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'Tideland' Invades Audiences' Comfort Zones

Brooke Burger

* Note - may contain spoilers.

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   The film begins with Terry Gilliam providing a disclaimer and fair warning to his audience: "Many of you are not going to like this film."

   Gilliam, known for his work with Monty Python and directing such films as "The Brothers Grimm," (2005), released "Tidelands" in March 2006. Gilliam based his film, pegged a horror/fantasy, on the book by Mitch Cullin.

   "The book makes a good film," Gilliam said in "The Making of Tideland" special feature. "You have no idea where the story's going to go - it's funny, touching and disturbing."

   Gilliam's film presents moviegoers with a twisted and dark world reminiscent of Alice's Wonderland. Gilliam, in fact, created a new-age Alice with his lead character Jeliza-Rose, portrayed by Jodelle Ferland. In addition to recreating Alice, Gilliam recreates her Wonderland, consisting of two different worlds. 

   While Gilliam succeed in creating a tension between the worlds of fantasy and reality, he also did it visually.  As he describes in the special feature:

   "The world of nature, outside in the great, open fields of wheat and grain where freedom exists for the child.  (Where) birds sing and bees buzz and its amazing.  Then there's the house.  Inside the house, it's claustrophobic and it's dark and it's rotting and it's decaying.  It's the juxtaposition and contrast that makes it surprising."

   The movie opens with 9-year-old Jeliza-Rose preparing a fix for her father Noah, a washed-up rock star with a drug problem. After Jeliza shoots up her father so he can "go on a little vacation," she rubs her mother's feet. Her mother, portrayed by Jennifer Tilly, is never addressed by name in the movie.  However, in the credit roll her name appears as Queen Gunhilda.

   Gilliam begins by introducing his audience to Jeliza, defining her with the dark world he paints around her. Jeliza, a child, takes care of her parents even if that means sending her father on vacation with drugs or rubbing her mother's feet while she feasts on chocolate bars in bed.  Jeliza-Rose is a caregiver.

   After this brief introduction to the main character and those who shape her life, Gilliam sends the audience into a spiral down the rabbit hole, so to speak.  Starting with her mother dying of an overdose on methadone, the movie is a series of haunting and unimaginable situations.

   Yet, Jeliza-Rose seems to prevail after every daunting experience. Granted, she receives some moral support from her four doll heads: Mystique, Sateen Lips, Glitter Gal and Baby Blonde. Jeliza wears the doll heads on her fingers.  Each represents a different aspect of their young owner.

   Mystique, a blonde with a British accent, seems to represent the strong and courageous person Jeliza wishes to be, and oddly, seems to resemble her mother. Staeen Lips, a meek brunette, with her nervous and frightened disposition is who Jeliza is deep inside. She is afraid, though she would never admit it.  The scarred, twisted and deformed Glitter Gal is who she may identify with the most.

   "On the outside she's happy and smiling," Gilliam said, "but on the inside, she's quiet a tragic little girl."

   The final doll head, Baby Blonde is the stereotypical dumb blonde, which Gilliam says may be a nice way to live your life, too. Looking at Jeliza's life, one could see why ignorance is bliss.

   After her mother's death, Noah, played by Jeff Bridges, takes Jeliza on a long trip to a desolate farm house, long since abandoned and decaying. She sends her father on one last vacation that he'll never wake up from, and so begins Jeliza's true journey. She has fallen into the rabbit hole.

   During her journey, she meets a frightening and ominous woman named Dell, played by Janet Mcteer, who lives in the same vast and open wheat field.  Though the movie never alludes to where this story takes place, the thick accents suggest somewhere in the American plains.  However, the film actually took place on the fields of Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada.

   Dell's younger brother Dickens, an epileptic with a learning disability, eventually becomes Jeliza's best and only friend. Her times with Dickens seem to represent the only happiness and light within the movie. The two spend their time playing submarine in the wheat fields and trying to kill the "monster shark," a train that passes through the land.

   All the while, Jeliza's dead, and now decaying, father sits in the living room of the old farm house.  That is, until, Dell finds him.  After which, she promptly begins to prepare him for taxidermy.  During these scenes, Gilliam eludes to a relationship between Noah and Dell; however, he fails to fully answer that question, only providing the audience with minute clues into their past.

   Much like "Alice in Wonderland," Jeliza's world suddenly takes a turn from bad to worse, as Dell shows herself as being not just eccentric, but certifiably insane and Dickens falls into a fit of seizures.  Luckily for Jeliza, the last attempt to kill the "monster shark" by placing shotgun bullets on the track works, and a volatile explosion saves her from the twisted world in the house sitting alone in a vast and beautiful wheat field.

Courtesy of

   Gilliam notes in during his introduction that this film will require a different perspective.  He tells his audience, "I suggest you try to forget everything you've learned as an adult, the things that limit your view of the world - your fears, your prejudices, your preconceptions ... Remember, children are strong; they are resilient."

   That is exactly what Gilliam sets out to prove with Jeliza-Rose. The movie opens with Jeliza giving her father his next drug fix, and before the movie's half-way in, both of her parents die of a drug overdose.  The following sequences of events with Dell and Dickens add further to the torment and strife Jeliza must face.

   However, Jeliza is able to use her imagination to survive the strange and bizarre world around her.  Gilliam, who likened his movie to Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" and the Grimm Fairy Tales, wanted to show just that.

   "Imagination and madness have always been things I've played with, and why not inflict that on a child," he said.  "It's imagery and imagery is what we're surrounded with all the time."

   The imagery that seems most controversial in the film does not come from the drug abusers or the taxiderm dead people, but from Dickens, the 20-something retard with epilepsy.  Gilliam discusses this issue during the "Interview with Gilliam" special feature.

   "Adults are frightened to admit what children are," he begins.  "Adults have become so inundated with what the media says about kids."

   According to Gilliam, the media represents children as victims.  They continually portray children as fragile and helpless by flooding television sets with news of child abuse, abduction and rape.  While Gilliam acknowledges the fact that these horrible things do happen, he asserts that this is a marginal percentage.

   "Yes, there's always bad things in the world, but there's been a kind of hysteria for the last several years," he said.  "(There is) a sentimental version of children, they're innocent victims.  (But), they're strong; they're resilient.

   "(Pedophilia's) only in the minds of adults now who've been so brainwashed into thinking the world is full of these people," he said of the responses to Jeliza's and Dickens' relationship.  "There's not an ounce of pedophilia in it.  We all worked carefully to make sure to maintain that innocence because we were creating a very delicate world."

   While Gilliam is forthcoming about his film, it does push the audience far beyond their comfort zone, forcing them to rethink their view of the world. This film defies everything that cinema has become through the years.  This is not a film made of happy endings and fairy-tale lands where everyone and everything is nice and pleasant. 

   Gilliam's world is dark and twisted.  And yet, there is an air of playful repose and a calming sense of peace.  Though the world may be twisted and tormented, through imagination and friends, the world can be a happy place.  Gilliam does not shy away from the dark truths that exist in the world, but he does not deny the things that make happy endings either.

   In the end, Jeliza-Rose escapes her Wonderland.  It is bitter sweet in that it all ends in a train wreck, but Gilliam leaves the audience with hope - hope that this brave little girl with a powerful imagination will continue to overcome the odds because of strength and the love of people around her.

   Other features of "Tideland" include:

  • Commentary with Gilliam and Tony Grisoni

  • "Getting Gilliam," a film by Vincenzo Natali with commentary by Gilliam and Natali

  • "The Making of Tideland"

  • Deleted scenes with commentary by Gilliam

  • Interview with Gilliam

  • Interview with producer Jeremy Thomas

  • 121 minutes


  Before you decide to rent it, you may remember the words of Gilliam's disclaimer:

   "Many of you are not going to like this film.  Many of you, luckily, are going to love it.  And then, there are many of you who are not going to know what to think when the film finishes, but hopefully, you'll be thinking."


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ŠThe Voice 2007
09/15/2007 05:56:16 PM —