It got off on the wrong foot with me from the very opening frames. There was a long, long, slow, slow panning shot over a therapy pool full of old people and their attendants, and the music just instantly got on my nerves. It featured oboe, contra-bassoon, and flute. It was harsh, dissonant, random sounds like so much modern music. It was composed by Gerald Busby. Interesting side stuff: He seems to be remarkable for being HIV positive in 1985, and then getting better. His companion died. He went from living in the fashionable Chelsea Hotel to abject poverty. I feel for him, but that doesn’t excuse his music.
The movie came from a series of dreams Robert Altman had. It was heavily influenced by Persona, as were so many others. Persona is one of the fairly small number of “important” films that I have never seen. Perhaps it’s because I’m really not much of an Ingmar Bergman fan.
So we have Millie (Shelley Duvall), Pinkie (whose real name is Mildred, played by Sissy Spacek), and Willie (Janice Rule). Pinkie gets a job with Millie at the rehab center, and moves in with her. Millie never stops talking. I mean, never. She seems oblivious to the fact that everyone ignores her. Pinkie looks up to her, aspires to be her. Meanwhile, Willie is pregnant and spends all her time painting some seriously disturbed murals on walls and the bottoms of swimming pools. (These were painted by someone who calls himself Bodhi Wind. It was so hot in Palm Springs he had to work at night under lights, because the paint would boil during the day!)
It all goes along in a fairly mundane fashion, just this side of boredom, until Pinkie, rejected by Millie, attempts suicide. She ends up in a coma, and when she comes to she has changed. She is no longer sweet and innocent. Now she likes to shoot guns, and doesn’t care who she hurts. Then Willie goes into labor, Millie tries to deliver it, and it is stillborn …
Okay, that’s enough. I really didn’t care enough about this to go much deeper. It is clearly chockful of symbolism, and I’m sorry to say that symbolism usually bores me. There are all sorts of academic theories as to what it all means, and I won’t attempt to explain any of them. If you’re interested, look it up. I’m not sorry I saw it, but I can’t say I enjoyed myself.