“I was always shocked when I went to the doctor's office and they did my X-ray and didn't find that I had eight more ribs than I should have or that my blood was green.” – Nicolas Cage
The greatest Nicolas Cage performances usually stem from the creative team understanding that there is no duality in his body of work. His roles are all sourced from the same mindset and demented passion – a rage of control and outbursts, punctuated by primal physicality and soft, lumpy heartache. People may categorize Leaving Las Vegas and Drive Angry in wildly different stratospheres, but it’s all the same for Cage, and it’s obvious, in films such as Bad Lieutenant, Bringing Out the Dead, Moonstruck, and recently, Mom and Dad, which directors trust him for him, and not simply as a stunt performer of the grotesque and outrageous.
But to add Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy to the list isn’t enough. It deserves to go straight to the top. Never has a Cage vehicle so thoughtfully understood his presence as an uncanny conduit of yelps and screams, unsettling expressions and twisted fits of tears. His role in Mandy, essentially playing a shredded (of all love, serenity, and comfort) soul yearning for vengeance, uniquely expresses the in-between space of grieving, the outlandish hilarity and terror of the process, and the fuel revenge provides. Such a story requires someone like Cage to constantly tip-toe the line between camp and desolation, and he swings for the fences with a fucking chainsaw, evolving from a non-presence of pure warmth and tranquility to a lumbering, beastly spirit with a destructive agenda. A particular moment, which Cosmatos hauntingly conveys in an extended one-take, shifts from being devastating to riotous to awkward and uncomfortable in a seamless, liquid state.
It’s beautiful, and one of many scenes from Mandy that will soon be GIFed into eternity for the craziness of its dreamy tableaux, but what prevents it from slumming with Cage’s worst work is a director that understands and identifies with him. Cosmatos’ lucid, slow-than-slow-motion trek through cragged mountains, demonic forests, animated asides, and ominous voids is like being emotionally torn apart via Bullet Time. You see it bombarding forward from a foggy misshapen landmark illuminated by the moonlight, or by the flashes of neon, with Shadow Mountain glory blessing the unfortunate as the keepers’ loom over a couple in bed. Mandy taunts its anguish through color shifts, deliberate emphasis on visibility (or lack thereof), sinister, throbbing metal/synth music cues from the formidable (and deeply missed) Jóhann Jóhannsson, and Andrea Riseborough’s ‘fuck you!’ mystery. (She practically steals the movie, by the way. Walks right off with a skeleton stare and a lingering chill.) It is pure, uncut, dreamland filmmaking; something you wander into and emerge changed, frazzled, and spooked by.
And this is to say nothing of its structure, which is half “lying in bed and smoking a cig at 2AM during a rainstorm while a coyote wails outside” and half “ever-present misery battle with Death beyond the grave while transporting oneself into a higher plane of transitory trauma.” Cosmatos runs the celluloid almost to the point of no return, like a gap ongoing forever and ever with no catharsis, and then splatters the final reel with an invigorating bucket of blood and release. What occurs isn’t simply beyond traditional spoilers – it’s a sustained grand guignol that spits gasoline in the face of anyone dismissing the film as yet another toothless, formless ‘80s homage. Mandy tosses aside any preconception that the text only exists for a banger poster and specialty vinyl release, primarily through its authenticity. It’s not interested in aggressive film grain as Aesthetic™ but as an indefinable mist in data-communication with the ether. It’s not interested in Cage as a wacky, crazy hipster brand, but as a surge of love poisoned and contorted into sweat and violence. It’s not interested in psychedelia as a throwback antidote to modern capitalistic constraints, but as an omniscient space of drama and mythology. Mandy takes all of the ‘bad signs’ of movies like it and dances to the tune of its own devilish spirit, engulfing the audience and providing a passageway through the evil. Cage will guide you.
The film is now available on Amazon Video and VOD.