Sunday, March 28, 2010

A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (John Cassavetes, 1974, USA)

Mable is under the influence of a damaged mind, unable to cope with the social expectations of being a mother and wife, trapped in a self-medicated nightmare. Writer/Director John Cassavetes’ grim portrayal of mental illness is a punch drunk drama that goes the full 15 rounds, where no one gets out unscathed.

Cassavetes splits the tumultuous narrative in two, a schizophrenic disorder that creates a chasm between husband and wife; together they must bridge this gap between themselves and friends/relatives, those who kill with kindness. The first half of the film is sharply defined by Mable’s disintegration and her husband’s helplessness. Nick loves his wife very much but her erratic behavior is becoming dangerous. He struggles to assume the role of patriarch, often relegated to treating his wife as a misbehaving child. He is embarrassed in front of his friends during supper and transfers his anger towards Mable and his cohorts, attempting to project his male authority. But Mable is on a downwards spiral as her disease consumes her; soon the world is involved in a conspiracy against her. She is involuntarily committed and the story jumps ahead six months on the day of her release. Unable to cope with the anxiety, a violent relapse ensues. 

Gena Rowlands’ anxious and inspired performance is sometimes difficult to watch; this is no glamorous Hollywood role where the protagonist is sick but becoming, a happy ending tied neatly in a bow. This is a down and dirty confrontation, violent and unrelenting, as two people and their innocent children suffer the catastrophic fallout. Rowlands performance is perfectly attuned to the alien wavelength of a Bipolar Disorder, subtle gestures and compulsiveness mushrooming into alcoholism and self-inflicted injury. Peter Faulk is no less adept at capturing the post traumatic stress of a husband under pressure, confused and alone with three children. His love metastasizes as brute force.

For Mable there is no cure, only treatment. For Nick, love cannot conquer all: it's a dead end to his means. 

Final Grade: (A)

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