"No more talking. Just breathing."
Deep beneath the surface of the ocean, the beleaguered inhabitants of a submarine are running out of options. Abandoned by their captain, their supply of oxygen dwindling, they do what any of us would do: they eat flapjacks, assuming that the pockets of air will prolong their lives. Thus begins Guy Maddin’s latest film, The Forbidden Room.
In the cinematic universe of director Guy Maddin, surreal juxtaposition and seemingly illogical behavior comes with the territory. The many Dadaist touches to this nesting-doll of a film include a rotten banana that is also a vampire-like killer, a cursed bust of Janus that transforms its owner into a Mr. Hyde character, a gang of dancing skeletons that are the henchmen of a weirdly specific extortionist, and several musical performances, including an absurdly Freudian cabaret number titled “The Final Derrière”. The film’s sly comedy is only enhanced by the eerily beautiful cinematography, which evokes classical film styles from the early 20th century, notably German Expressionism and French Impressionism. In fact, The Forbidden Room can be viewed as the apotheosis of Maddin’s career of experimentation and homage.
Maddin’s first feature, Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988), explored themes of jealousy and betrayal during a smallpox epidemic in turn-of-the-century Manitoba. If his debut was singular in its darkly absurd humor, Maddin’s subsequent films positively defy description. They can be glossed in general terms as epically false autobiography (My Winnipeg), Oedipal homage to German mountaineering films (Careful), a balletic adaptation of the Dracula story (Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary), a mad-scientist/teen detectives mashup (Brand Upon the Brain!), a gangsters-on-the-lam crime story that is simultaneously a ghostly retelling of the voyage of Odysseus (Keyhole), a film noir about Canadian hockey (Cowards Bend the Knee), etc. David Lynch is an acknowledged influence (one can see echoes of Lynch’s Eraserhead throughout the Maddin oeuvre), but Guy Maddin’s true influences are as old as cinema itself, and all of them are explored in The Forbidden Room.