The Top Ten Project #10: Tideland

Rich On Film's 10 most personally influential films of the decade.
Over the next few weeks I'm going to be counting down my ten favourite films from the last decade. The only way to make a list like this is to be completely subjective. I will look at the films that most influenced my own taste. Films that affected me for one reason or another. Some titles are films that offered me some of the most memorable times I have ever had in theatres. Others are films that showed me different ways of seeing. For those that don't know me there will be some surprises in store. These are ten important films and it was immensely hard to not only pin ten down but to order them in some way. The 90s were my formative years in film viewing. These were the years where I fell in love with film and still to this day most of my personal favourite films are from these years. The following decade was a more analytical one for me but one thing these ten films have in common is that they defied my analytical processes on first viewing. They all had an immense physical affect on me that I still to this day seek out when watching films.
Lets get started shall we...
10: TIDELAND (Dir: Terry Gilliam, 2006)
Terry Gilliam is a filmmaker who is used to getting scathing reviews. His films are so forcefully iconoclastic that strong reactions either way are inevitable but I'm sure he didn't expect the level of hate spewed at him after Tideland finally was released in 2006.
"Maybe a friend should have thrown a net around Gilliam and stopped him from making "Tideland'' -- further evidence of the downslide of a once brilliant filmmaker."
"Rarely has an act of such cinematic cruelty as "Tideland" been perpetrated on filmgoers..."
"If your problem with the current wave of coldblooded horror movies is that they're insufficiently mean-spirited, let me point you toward Terry Gilliam's "Tideland," the misanthropic nadir of the director's crash-and-burn career."
""Tideland" is borderline unwatchable, although, as is true of all Gilliam movies, it certainly is different."
"Increasingly grotesque in its intimations of pedophilia, Tideland ends with a comic train wreck. This finale could hardly be more appropriate in that the movie seems to have been made for rubbernecking. Gilliam has suffered more than his share of butchered projects, but with this exercise in kamikaze auteurism, he appears to have made exactly the mess he wanted."
Tideland is a provocative film for sure. It is also a brilliant piece of cinema. Gilliam was at the peak of his powers in telling this twisted fairy-tale. When Ten year-old Jeliza-Rose's mother overdoses her father takes her to live at his remote Texas farmhouse. her father soon overdoses too and Jeliza completely withdraws into a fantasy world, incapable of dealing with the horrors of her situation. Soon after she meets a semi-retarded farm boy named Dickens and his one-eyed sister Dell and incorporates all these characters into her fantasy.
Gilliam is careful to play the whole film out from young Jeliza's perspective and this is where the discomfort many have felt seems to stem from. As the film becomes increasingly uncomfortable for the viewer Gilliam is at pains to remind the audience that any problem they feel in what they are watching is completely their own construct. As the relationship between Jeliza and Dickens threatens to get physical the film suddenly feels like the work of a director going mad, after all we are only presented with the fantasy relationship of the two. Any accusations of paedophilia are in the audience's mind. Rest assured though, Tideland never crosses the line wholly into distaste but there are several scenes which are so unsettlingly close you wonder how far Gilliam will actually go. He ends up creating one of the most unique films I have ever seen and disorients his audience so much that he gets away with playing a horrific train crash at the film's climax as a twisted happy ending.
I will not argue against many of the criticisms levelled against the film. It is overwhelming. It is tiring. Gilliam has assuredly designed it that way and his use of the medium here in Tideland is stupefyingly original and powerful. This is simultaneously sweet and sour film. The implications of what we as an audience see in this story is totally left up to us. Gilliam makes no authorial judgements other than to tell the story of a fantasy world that a little girl retreats into when things get too much. This lack of commentary on the action is what disgusts most people I think but for me it's what makes this a masterful piece of cinema. There is no other film maker in history who could've made this film. It's pure unadulterated Gilliam and easily one of my most definitive cinematic experiences of the first decade of this century. It's a dangerous and wholly uncompromised film.
Below is an introduction Gilliam made that ended up accompanying the film on its DVD release. After the blistering bile thrown at Tideland during its original cinema release Gilliam felt the film needed a certain disclaimer. Consider it advice on how to take the film or maybe consider it a sick joke but do remember to laugh. It is a comedy after all...
Here are some well respected U.S critics completely getting it wrong. These strong responses to the film fascinate me and are a perfect example of how sharply polarizing the work actually is.