a woman under the influence (john cassavetes, 1974)

the past few day have been a bit of a blur; the best way to sum it up being something like ‘???’ + ‘who are you? why are you here? is there a god?’ blah blah blah. i’ve also had an excruciating headache and have simultaneously been trying to watch this film; each time getting 5-10 mins in and giving up bc i can’t give it my full attention. (if you’ve seen it, you know it demands your full attention!) one of my film tutors always used to tell me that it was a sin that i’d never seen a cassavetes film but after watching this film, it kind of occurred to me that back then just wasn’t the right time to do so? it seems odd to say but just the way there’s a time and a place for you to do certain things, meet certain ppl, etc etc, there’s a time and a place to watch a film. and i guess, despite the headache and quarter life crisis #feels, this was my time… (side note: i watched this shortly after taking two codeine + nytol so not exactly in the best state lol but weirdly, i think it amplified the experience)

where do i even fucking begin. in a nutshell, i felt like i was being punched and it was painful but i kept asking for more??? it’s like that thing, when you see something horrific and awful but you can’t seem to look away. i don’t remember the last time i saw a film like this but fuck, every second was so intense. it’s obvious that cassavetes had a way with a camera and words (he lingers uncomfortably and his dialogue is honest and raw) but peter falk and gena rowlands’ performances were something else. everything in this film is so meticulous while also being completely unhinged, it’s the most simple yet complicated story (mabel and nick, a married couple with a few kids, deal with her failing mental health) and i fell deeply in love with it. idk whether i say this bc i know it’s held to such a high standard and i’m writing this immediately after watching and am drowsy and in awe but on a level – wow !!! i know full well that this film will stick with me for the next few days, and it’s one that i’ll revisit just as soon as i feel emotionally ready to do so!

it’s an excruciating character study set to what, at times, feels like deafening opera and tragic classical music (there’s a brief and beautiful shot where mabel dances in her garden, humming the tune of swan lake after passionately professing ‘i’m a great mother’ on the phone to nick; it’s uncomfortable but you kinda think ??? why? why is it uncomfortable?) it’s like everything is played out to the absolute extreme and you start to wonder ‘oh maybe this is just unrealistic’ but it’s not? perhaps that’s the thing that makes it stick, it’s *entirely* realistic. in one scene, mabel says to nick, ‘tell me what you want me to be, i can be anything’ and fuckkk, it makes your heart ache? who hasn’t felt that way, or even said that? like all mabel wants is to be the perfect wife and mother, fuck, perfect human probably but the expectation (from others and most significantly, herself) is just too much. every other minute she’s breaking down and even though she’s just a character in a film, it’s heartbreaking to watch, painfully so.

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i’m somewhat embarassed to admit now that i haven’t seen many of gena rowlands films (except for the notebook lol – which, btw, was directed by john cassavetes’ son, nick??? i’m sorry but imagine making the notebook when your dad made a film like a woman under the influence……… soz but… that’s peak) but after this i’m eager to explore more. every few minutes, i found myself wondering, is mabel going to be okay?? i hope she’ll be okay !! and that’s rare, it’s actually v rare that i become THAT emotionally invested in a character. with rowlands though, every emotion, expression and movement was too intense to ignore; no matter how much i wanted to, i couldn’t look away. her performance was dizzying, whether she was hopping on one foot looking for a shoe, talking about spaghetti or flailing in the arms of her husband. 

i mean, mabel… it’s like i said before, she’s just trying to be the perfect wife and mother and i couldn’t help but wonder, how many women feel like this??? how accurate is this story? maybe that was the saddest part of it all, that despite the excessively dramatic nature of the film, it’s not one where you can escape reality, it IS reality. at the end of the day, mabel and nick, they’re just two humans trying to make things work, live their life, complete with all the stress and difficulties that come with it. and strangely (or maybe not so strangely?) in the end, it all just seems to come down to love? by the end of it, you don’t actually know what happens to mabel, the kids, their marriage but what you do know is that nick is madly in love with her and maybe… idk, maybe love is enough and maybe that means things will be okay for them? anyway, the nytol has kicked in, time for bed. 

 

 

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