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Little Guy Maddin (Sullivan Brown) is brought up in a lighthouse in
which his mother (Getchen Krich) runs an orphanage, while his father seems
to be forever working in his lab, inventing all kinds of surreal gadgets
(like the aerophone, a sort of radio that works via the power of love).
One day, a celebrity visits the island the lighthouse is at, Wendy Hale
(Katherine E. Scharhon), one of the Lightbulb Kids, a juvenile detective
club. Wendy tells him she is going to investigate some weird goings-on in
the orphanage and thinks Guy's parents are criminals, yet the boy falls
head over heels in love with her.
Wendy though figures it will be easier
to conduct investigations as a boy, so she dresses up as her own brother
Chance - which leaves Guy totally confused, since on the one hand he
misses Wendy, on the other he feels totally drawn to Chance, just like his
sister (Maya Lawson) actually - and interestingly, Wendy as Chance feels
more drawn to sis than she does to Guy, even on a sexual level ... but she
has to make up all kinds of stupid games to prevent Sis from finding out
she's a girl as well - not necessary though, because Guy's mother has
brought her kids up to be chaste so sSis can't even tell the difference
between girl and boy ...
Eventually, Wendy/Chance finds out Wendy's
father uses the kids from the orphanage to produce the nectar of youth
sucking it directly from the kids' brains - to make his wife a young woman
(Cathleen O'Malley) again. But her youth tends to be only temporal since
fits of rage always return her to her natural age. But mother is so
desperate to become a young woman again, father eventually tries to suck
the nectar from Sis, who kills him in a panic attack. He doesn't remain
dead long because mother almost immediately has him revived again to
continue to work for her.
Eventually, Wendy/Chance and Sis start a riot
against mother and father and have them thrown off the island, much to the
dismay of Guy, whose relationship to his mother bordered incest. Then Guy
himself is thrown off the island because Wendy/Chance and Sis have found a
foster family for him ...
Wendy/Chance and Sis though run the orphanage
just as cruel as father and mother did, and they themselves are soon
booted off the island as well ...
30 years later: At the request of his
mother, Guy (Erik Steffen Maahs), now a housepainter, returns to the
island for the first time, to paint the lighthouse. There, he is visited
by phantoms of Wendy and Chance (whom he still considers two seperate
persons) as well as his sister, plus he is reunited with his parents (now
played by Clayton and Susan Corzatte). He seeks to find maternal bliss in
the arms of his mother, but this is cut short when on her death-bed, the
spirit of Wendy/Chance appears to her and she dies gravely disappointed of
her son, while Guy's dad is burned to a cinder by the two oarsmen who took
them to the island, both former orphans who have lived here ... leaving
Guy all alone in the world once more ...
Guy Maddin has done it
He has made yet another hommage to silent cinema, and has
produced another masterpiece that despite its almost antiquated
mise-en-scene seems to be as fresh as can be. This is due to a rather
clever directorial effort by Maddin, who doesn't just try to emulate the
style of silent cinema and regard it as a sort of bible but enrichens it
with weird directorial ideas of his own and surreal elements aplenty. Add to
this a story that heavily draws from juvenile detective stories from the
beginning of the 20th century but opens the floodgates to all sexuality
supressed in the source material, many a pulp cliché and the director's
own tongue-in-cheek approach to pretty much everything and you've got,
well, a masterpiece.
By the way, originally, this film was
shown in theatres in its silent version with a live orchestra, a sound
effects man, a falsetto singer and a narrator - Isabella Rossellini at its
premiere but among others Crispin Clover at other performances.