Oh, Oh Susanah

IMAGES, directed by Robert Altman. Starring Susanah York. Released by Hemdale

IMAGES is a wow, a really good movie. Its main theme (in spite of what some bad advertising says) is madness. This subject is normally looked at in the cinema from the viewpoint of the sane, observing the actions of the insane, and rarely therefore, does it ever seem very real. We never get told what it is like to be mad.

Images is the second movie I’ve seen giving a view of the world from inside the mind of someone slipping into complete insanity. The other film was Polanski’s cruder attempt in ‘Repulsion’. There are a few superficial similarities, sexual fantasy and sinister telephone calls, violence real or imagined and a wealth of domestic detail.

Images is more subtle (less of a horror flic) infinitely more credible but still visually and emotionally shocking.

The central figure is Kathryn (beautifully underplayed by Susanah York) a dreamy looking creature, whose voice we hear in the background endlessly composing a fantasy story. Most of the action takes place when she and her husband, who provides the comic relief, come down to their country house for a stay. Too little of the countryside is shown, but enough to suggest the primitive aspect and isolation of the area, it’s not Cotswold’s coach trip country.

Kathryn begins to see things and people that aren’t there, ie her husband reaching to embrace her turns into someone else, a randy neighbour turns into her husband, and a camera into an old lover.

The most frightening part of the fantasy is rather like the Doppleganger legend, walking down a road on a hazy day you see someone in the distance approaching, as he or she comes nearer you realise it’s yourself. Then, the legend has it, you die.

Kathryn does not die, but certainly comes face to face with herself on a few frightening occasions in the movie. The film is often confusing, the difference between reality and fantasy becomes less marked. We are forced to change our minds again and again about whether or not some things (the stabbing of her neighbour) did or didn’t happen.

In spite of some flaws, it’s a beautifully made, very personal film and needs to be seen more than once, I feel. Otherwise one might share to a greater or lesser degree the feeling of a lady in front of me who said, as we got up to leave, “What happened?”

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