Anxiety II

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The Brainwashers

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 21, 2015

Sometimes, these days, figure animators appear to be capable of almost anything. Here we have multiple technical perfections in the service of an infernal, charnel house vision. It owes considerable to Jan Svankmajer and the Quays, obviously, but there’s a structural, motivic dazzle here that’s all its own.

The Brainwashers is out and out surrealism, obviously, classically (is that oxymoronic?) and successfully. After that sickening inciting incident—technicians drilling into the back of this guy’s head—we get the sudden, sickening creation of these malicious investigators. As we follow them inside and through what we can only take to represent this guy’s brain, we can’t help but notice certain echoes.

This is a tremendous exploration of subjectivity, one that seems to be in the midst of an assault by these horrible drillers. They could be any number of things, which is appropriate to the idiom, since instability and protean mutability are a couple of its main tenets. Here is insanity, or mounting mental illness. We are certainly watching a nightmare. Or it could be the dreamwork in a psychoanalytic course, aimed to find the root and then eliminate the whole of a crippling neurosis. Or perhas it’s simply the anxiety that also mounts and cripples, especially in a world out of joint. Maybe it’s the falling apart itself.

Or, stepping back from signification and over to symbolism, or academic analysis, this is a fine upsetting of the notion of cause and effect. They are both operating, but in leaping, back-doubling, counter-intuitive ways. We’re tempted and taunted by the possibility that we could actually figure it all out (cf. Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys? Could there be an escape, or an alternative?) Back to the motifs, there are certainly structures and repetitions and plenty of coherent order in this film. But all these coherently ordered things are so elusive, interpretively! Mind you, after all of the violation and violence—that is some climax!—the film actually seems to end affirmatively. Maybe the real story at the core of challenging work like this is epistemological, or the story of us gathering and making sense of things. Then again, there’s the ironic coda …

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