By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Writers/Directors Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley may well have been listening to The Beatles song, “Strawberry Fields Forever” when they came up with the story for Strawberry Mansion. There’s an 80s nostalgic quality in this film’s design. Part of it is because it was filmed that way, and the other with the set design. Another layer includes 50s style science fiction elements set against a 80s fantasy in a mostly character driven drama about what makes Arabella Isadora (Penny Fuller) tick.
She’s a widow, and all the dreams she’s catalogued are being audited. In the future, there’s technology which allows people to record their dreams. As for why anyone would want to, the reasons aren’t entirely clear. It’s definitely offered to those who want to look back at their lives. However, I don’t think she’s strapping the Doc Brown (Back to the Future) invention on just so she can collect all those subconscious thoughts. Neither has this film once said she’s using it herself to make sense of her past.
I’m guessing this device, which looks like modified VHS technology, is on loan. The investors who want to commercialize its use have hired people like James Preble (Kentucker Audley) to check in with people who own this equipment. But he’s working for the government and is unaware of the corporate agenda. All he has to do is sort through the plethora of tapes that have recorded Isadora’s young life. This taxman apparently has to access the value of that material. The truth is that he never accepted the sadness that’s plagued his life so that’s why he’s looking at others. James has no goals. Meeting Isadora was an awakening experience. She inspired him and gave him hope, unlike her son which left her as soon as he could. This subplot is important to note, as it helps give the story a footing and contrast to this protagonist’s own life.
While examining the context of her dreams, he’s taken into the romance. It’s innocent at best, and she had two husbands. One left her and the second is a pragmatist. When she passes and her son enters the picture, he finds himself in a cheap version of Nightmare on Elm Street–to which I feel is the highlight.
Strawberry Mansion is a unique film. As a viewer and analyst fascinated with how the mind makes sense of reality through dream, this movie tries to provide some food for thought. These projections we experience every night as we sleep don’t always have to be about fears and anxieties. Sometimes it’s just about desire. At other times–if we are to believe that when we sleep, we’re experiencing a life from a parallel world–it’s just an adventure. This film succeeds by taking us on a trip through different types of dreams and shows that life can never be dull as long as we’re willing to open up to the world like Isadora did.
4 Stars out of 5
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