The funniest part of Tideland is video preface on the DVD where director Terry Gilliam confesses that most people are going to hate his movie. But what bothers me is his "big famous auteur" attitude where only really smart people are going to understand his deep, dramatic vision. Oh, I understand Gilliam's vision, and it's a dark, dreary, greasy, bleak nihilistic little world where nobody cares, nobody loves, and nobody is going to help you.
I have never truly understood Gilliam's appeal as a director, and aside from the Python movies I doubt I would rate any of his films better than average. I don't even really like the films that are widely regarded as his master works (Brazil, Time Bandits), and it's not because I don't understand Terry's vision, it's because I understand it all too well, and I still hate it. Everything Terry sees is gothic and grotesque, looming and absurd, horrible and revolting. It's hard to find joy in anything he's ever made, and in fact most of my memories of his movies are those of sadness, unsatisfaction, and mild sickness.
Terry was right: I didn't like Tideland. And I understand it. I understand Terry Gilliam now, because he says that this movie allowed him to finally discover his inner child. Well Terry's inner child is an insane, borderline retarded little girl, and his outer adult is a sick, depraved maniac who needs to stop making movies until that inner child learns to laugh again. Tideland is among the worst movies I've ever seen, not because of bad tradecraft or technical ineptitude, but because the story itself is one of the most disgusting and loathsome stories ever written, and projected through the mind's eye of Gilliam it becomes a tale so dark, so joyless and corrupt that it becomes pornographic in its attempt to offend every sensibility we have as well-adjusted people. Even at my best I would have hated this movie, and it's so depressing and stark that I should never have even gone near it in my current state of mind.
To best understand the story, imagine an Elsewords version of The Big Lebowski where The Dude got hooked on hardcore amphetamines, got married, and had a crack baby named Jeliza-Rose. Jeliza is utterly insane and completely oblivious, deprived of the common sense God gave a dead battery, and she watches in gleeful innocence as her mother wheezes her last death rattle on a massive Methadone addiction, then flees with her dad to the country and prepares the hot shot of heroin he uses to overdose himself to death with. Alone, she fails to recognize that her own father is a corpse and spends days playing in her own imaginary realm while he rots and gets eaten to pieces by bugs before her very eyes. She sits on his rotting lap and squeals in delight as she compresses his stomach, releasing the foul gasses from his dessicated innards.
She later meets two other insane people, including a madwoman who gives blowjobs to the village idiot to pay for her groceries, and her lobotomized (seriously) epileptic brother. The madwoman helpfully hollows out the rotting corpse and makes it into a horrid taxidermied leathery mannequin made rigid with chicken wire, then props it up at the dinner table to fill in the missing members of her family. Oh, it gets better. Not only does she sleep with the corpse, it's implied that several of the characters have sexual relations with the dead. Jeliza soon becomes fixated on the older lobotomized man and becomes "kissin' buddies" with him, which is every bit as creepy as it sounds and more, because she very much wants to see his penis and continues to pester him throughout the movie to get a peek at his "little secret." Worse, there are other disgusting incidents of pedophilia at the hands of the elderly, and with mentally-challenged children, no less. It's so disgusting that it makes me wonder how Terry even managed to even pretend to do these scenes with a little girl.
But wait, there's more! There's child abuse, sadism, strangulations, wrestling with mummified grandmas, and incest with family members, living and dead. Cap it all off with a finale featuring an exploding train full of innocent people that's considered to be quite a happy and glorious moment by the deranged protagonists, and you've got me just about ready to put a gun in my mouth. Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves. Truly ashamed by their willingness to produce a story this foul and wretched. The writer and director desperately need psychological help. You might admire the courage it took to make this film, or applaud Gilliam for bringing such a provocative vision to life. Myself, I wonder how anyone can watch a movie like Tideland and consider it to be an evening's entertainment. I've seen movies that were offensive, filthy, or violent, but at their core their goal was to entertain or deliver a message. There's nothing like that here, just sorrow, regret, and hollow, clenching sickness.