Community Relations Manager
KUNV 91.5 FM
University of Nevada Las Vegas
There are so many words to describe Tideland: traumatic, creepy, disgusting,
strange…terrible. No, no, it was just terrible. It started out all right,
and even had some promise. In fact, for the first hour I was writing a very
positive review in my head. But then, the film lost all sense of human
morality, any shred of a storyline, and basically just horrified me, and not
in a good way.
Ten-year-old Jeliza-Rose, played by Jodelle Ferland, is an extremely
imaginative and precocious little girl, whose drug addict parents (Jennifer
Tilly and Jeff Bridges) leave her to her own devices. Jeliza’s mother dies
of an overdose within the first ten minutes, which is probably for the
better because you can tell that Jeliza is terrified of her. At least with
her father, he pretends to be interested when she reads books to him, and he
truly loves her despite all his flaws.
After Jeliza’s mother dies, her father takes her out to his childhood home
in the prairie. There, they find a dusty old vandalized farm house infested
with squirrels and Jeliza’s fantasies. When her father “goes on vacation”
and gets stoned for another few hours, Jeliza roams the prairie with her
four doll heads. She talks to them, and she imagines that they talk back.
They go on adventures together, and she weaves some really intricate and
beautiful, but scary, stories.
While she’s out on her adventures, Jeliza-Rose meets Dell, a half-blind
spinster who lives on the other side of the field and has a horrible allergy
to bees. Even though Dell is mean, Jeliza is so starved for company that she
calls Dell her best friend, and goes snooping at her house the next day. She
finds a man named Dickens there. Dickens is Dell’s mentally challenged and
epileptic brother who is convinced that he is the captain of a submarine,
and his mission is to kill a monster shark (really a train) that threatens
to bring the end of the world.
Jeliza is instantly drawn to Dickens’ wild imagination, and she sees a
little of herself in him. They instantly begin a strange and delicate
friendship that revolves around fantasy. Now this is where I’m a little torn
over this film. The imagination and the stylization of this film is
fantastic. But I feel like the writer and director crossed some sort of line
with me. I’m not exactly sure when that happened, but it could have been
when Jeliza starts calling Dickens a “silly kisser” and then, her husband.
She even puts a ridiculous amount of makeup on, fashions a little veil, and
wears a white lace robe to go proclaim her love for him. The whole situation
was tense, and more than a little horrifying.
The other part that flat out crossed the line for me, and turned me off to
the whole film, was when Dell steals Jeliza’s father (who, as it turns out,
has been dead for almost a week) and stuffs him like a horrible experiment
in taxidermy, and does this in front of poor little Jeliza. The strange
thing is, Jeliza seems okay with all of this, she’s just made it into
another fantasy for her, and deludes herself into thinking he’s still alive.
She even curls up on top of his decaying body and sleeps with him, talks to
him, dresses him up. It’s just horrible. Thank God Dakota Fanning wasn’t
playing the role of Jeliza-Rose. If she had, the film world would be in a
complete uproar over this film too.
The resolution and ending of this film was very well done. I thought that
the director, Terry Gilliam, did a great job of making you think that awful
things were going to happen, but then makes you relax for a moment. Then he
builds up that horror again, and brings it back down again. The film had
real ebbs and flows, and an almost distinct rhythm of tension and release.
Also, the little fantasy world that Dell, Dickens and Jeliza-Rose created
made me completely forget about the outside world and its influence, and I
think that was the strongest point of the film. If Gilliam had relied on his
imagination, but retained a little human morality, and if the film hadn’t
crossed those lines of decency, and if it had struck with the more fanciful,
eerie feeling that it had in the beginning, it could have been great.