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The Forbidden Room


For movie lovers there can be few things more fun than sitting through multiple great films at a time. Such an activity can wreak havoc on one’s hygiene, and so Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson helpfully bookend their new movie The Forbidden Room with an informational video on the how-to’s of bathing. As lurid as a 1930’s sexploitation flick and off-putting as a 1980’s health class video, How To Take A Bath is a perfect palate cleanser for the infusion of film homages that Forbidden Room bombards you with. For the experience is akin to diving into a rabbit hole head first, with stories begetting more stories and characters birthing new characters until we are pulled straight out at top speed.

The finished product is, in many ways, a masterclass in editing and production effects. Shot entirely in digital, the movie mimics the flicker of a projection reel, the colors of painted mattes, and the music of various eras. But it is not mere nostalgia that gives the recreation of celluloid aesthetics its pathos. The images don’t just flicker. They merge, bubble, and burn as though the stories are bursting with energy in tries to break out of the screen. Maddin and Johnson began the project while developing their upcoming interactive project Séances, which remakes lost films as faithfully as possible, once the old, forgotten movies gave them ideas for new, original ones.

Hence, each individual, unconnected tale both is homage to old cinema and an expansion of it. The transitions between vignettes flows with the logic of a fever dream, but also gives context to situations and characters who may not have been privy to it in the days of Hollywood past. Maddin and Johnson take us deep in the mind of an “illogical” woman who must use her imagination to escape her harsh reality. A man performing Freudian analysis must bear witness to the tragic past of a woman he is attempting to seduce treat. A group of doomed men trapped on a submarine use stories to pass the time, including one tale of another group of men who put aside their own ambitions to team up for the greater good. It is only when these men enter the titular “Forbidden Room” and gaze upon the Book of Climaxes does the logic of the film seem to break, tearing the world apart in an attempt to provide closure and catharsis throughout the web of history and culture that they have created.

It is here where we are awakened from the dream, whisked out of the theater with a helpful reminder to bathe. There is no true ending according to Maddin and Johnson. There is only the ongoing cycle and recycle that contributes to the culture of fictions and nonfictions we cling to in our darkest times. All is unfinished and unsatisfied, yet as a result, all unified.

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