*. The Forbidden Room has no linear narrative. Instead it has a nesting structure, what Hillary Weston in her essay included with the DVD liner notes likens to a set of Russian dolls. The stories within stories form a series of echoing rings around each other, and we start on the outside and work our way in.
*. The structure fits the theme, which (at least in my reading of it) is all about digging into ever deeper layers of the unconscious. We begin in the depths, on board a submarine, and from there go even deeper. This spelunking may be presented in physical terms: entering a cave, for example, or “going deep, going deeper, deeper still” into the skull of a man with a sexual fetish that surgery is seeking to correct.
*. What this is all meant to represent, again in my opinion, is psychosexual mining. The forester enters the pink cavern to look for his kidnapped love, the volcano bubbles over with hot flowing magma, the submarine, the psychologist’s cigar . . . that sort of thing. I don’t think there’s any section of the film that doesn’t make use of this motif. The captain’s mother’s room on the submarine must be a womb, wherein is found a naked woman covered in pink gel. And the shot of the train entering “within a broken pelvis” (on the x-ray) is an entry into just another forbidden room stacked with the mess of memory and desire.
*. Even the way the film moves, with its repetition of going in and pulling out, is sexual. And all that heavy breathing, which is pushing air in and out, complements the pervy action perfectly.
*. Now noting that the structure fits the theme is one thing. But as themes go it’s kind of vague and, as I began by saying, there’s no story to carry it. Personally, I think some of the signals get mixed. For starters, the point of the movie was to recover a bunch of unfinished or lost films from the silent era. Since this has always been a big part of Guy Maddin’s thing as a director it should have been a perfect fit. And it is, if what you want is a creative reimagining of the films of that era.
*. It doesn’t look anything at all like a silent film though. It’s a completely different aesthetic. The rapid editing, jerky camera, weird angles, and constant layering and superimposition of images seems more like Oliver Stone’s JFK than anything from the silent era.
*. What a weird commentary with co-directors Maddin and Evan Johnson. I wonder if they really take all that stuff about appropriating voice, mansplaining, and the male gaze seriously. It was like listening to Jordan Peele’s commentary on Get Out and wondering how many times he would say “woke.”
*. I did like the suggestion they made that they were remaking Inception. I’m sure that was a joke, but there’s enough of a hook there for it to be funny.
*. Just like Inception, or any such framed narrative, when you get all the way in you realize the structure of the film has turned inside out and you’re back on the outside being drawn in again. At least that’s the feeling I had. It’s not a movie I wanted to re-watch right away, but I have gone back to it a couple of times and I’m sure I will again. It’s that rich, in ways both premeditated and accidental.
*. Well, I know a lot of people don’t care for this kind of filmmaking but I really enjoy it and I had a great time with The Forbidden Room. I thought it was clever, funny, intriguing, silly, and even beautiful at times. I don’t think it adds up to anything more than a filmmaker’s sketchbook, but where else are you going to find movies of this unique a texture?