Cast: Jodelle Ferland, Janet McTeer, and Jeff Bridges
Director: Terry Gilliam
120 minutes (15) 2005
Arrow Blu-ray region B
Review by Christopher Geary
“This is not a vacation.” Contentious and controversial fantasy comedy-drama, Tideland is set in rural Texas, with a southern gothic atmosphere that was shot in Canada without irony. Noah (Jeff Bridges) is a melancholic redneck junkie, and a completely tragic wreck of humanity, redeemed only by the briskly romanticised fairytale views of his precocious and amusingly melodramatic young daughter Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland). Orphaned by the sudden deaths of her parents Jeliza-Rose happily escapes from her grim reality into a wild-child’s shattered and morbidly challenging dreamscape, where even a passing train is likened to a monster shark, and quarrying explosions on an open mining site marks an apocalyptic wasteland edge of the known world.
Before she’s lost down a revisionist Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit-hole of jagged memories and allusive imagination, the lonely little girl depends upon her Barbie heads for spooky companionship, but slowly descends into a waking state of broken filmic taboos and her sundry whitewashed nightmares. Eventually, she falls in with the disturbingly eccentric neighbours, brain-damaged Dickens (Brendan Fletcher), and his formidably demented sister Dell (Janet McTeer), a “keeper of the silent souls” via her taxidermy hobby.
Terry Gilliam directs with a keen eye for painterly visuals, rich in colour, artistic textures, and menacing images, and this emerges from the joylessly designer immaturity of its critically lambasted cultural chrysalis as an engagingly distorted version of Tobe Hooper’s seminal black-comedy horror The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), one that’s deeply innocent of grisly mortality and rustic human devils, and thoroughly unsuitable for any closed-minded movie-watcher. Barely restrained madness appears to be Gilliam’s default sensibility for cinematic adventures, and that bursts to the forefront of this disconcerting wallow in child-like views of adult-world mysteries.
Much of Tideland concerns various attempts to get away from human death and its many grisly and testing consequences. The mother’s body is abandoned by family and denied a Viking funeral pyre of her death-bed. The father is vicariously resurrected by taxidermist Dell. Jeliza-Rose appears somewhat bemused by her unburied parents’ stillness as wholly phantasmic presences. The bodiless dolls (voiced by Ferland as parts of her performance of Jeliza-Rose’s fantasy world) attest to the little girl’s disquieting views of life, and what constitutes normality, where “squirrel butts don’t glow,” or its opposite, when a wrecked school bus, dumped close to the railway tracks, seems more comforting in its rusty decay than a place that might otherwise (in a genre drama) be duly haunted by ghostly children.
Despite adverse critical reactions to Tideland, it has recently emerged as one of Gilliam’s best movies, and one of his most emotionally involving and cult-worthy efforts.
- Gilliam’s heartfelt intro, and director's commentary track
- The 2005 documentary Getting Gilliam (45 minutes) by Vincenzo Natali
- Making-of, and technical, featurettes
- Deleted scenes, interviews, picture gallery