Raging at Cain

cain2017.11: Raising Cain (1992), Blu-ray

Brian De Palma is some kind of crazy guy. He’s like Hitchcock without the ‘Caution’ button. I mention Hitchcock because De Palma is obviously so devoted to mimicking him through so many of his films. Hitch fashioned these great thrillers full of manipulation and sleight of hand but he knew where to draw the line, whereas de Palma has always happily crossed it, hopelessly inspired/devoted to making bizarre dreamscapes of Hitchcock movies. They don’t feel real, don’t even feel like films Hitchcock might have made, but rather films Hitch might have dreamed in his sleep after a night in the wine cellar. The same way that De Palma’s Obsession feels like a drunken nightmare version of Hitch’s Vertigo.

I’m in two minds about Raising Cain. Which is quite apt really, as its a film about multiple personalities. I should start at the outset by stating that I watched the director’s cut (or to be more precise, the non-director’s reassembly of the theatrical cut) and only afterwards watched some of the theatrical to get a grip of the changes. Basically, the theatrical cut is pretty much a chronological edit of the events of the story, whereas the other cut moves sequences out of order, heightening the mystery and sense of dreamlike weirdness. Neither version makes for a great film, although De Palma aficionados might maintain the directors cut is a great De Palma film (something else entirely?). It is generally considered to be the definitive version, which is why I elected to watch it first.

Fans of David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn might find much to enjoy in Raising Cain. There are many viewers these days quite happy to watch obtuse, lazily written and nonsensical films, as if not having plots or old-fashioned arcs or believable characters is actually a bonus, and style is everything. It pretty much sums up De Palma at his worst. His direction is never subtle, and his sleight-of-hand, such as intense distorted close-ups and off-kilter camera angles and slipping into slow motion now and again, always draws attention to itself, as if the style is the be-all and end-all. Which might be used as an excuse for the lazy writing and underwritten characters. The dreamlike sensibility of this film is only exacerbated by characters never behaving remotely normally. The cops, for instance, never talk or act or ever convince as being cops.

The story is.. well, what is it? Three arcs seem to run through the film and neither of them convince, neither have any foundation. Carter Nix (John Lithgow),  is a child psychologist who ‘suffers’ from having several personalities in his head, one of whom is a serial killer. His wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovich) is a doctor slipping back into a previously-aborted affair with a child patients father. And then there’s something about children being kidnapped for psychological experiments by Carter Nix’s own father (also played by Lithgow) who is believed to have died years before. There is no chemistry between Carter or Jenny, and her tryst doesn’t really convince either. Lithgow does a sterling job at chewing up the scenery in his three (or is it four?) roles. Davidovich blankly stumbles around like a horny frustrated wife in a permanent mills & boon daydream. De Palma runs amok with his POV camera and weird shots and film speeds. Nothing ever feels remotely real. We don’t understand why Jenny feels the need to stray or is unfulfilled with her husband, we don’t understand why Carter is even with her or why he does what he does, we don’t understand why the cops are so clueless or disinterested (some retired ex-cop seems to hang around the office until he barks up about a past case involving Carter’s father that kicks the ‘plot’ forward). Or why some guy in a van with a harpoon sticking out the back keeps moving backwards and forwards in a carpark waiting for the inevitable to happen. Or why it is prefigured by Jenny having a dream of losing control in her car and getting impaled by a statues spear.

So as a ‘normal’ film the film  doesn’t work at all. But as a dream put on film -unfocused, slipping forwards and backwards in time, repeating moments with dreams within dreams, it does offer a rather strange and compelling experience. Its like something De Palma dreamed one night turned into a movie, or what it would be like if we could plug into, Brainstorm-like, into someone’s dream. Is it Jenny’s dream?  I’m certain this film has its fans, as well as its detractors. I’m just not sure which camp I’m in yet. Its either utter rubbish or a work of genius.

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