Mandy - Nicolas Cage

Jeremiah Sand

Olwen Fouéré plays Mother Marlene, an elderly woman dedicated to Jeremiah in mind, body and soul, owing to his promise of salvation. Jeremiah, however, is simply abusive, a dynamic that takes on an even more sinister tone as he fancies himself as messiah. When Mandy is brought to his doorstep, Jeremiah pumps her full of a concoction that makes her see the world in the same fractured way he does. The film begins to fold in on itself, with characters’ words and movements slowed down and superimposed to varying degrees, as if each person present in the scene were stepping outside their own body.

It’s through this process of refraction that Jeremiah sees himself as a deity, existing as if in several places or realities at once, but Mandy quite literally sees through him. Part of his religious construction relies on positioning himself as the Alpha, and being torn down by a woman’s scorn and ridicule is on par with having his Godhood questioned. As much as Mandy falls squarely within the archaic damsel-in-distress revenge paradigm, wherein women exist primarily to motivate men, the violence inflicted on Mandy is framed as a direct outcome of her pushing back against this very male mythicism. Linus Roache has a terrifying aura about him, until the moment that he doesn’t. Mandy’s mere refusal to fall in line strips away his façade, weakening him to the point that his version of affection — the abusive, controlling, selfish kind — comes charging to the forefront. His cruelty is born from weakness.

Where Jeremiah’s henchmen are physical hurdles to varying degrees, Jeremiah himself is only the “final boss” in that that he represents Red crossing over into unambiguous darkness beyond redemption. As satisfying as Red’s brutality may be, each step takes him closer and closer toward the very lovelessness that Jeremiah represents. After a point, Mandy ceases to be a living person and transmutes into concept — at times a 2D vision robbed of depth; at times a haunting memory, slipping away — as the chainsaw-wielding Red becomes as thoughtless and as cruel in his actions as those who drove him to become his own antithesis.

It’s a story culminating in flames that ought to feel righteous, (re)birthing Red from the ashes of churches and crucifixes twisted out of selfish impulse. Yet it can’t help but unsettle, as if Red, having been robbed of himself, is at one with the meaningless of symbols contorted beyond recognition.

Rattling the Cage

“There’s one lengthy close-up right around the middle,” writes Bilge Ebiri in The Village Voice, “when we see the light literally go out from Cage’s eyes.” His review from Sundance, titled “Mandy” Is One of the Strangest, Saddest Films You’ll See, had me intrigued from the get-go; overt sadness is considered incompatible with the traditionally masculine, but it can be a propulsive catalyst when approached correctly (see also: John Wick). Co-written by Cosmatos and Work Nights scribe Aaron Stewart-Ahn, Mandy takes the plot of a standard action movie and filters it through what, on the surface, feels like acid trip, but upon further scrutiny is revealed to be the relentless, torturous reflection upon the self.

This is, for all intents and purpose, the new “most” Nicolas Cage performance. If you want to see the Cagester sitting on the toilet and crying while alternatingly chugging vodka and pouring it on his wounds, this movie is for you, but the scene in question represents an apotheosis for Cage as a performer. In its first half hour, Mandy offers Cage a sense of stability and comfort that few of his films care to. Red is the domestic Cage, a character whose story would have played out like a quirky, isolated Rom Com were he not robbed of his sense of identity (he lives for Mandy, and Mandy alone) and subsequently forced to weld weapons from scratch. Red and Mandy’s domesticity has a warmth that transforms rapidly into a blood-red palette when things go awry; Red’s psyche follows suit, taking Cage from a place of comfort — the actor’s cheeks seem chubbier than usual, in way that makes him look not only well-fed, but jolly — to a place of mortal anguish.

The aforementioned bathroom scene isn’t just Red reflecting or processing, though. It’s him revving up, using grief as emotional fuel for bloodshed that cannot ever truly quell him, let alone replace what he’s lost, and it’s downright tragic. Where Cage’s outbursts usually build towards specific goals, allowing him to eventually come down, Mandy keeps frustrating Red, keeps angering him until there’s nowhere for his ferocity to go, except for a final kill that is distinctly unpleasant to watch.

Red, fittingly, spends a good portion of Mandy with his face drenched in blood, inseparable from the film’s visual texture but for his wide-eyed stare. He stands motionless as a tiger moves around him at one point, ceasing to react like a complete human being, as if having transcended the idea of personhood to become the face of the performative rage with which we humourously conflate him. He isn’t so much “Caging out” as he is Caging inward, doing as much damage to his soul as to the bodies around him.

The most disturbing part of it all, however, is that Mandy is alluring regardless. Every frame of its picture and every note of its score bleeds anger or sorrow, but even when it simmers with these ostensibly negative, destructive emotions, it does so melodiously. This is what anger feels like at times, regardless of the impulse or trauma that drives it. It’s a release-valve that can feel like music when nothing else makes sense. It can be focused, like a false sense of catharsis that seems like the be-all and end-all in the moment, as we attach meaning to our rage and project it in the hopes of rebuilding some part of ourselves that’s slowly breaking from within. Anger is ugly, but there’s beauty in being able to express it through cinema, and Mandy is pure cinema through and through.

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About the Author

Siddhant is an independent filmmaker & film critic working out of Mumbai & New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @SidizenKane.