If I were to imagine a love letter to Terry Gilliam’s eclectic style of directing, this film would certainly be a contender with its steampunk, dystopian setting and its bleak world-view. But at its heart, much like many of Gilliam’s films, this unforgettable French flick contains a story about familial bonds as well as those that can arise from unlikely circumstances; themes that will resonate with almost anyone. It is an unbreakable bond we form with our loved ones, and this movie at its core is asking what we would be willing to do if a family member was suddenly in trouble… or in this case, kidnapped by a strange cult of blind men who see through mechanical eyes…
To label this film as surreal is a massive understatement. The entire world is endlessly creative, and the oddball humour just adds to the quirky nature. It is also an extremely dark world, not to mention bleak. There aren’t many light colours to be found here either, with plenty of dominating greens and browns make up the colour palette, adding even more to this strange and foreboding place.
This film is quite the ride, beginning with our main character, known simply as One (played by Ron Perlman, above), whose little brother is the one who is abducted near the beginning of the film by blind men with night-vision-equipped, mechanical eyes. He is quickly rushed into a bizarre looking vehicle that looks neither retro nor futuristic, but it oddly (appropriately?) has a giant, single eyeball on the back of it. One chases the van to no avail, and then must make a run for it from the men who kidnapped his brother.
After losing his brother to the strange looking truck, One finds a place to hide, though the place he finds is filled with some of the young orphans that populate the city. Hunted down by the men who took his brother, he plays dead as the children stand around, pretending they have just robbed him. They proceed to hand over cash to these goons. The men leave and in time, so do the children, who unknowingly are followed by One. We see that they have been forced into a life of perpetual petty crime. Their boss? The unforgettable character who goes by the name of The Octopus, two conjoined twins played by two extremely talented and similar looking actresses (actors?), as they constantly finish each others’ sentences, talk at the same time in an unsettling hissing way, and in general have a very creepy vibe about them – no wonder these poor children obey their every word and do as they are told! It is also rather fascinating watching one of them smoke a cigarette, only to have the other twin blow out the smoke. This film really does have bucket-loads of creativity, pushing it far beyond a love letter to Terry Gilliam, somehow surpassing the craziness of films like Brazil and Time Bandits.
The kidnapping of children is common in this world, as a crackpot mad scientist named Krank has a laboratory set up in the middle of the ocean, where all these children are shipped to. To say that most of the scenes occurring in this mad museum are strange would be a massive understatement; Krank’s underlings are all clones of each other. Oh, and we can’t forget about the brain sitting in a fish tank, complete with the ability to think, see, hear and talk! Then we have his wife who is half his size, not to mention the various contraptions that litter his work area. Why does it look this way? Why all the madness? Well, he can’t dream you see, not once has he ever had a dream .However Krank has found an easy fix: simply steal a bunch of orphaned children and steal their dreams! An easy solution for genius such as himself. What could possibly go wrong?
The mad scientist Krank is one of the more memorable characters I will take from a film. The concept of a scientist not being able to dream, essentially not being able to function normally, and turning that pain into a plethora of wonderfully insane experiments is one that is extremely original and one I won’t forget soon. He is an extremely well written character, as are all his creations that surround him. They are simultaneously horrifying and saddening, painting a true portrait of what Krank is really like.
The rest of the story is a lengthy and far-from-boring journey for both One and one of the orphans, Miette, who decides to help One as they go on a journey not just to rescue One’s little brother, but to rescue all the children that are stuck in Krank’s bizarre complex. It is a twisted and suspenseful ride through this surreal universe, as the two are separated numerous times on the quest to find a way to Krank’s seemingly inaccessible lab. To say any more would ruin the fun, as this is such a fun and bizarre ride. Highly recommended!
Just know it will be one of the strangest films you’ll ever see.
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