Today I watched Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room (2015)
The Story within a Story, or nested story as it is often referred too, is a trope almost as old as stories themselves. After the first storyteller told the first story, someone else told the story of them telling a story. The Forbidden Room plays this trope to the nines, weaving a rather large number of rather absurd stories together into stories within stories within stories. These tales are as diverse as sailors on a submarine eating flapjacks because they have air bubbles in them and it will extend their air supply, a song about a man obsessed with butts getting lobotomies to cope with is obsession, and more than one tale dealing with memory and dream. And it’s all presented in an unrelenting barrage of dissociative psychedelia.
I think the style of this movie is intended to exhaust the audience so that the events of the film blend together in a half conscious brain. Dreams, sleep, and memory are common themes and images in the works of Maddin and his collaboration with Johnson has given those motifs an aggressive new lease on life. All this has an extremely strange effect on the film, while the stories themselves are often too bizarre and indistinct to generate the normal sense of engagement like one would find in a normal movie, yet it is going for an experience that requires engagement, it is going for that moment when you come out of the nested story and remember ‘oh, this was his story all along!’ Yet it still works and I still felt that emotion of revelation when you are reminded who is telling the story and how this story is inside another story because of how the film wore me down to a dream-like state where I no longer could consume the intangible details.
As an experience, this is a film like no other. As with many films that experiment with dreams and surrealism, it has to be consumed on an experiential level instead of trying to consume the narratives in any normal or logical manner. The Forbidden Room is a trip without a destination, which is an odd thing for a film to be, since they usually have somewhat logical climaxes and endings, but not so here. Sure there is a climax, but an ending? Not so much. And that climax is complete nonsense, presenting a montage of possible story climaxes, often completely divorced of context. Through it all I found myself enjoying this experience immensely. It enforces my belief that Guy Maddin is the ultimate artisan of dream logic, making movies that force the audience out of their ego and into the unreal world of our subconscious. 5/5