Unforeseen Change: Love and Torture in the Film Mandy

Written by on September 23, 2018
Modified by Long Nguyen

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Mandy (2018) has garnered both critical and popular acclaim, solidifying its place as one of the most memorable movies to be released this year. I hope they put out a commercial on television since I had to find out about this after watching a two-review episode of Half in the Bag in which they trashed The Predator (2018) as it rightly deserves. Works of art like this, and I do consider Mandy a work of art, deserve far more praise and attention than its received even after having been released just a week ago (14 September, 2018). Go see it while its in theaters, its like Water for Elephants where the cinema experience is essential to getting the most out of this film.

 

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Now on to the review:

 

The actor playing Jeremiah Sand, UK star Linus Roache, knew exactly what he was doing while portraying the antagonist cult leader of Mandy. A narcissist, he changes personality depending on who he’s talking with and how that attitude would best serve his purpose. Self-centered and egomaniacal, Jeremiah is simultaneously reprehensible yet familiar to the viewing audience. We’ve all known someone like this, someone so locked up in their vision of their future and identity that nothing else matters. These types of people are so willing to do whatever it takes to please that little voice in their head demanding revenge, retribution, payment, and in this film sacrifice, that there exists no line they will refuse to cross. In the Q&A video presented following the late-night screening of Mandy at Cinema 21 in Southwest Portland, Oregon, actor Nicholas Cage talks about how he at first wanted to play Jeremiah Sand instead of Red Miller, the husband to the titular Mandy. He does admit however that Linus Roache did an incredible job, and that at the end of the day it was for the best. I agree with Cage, if he played this cult leader he would’ve given the same cheesy performance he gives in every movie. Jeremiah Sand needed to be intimidating, a force to be reckoned, and I’ve never seen Nicholas Cage portray such a character in a serious fashion.

 

As for Cage’s character, Red Miller, the awkward comedy he provides in his performances is absolutely necessary for this film. Mandy acts both as a serious film about loss and the impossibility of ever truly rectifying the evils created by forces we can’t control, as well as a gory campy revenge film about doing the best he can to give himself the retribution he craves. At times we laugh at Red when he’s crying, more specifically while he’s reflecting on his wife at the conclusion of the film, but these moments of humor are always followed by an eerie, painful silence denoting the closing of a door that will never open again. Usually campy films including a romanticized couple or group of couples focuses on the typical tropes of the slutty girlfriend getting killed first and her jock boyfriend dying while trying to save her, a trope we’ve seen in Evil Dead, Dead Snow, Cabin Fever, among others which undoubtedly inspired this film to some extent. In Mandy, there is no diluting the romance into something that can be objectified or made impersonal. The love is so personal and eerily familiar that the audience connects it to their own lives, connects it to their memories and in that way we sympathize with the loss Red Miller experiences. That said, as an actor Nick Cage doesn’t contribute to this personal feeling of loss as much as the editing does, or the music, cinematography, and slow pacing of the film in general.

 

The directing by Panos Cosmatos draws attention to the bittersweet nostalgia of memories that will never be relived again. Nicholas Cage instead of adding to this feeling more acts as a window through which the audience may relate to the horror onscreen. We only see Red Miller interacting with Mandy a handful of times throughout the film, and Cage’s tone of voice is the usual bland, unemotional cantor we’ve come to expect from him. That said, when he witnesses the death of his wife, slipping his hands through the barbed wire, crying while drinking vodka on the toilet, and even that crazy face he makes at the end of the film, we laugh for a moment but we also begin to understand. As over the top as Mandy can be at times, this is what we expect from the campy gorefest that revenge films are known for. Within this environment Cage’s acting works, it doesn’t always contribute to the nostalgia and romance of the film but his whacky acting adds some breathing room for the audience so that sense of comfort in laughing can be ripped away time and time again. This is casting at its best; whether or not Nicholas Cage is happy with not getting the Jeremiah Sand part is irrelevant. As a protagonist, Red Miller is both distant from the audience and exactly where they stand. Usually the protagonist of any film possesses much less characterization than the supporting cast built around them, and in this case the audience does sympathize with the loss of Red’s wife rather than his personality.

 

Because of his very nature as an actor, whacky unemotional and slightly unhinged, Nicholas Cage is the perfect vessel through which to experience a film like this. The actor playing Mandy, another UK star Andrea Riseborough, was an excellent choice for this film. Panos Cosmatos does an excellent job of changing her appearance through makeup, lighting, and camera work so the audience can experience every facet of her identity from a symbol of sexuality, to one of human weakness, and especially in Mandy’s confrontation with Jeremiah Sand an object of feminine strength. We believe every action her character makes, because as I mentioned we get to know her a lot better than we get to know protagonist Red Miller. He chops wood, he has a job, but Mandy draws what’s in her mind. She reads obsessively, usually about horror and the things that terrify her the most. Red and Mandy watch a campy horror movie with such intent that it seems they take it seriously, suspending their disbelief in such a way the average audience (especially a modern audience) is incapable of doing. During our viewing the audience laughed nervously many times, and most of those times I wanted to ask them to kindly shut their trap. You could say I connected with Mandy in the sense that we both have wild imaginations, and an intimate knowledge of the things that scare us the most. The past leaves scars, and in her case one is visible on her face. The past never leaves, and in part the whole film is about this idea of the inescapability of fate and the woe it causes whether or not by our own design.

 

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Mandy is the representation of innocence time and again stepped on, abused, and finally reduced to ash out of the lust and greed of others. The world has always possessed such evil even before humans existed; torture, pain, and death have always been designs of nature. Predators hunt their prey, elephants mourn their dead loved ones, and the human experience is not as exclusively human as each of us would like to believe. Jeremiah Sand believed he was special and look how wrong he was. I get the feeling Mandy knew she wasn’t special, and that’s exactly what made her so. She’s described as a diamond in the rough, a special person by Jeremiah. In the conclusion of the film, we witness the first time Mandy and Red met each other. We bare witness to a certain special aura, surrounding not just her but them and their out of the blue connection. It seemed like love had chose them, that they shared something special as oppose to either of them being truly unique. Their love is what made them special, and mourning that love is what drove Red to become the monster he desired so much to destroy. Perhaps there is no rebuilding the past, no reliving the memory, but maybe he will one day find peace with himself. Despite her suffering, Mandy has found peace in her passing. What is gone can suffer no longer, and perhaps that is part of the message of Mandy.

 

It is just a campy slasher film, but only in the second half. The revenge is built up to with a slow, delicate caressing of Red and Mandy’s shared intimacy as if it had been experienced in such a way as to be timeless in its repetitive comfort. I think that’s part of why I want to see the film again, because not only does this movie satisfy our desire to defeat the evil of this world but it also tries to provide closure in the sense of a moving on from the past that can only achieved from within ourselves. By the conclusion we are reminded constantly that committing mass murder did not heal Red, if anything it dragged him deeper into an insanity that estranged him from the man he used to be, the man Mandy feel in love with. This movie doesn’t present the idea that Mandy is at peace, but rather that Red must either choose peace or delve deeper into insanity. We don’t know which he chooses, the film ends before we have a chance to come to terms with what happened. We know Red still sees her, we know he needs her still, but that can never happen. I mentioned the suffering did not have to suffer any longer, because I hope this is part of the message of the film. I hope that there is some sort of reconnection within that can help heal the past, and that the director is aware that such a path exists even if it isn’t presented in the narrative.

 

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We don’t know if Red can find this path, or even if it’s reasonable to expect someone with such experiences to believe such a path is possible. We feel remorse for him, because we feel remorse for our own suffering that perhaps under the layers of calm, maturity, and responsibility lies dormant. Nick Cage in the Q&A mentioned his father passing away, that channeling those feelings helped him connect with the loss of a character like Mandy, a loved one that simply can’t be lived without, a piece of himself. We all struggle with loss, it’s a matter of the path we choose in managing the pain and rebuilding ourselves. Red Miller by the conclusion in no way is ready to move on, I foresee many tubs of ice cream in his future.

 

 

That said, not one of us are any better, and the happy ending we all desire is denied us by the vision of director Panos Cosmatos. We have been handed a sob story reflecting our own, and there is no escaping its intimate touch. The film affected me so deeply because of this sense of loss, this sense that there may be no moving on no matter how much we want to. It also provides hope. Mandy leads me to feel like I need to do the best I can to love who I must, befriend who I will, and cherish those memories before someone decides they want to burn it all to the ground. While this is a campy movie, such horror has happened and will continue to happen throughout the history of this world. Rape, torture, dismemberment, true suffering will always exist and we can only hope we will not be among the victims. We can only hope to be there for the victims, and to ease their suffering as much as we can. We can only hope for so much before we realize how absolutely out of our control such horror can be. In that sense I believe we hope for peace, the sky in the final shot of Mandy symbolizing a whole universe brimming with love and suffering that will never be experienced by us, just one more alien race sitting on the other side of a telescope guesstimating what awaits us on the other side.

 

In conclusion Mandy is a smash hit that cuts to the bone of the human experience, bleeding into our desire for security in a world that provides none. It begs us to cherish what we have, just like Mandy and Red did. It asks us not to take a single moment for granted, to not consider the future some unset path in which anything may happen completely without a concern in our own minds. It asks us to be concerned, it demands we pay attention to what we have right in front of us. Love is rare, and it’s a finite resource that can only be experienced under the right circumstances. Nick Cage mentioned how the failure of his third marriage as well as the death of his father informed his character. While he does not have the romanticized, perfect love depicted in Mandy, we can relate to this because love is rarely perfect. But a perfect love is something we all desire, and its within our grasp if we just give it a chance. If we put our minds to the task, to change in a world that demands change, a world that cares not for the fate of any one person, we may find what we’re looking for be it love, peace, revenge, or a future.

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