Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Dario Argento’s PHENOMENA, reviewed by Travis Hedge Coke
“What is this association between insects and the human soul?” asks a grieving entomologist (played by Donald Pleasance) in Dario Argento’s Phenomena.
John Carpenter has said of Argento’s movies that they are more like paintings or dreams than typical film narrative. I would keep that in mind when finding in a review, criticisms of “unbelievable plot” or “unrealistic events,” if I was one to worry about unbelievable plots or unrealistic events over emotional impact and beautiful mise en scene. Thankfully, I am designed to enjoy spectacle and the emotional aggregation of sound and visual, motion and color, that Argento prefers to work in.
A death scene in Phenomena can last seven minutes (an eternity in movie-time) or seven times that long, and if the dramatic stages of an Argento death seem protracted, let us remember that all the events of our life cobble together to walk us to the steadfast inevitability of death. There is no moment of your life, no action in its course, that does not bring you closer to death, and so too is true, if more ornately and succinctly, of Argento’s characters. Perhaps this is why Jennifer Connelly’s character has her same given name, to conflate us, the real, with they, the fiction. In a movie about the daughter of a film star, roughly the same age as Argento’s daughter, suffering speculation that she is drugged up or insane (prefiguring Asia Argento’s later Scarlet Diva – or does that movie echo this?) and so down the rabbit hole.
“Down the rabbit hole” is misleading. The Alice books are inordinately ordered and Phenomena, entirely more felt out. But even a misstep takes you somewhere, and as we have established, they all, the right steps and the mistaken, gear you further towards death. Sometimes you see a rabbit hole in a dream and it turns out, as you descend, to be the den of an ant lion. The ant lion is only a larva, as a maggot to the fly, but if in a movie you showed the larvae and then the legged and compound-eyed adults without demonstration of the middle stages, it would appear an absurd transformation, an unreasonable development. This is Phenomena, then, in its way; transformations without transitions, experiences without immediate explanations, like a chimpanzee beneath dark trees that rattle in the wind, approaching a house, scalpel in hand, intent known only to her.