Terry Gilliam's latest and possibly most audacious film opens with an intro from the director, telling us that some of us will love the film, some will hate the film, and that some of us won't know what to think of it, but that hopefully we'll have something to think about. I manage to fall somewhere in between all three categories: I love parts of it, have doubts about parts of it, and don't quite know what to think of other parts of it, but have found it hard to stop thinking about it.
TIDELAND centers on Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), a young girl in rather horrifying circumstances who, not surprisingly for a Gilliam hero, takes refuge in fantasy. She's clearly been left to her own devices a good deal; when not cooking up her father's latest heroin fix and preparing his needles she has rather elaborate conversations with a series of tiny doll heads. Upon her mother's death (some reviews have said from an overdose but it looks like accidental asphyxiation to me) Jeliza-Rose and her father journey to his mother's home in the country, which turns out to be a deserted husk of a house in the middle of a field of weeds. Eventually Jeliza gets involved with a neighboring woman named Dell (an alarming Janet McTeer) and Dell's rather extravagantly mentally damaged brother Dickens (Brendan Fletcher).
I can't really give away much more without giving away too much. A good part of the effect of the film is the flat-out surprise it generates. Certain scenes are literally jaw-dropping. Make no mistake: this is no genteel Focus On The Family-friendly fantasy. TIDELAND owes as much to Tobe Hooper as it does to Lewis Carroll. Gilliam makes it clear in his introduction that the film is about innocence and the resilience of children, and he may be understating. For Jeliza-Rose to make it to the end of the events of this film with anything like a semblance of a shred of sanity left calls for more than resilience and a refuge in fantasy: it requires flat-out Miraculous Intervention.
TIDELAND, like Gilliam's FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS and Linklater's A SCANNER DARKLY, will take more than one viewing to fully appreciate. I'm looking forward to seeing it again.