SXSW FILM 2012
By Don Simpson | March 16, 2012
Director: Guy Maddin
Writers: Guy Maddin, George Toles
Starring: Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini, Udo Kier, Brooke Palsson, David Wontner, Louis Negin, Kevin McDonald, Daniel Enright, Olivia Rameau, Tattiawna Jones, Johnny Chang, Darcy Fehr
“The penis is dusty.” Like the rest of Guy Maddin’s oeuvre, Keyhole is as maddeningly impenetrable as a dusty phallus. Judging by its nonsensical narrative structure, it comes as absolutely no surprise that Keyhole is based upon one of Maddin’s recurring dreams. Only dream logic would permit a hallucinatory blending of a 1930s gangster film noir with a haunted house flick; and, to add to our bewilderment, Maddin includes a healthy sprinkling of breadcrumbs — most of which are oblique references to Homer’s Odyssey and Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space — that serve to mislead rather than guide us along this strange cinematic journey.
Ulysses (Jason Patric) is a 1930s criminal who returns to his family abode with several of his cronies in tow. The cops are [presumably] outside, and Ulysses opts to confront the ghosts of his house rather than face the cops again. Ulysses has not been home for a very long time; upon his return, he commences a journey throughout the memory-laden home in search of his estranged wife, Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini). For whatever reason, Ulysses drags Manners (David Wontner) and Denny (Brooke Palsson) along for the journey. Manners is inexplicably bound-and-gagged; while Denny is a walking, talking and breathing drowning victim. We eventually learn that Manners is Ulysses’ son, but Ulysses never recognizes him. Denny could very well be a ghost, as Maddin purposefully blurs life and death, past and present, dream and reality. We also learn that Hyacinth is ill and she has locked herself away in her bedroom with her naked elderly father (Louis Negin) chained to the bed. (Hyacinth’s father also serves as the film’s narrator.)
“Remember, Ulysses, remember…” Keyhole is apparently a cinematic essay about the intersections of memory and architecture, specifically Bachelard’s theory that homes function as repositories of emotions and memories. Speaking of memories, Keyhole is not of this time or place. Fashioned as a visual mash-up of surrealism, film noir, German Expressionism and avant garde cinema, Keyhole is a total headtrip captured by Benjamin Kasulke’s stunning black and white cinematography. I found that the true secret to enjoying Keyhole is to sit back and complacently allow Kasulke’s cerebral imagery, John Gurdebeke’s manic editing structure and Jason Staczek’s intense soundtrack to drown you; because unraveling the true meaning of Keyhole is no more straightforward than dissecting a dream.