"Mandy" is modern day avant-garde perfection
“Mandy” is an astonishing example of when music, acting, storytelling and visual artistry all come together in perfect, radical harmony.
If you were to try and place Panos Cosmatos’ “Mandy” into a single genre, you’d have an easier time trying to round up a swarm of bees with your bare hands. Unlike so many other films of the past decade, “Mandy” is an experience that can only be witnessed if you let yourself submit to its relentless and beautiful insanity. It’s unclassifiable, completely unchained yet full of tranquil delicacy, and if you succumb to its wild imagery, it will rewire how you view cinema as a whole.
Nicolas Cage stars as Red, a lumberjack in the primal wilderness of the early 1980’s who has a hard shell of an exterior. He and his girlfriend Mandy (played by Andrea Riseborough) live in a private cabin sanctuary in the middle of the woods, embracing nature and the elements with effortless bliss. When Jeremiah Sand (played by Linus Roache) and his fellow cult followers see Mandy walking down the road one day, this false shepherd instantly desires Mandy, stopping at nothing to have her. With Red and Mandy’s serene existence now tainted, Red will seek righteous revenge on Jeremiah, further spiraling his once-heavenly universe into something much more sinister.
Cosmatos, who wrote 2010’s “Beyond the Black Rainbow” and worked on 1993’s “Tombstone,” splits “Mandy” into two very distinct parts, the first being the loss of paradise, and the second being the acceptance of perdition. Told through the careful, transient cinematography of Benjamin Loeb and his Arri Alexa camera, which is rooted in 1980’s grit due to color grading and texture, the first half of the film soothes the viewer with calming blues, reds, purples and greens. These shades illuminate the characters in a mystical light that is just as comforting as it is beautiful. As this world begins to fall, however, the tranquility shifts to a harsh color palette, corrupting our view of paradise with the collapse of Heaven and the rise of Red’s personal Hell. The character is then left with one choice: accept fate or laugh in its face.
The story itself is highly metaphoric, with Cosmatos’ consistent use of slow-motion and long takes pushing surreal visualizations. Because of this, “Mandy” suffers from a few pacing issues, often asking the viewer to hold onto a single shot even when he or she desperately wants to move on to the next. This is where the film will lose some people. However, it attempts to hypnotize the audience with carefully placed dissolves and fades that melt scenes together, which may stupefy you into submission whether you like it or not. These transitions, mixed with slow-motion and blasts of rainbow colors, create a visual experience unlike any other film of the 21st Century.
Following this, the film’s score, which was one of Johann Johannsson’s final projects, bleeds beauty with terror, consistently increasing audience heart rates. The swells of electric guitars and drums emphasize the shock of every image on screen, and as the film crawls on, it becomes apparent that “Mandy” could just as easily be classified as a feature-length music video as it is a work of cinematic innovation. Paying homage to the metal genre with its prop design, skepticism of American religion, and physical brutality, “Mandy” experiments on whatever playing field your mind conjures up.
With that said, what really ties the film together are the mesmerizing performances of Cage, Riseborough and Roache. Cage shakes with anger and sadness that locks the viewer to the screen, and he pushes his words out as though in physical, debilitating pain. It's brilliant, and even for those who aren't a fan of Cage, you'll find his trauma-filled character just crazy enough to sympathize with.
From there, Roache masters the terrifying reality of men who assume the role of God’s messengers, confusing purity with salaciousness, truly bringing to life a monster in human skin. Matching Roache, Riseborough uses her few lines of dialogue to propel her goddess aura, and as a viewer, I felt unquestionably mesmerized by her holy spell. It’s talent like this that not only makes “Mandy” a carefully constructed masterpiece of many different moving gears and parts, but also proves that cinema is a constantly evolving entertainment medium that we, as moviegoers, should never underestimate.
- Final Thoughts -
“Mandy” is an astonishing example of when music, acting, storytelling and visual artistry all come together in perfect, radical harmony. While its slow and careful crawl into the depths of insanity will lose some viewers, if you surrender to its hypnotic world, you’ll find that the film is modern avant-garde perfection.
("Mandy" image courtesy of Bloody Disgusting.)