but eerily beautiful.
As we watch the film, we worry about the main character, Jeliza-Rose (who, I understand, is 11 in the novel, and the actress playing her was born in 1994, so was about 10 or 11 when the film was made — though I had the impression while I was watching it that she was several years younger than that). We are terrified for her — we hold our breath as she innocently makes her way through the unthinkable situation life has thrust upon her, as she interprets reality in her own way.
But at the same time, we can’t help but be drawn into Jeliza-Rose’s world; we can’t help but recognize its haunting, aching, restless, nostalgic, wistful beauty. Though most of us had childhoods a lot tamer and safer than hers, the filmmakers manage to capture something intrinsic to all childhoods, something universal about being eleven.
If you’re not too squeamish, and if you have a stout spirit, I recommend Tideland. It’s one of those films that leaves you not quite the same as you were (in a good way). It makes your canopy of experience a little richer — and may deepen your understanding of the role of imagination in helping us along on life’s journey.
Nor does imagination necessarily involve a complete break with reality. Although Jeliza-Rose is the most imaginative character in the story, she is also the most clear-headed and sensible: in an early scene, she prevents her father from burning down their apartment building.
Anyway, I think we can expect great things of Canadian-born Jodelle Ferland, who plays Jeliza-Rose.
Follow the golden string! Keep winding it into a ball! And thank Heaven for the capacity to build worlds of our own choosing — and for the child that is still, on good days, within us all.