Sometimes we trip into movies that catch you completely off guard. Braid was definitely one of those movies. It was as if someone took all the moving parts of a movie, put them into a canon, and walked to the front of a theater full of movie goers, and then chucked them into the faces of the viewers. And then…magically, with a single snap of their fingers they suddenly make all the commensurate, splattered parts make sense. It was dazzling in its mindjob complexity and immersiveness. From the first minute to the end I was always finding myself all kinds of wrong-footed. Brilliant. Normally what I do here at THiNC. is introduce you to a new movie. Send you away to watch it. Which you can do right here:
And then we talk about it. I break down the what’s and the how’s, in order to understand the WHAT THE HELL’s?!?
So hurry up, go watch the movie so we can talk about it. For those of you still undecided, here’s a trailer…
Braid Movie Unpacked
Wow. Where to begin? Haven’t been this flat-footed since that time I started that crazy review of Nicolas Cage’s Mandy, or maybe Jake Gyllenhaal’s Enemy. OK, deep breath. So, Peirone’s labyrinthine cinematic mindjob begins with two friends running from the police after a drug bust hits their apartment. Petula (Imogen Waterhouse, from Nocturnal Animals) and Tilda (Sarah Hay of Black Swan) are on the run when they get the idea to pay their old friend, Daphne, a visit at her family’s enormous estate. Oh, and possibly steal from her vault, if they can find it. But, in order to do so, they both know that they are going to have to play Daphne’s truly strange games if they hope to get anywhere close to the vault. And so they do.
And, as they play, we learn that apparently, the game is one they have been playing since they were children. And in that game, Daphne is the mother, Petula is the doctor, and Tilda is the daughter. A game that has three distinct rules:
Rule #1 – everyone must play
Rule #2 – no outsiders allowed
Rule #3 – nobody leaves
What the rules mean, besides the obvious? I had no idea. But the game seems to be just like any other that a group of girls might play. The doctor checks in on the daughter, checks her reflexes…and seeing none, hammers her knee with a meat cleaver. The doctor is invited to dinner, wherein they are fed crazy, elaborately designed concoctions that are obviously horrible to eat. So yeah, normal games girls would play, until Petula and Tilda begin taking PCP, making everything pink and purple, as if the movie was just turned inside out.
Understanding what is real, and what is fake, in this movie is nigh on impossible. At first the game play seemed authentic enough, as if it was a couple of young women harkening back to their younger years. A wistfulness, and yearning for a better time. Save for the fact that these particular women are sadistic and cruel. But we recognize quickly that even their sadism inflicted injuries aren’t sustained for but the briefest of moments. So is this the game? The cruelty? Or is the game the hide and seek of the vault and its contents? And as Petula and Tilda hunt for the vault, we quickly learn that even when they find it, the game doesn’t end there… something else is going on.
The Reality of Past and Future Simultaneously
At one point, we are regaled with a story from the girls childhoods, wherein Daphne was pushed out of their tree-house, causing significant impact to her young frame. She was so badly injured that we are told she’ll never have children of her own. And the circumstances around which Daphne was injured were so sketchy, that a local police officer came to inquire as to how it happened. Now, I ask you this…was Daphne’s injury real? Or was it part of the game? Better yet, was the police officer real, or was he imagined? I literally have no idea as to either of those questions…but I have a theory. Which, we will get to soon enough.
Even better, we learn from the police officer (who might be real or imagined…we are still unclear on this point) that Tilda and Petula are actually missing. Probably even abducted. Wait, what? They are abducted? How can that be…we watched them walk straight into Daphne’s estate on their own two feet. But, realities are shifting so fast with this movie, I’d be less surprised if you told me the three of them were now dinosaurs. So, OK. They are abducted. And Daphne has killed the officer to add insult to injury. And better yet, Daphne’s grandparents died suddenly, together. Which, seems a little weird. Especially for a woman with two abducted hostages in her basement. And soon after, we learn that Daphne poisoned her grandparents, because they wanted to get Daphne a caretaker. They apparently thought her mental. Which is weird. I wouldn’t have come to that conclusion, like at all.
But Petula starts losing her grasp on reality. It seems as though she isn’t alright – it’s as if this whole episode is a dream, as she begins having flashbacks to other realities. She sees herself still on the train at one minute. And in her apartment in the Bronx the next. Petula is beginning to think that she is going out of her mind. She even attempts to dig up the officer’s grave to have something tangible to go on here, but there is no one in the grave anymore. He’s gone. What is going on here?
And finally, the other shoe drops. Tilda talks to Petula and lays a little truth on the poor woman. Apparently, Petula has been running away from their little play sessions again and again. How many times has she run away? Well, every time Petula ran they cut her arm, and it looks like she’s been cut a hundred times maybe? And whenever she runs, she forgets until she comes back again and has this chat all over again.
“Petula, you aren’t fit for the outside world, we have everything we need right here. Out there is chaos, it’s miserable.”
“What if I’m not as extraordinary as I like to think that I am? I fool people into thinking that I’m an actor, and then what? I’m an actor? What’s going to happen when we realize we are not going to make it?”
A Few Thoughts on the Movie Braid
Once it is revealed that Petula has been experiencing this same reality over and over again, incessantly, we sort of realize what is going on here. “Sort of” being the optimal turn of phrase there. But what was actually, literally happening? There are so many ways that we can view this movie, why don’t we just throw a couple of different theories at the wall and see which ones stick?
Braid Play Interpretation
Could it be that Daphne, Petula and Tilda are still little girls, dreaming and imagining their days away? That they are still playing in their tree-house, constantly playing out this story of the Mother, the Doctor, and the Daughter. Maybe they are accompanying their injured friend along in her solitary confinement. This could possibly be the single most naive way of viewing this movie. And, no offense to anyone that would rather stay safely sequestered in this happy interpretation – but you have a problem. And that is that we see an old woman, supposedly Daphne, at the end of the movie, listening as Tilda and Petula arrive, once again… What do you do with that scene?
Braid – Life is But a Dream Interpretation
Let’s just start this theory by checking out this quote from the end of the movie:
“Dream forever – for time in dreams is frozen. Oh yes, sleep, may the night wash us over completely into that new day, into the new world. And may your dreams make your life. Tomorrow. The grave will open wide, when you shatter time’s spell.”
The idea here is that these girls have been living in a dream state. They remain in this timeless bubble, and we can even wonder if anything other than this dream state is real. Anyone that has taken even an introductory Philosophy class knows that much of this particular school of thought is fixated on the idea that all life is a dream. I mean, starting with Plato (Theaetetus), and Aristotle (Metaphysics) – literally the bigs of the bigs in the Philosophical world – they both discussed this idea that all reality is a dream. But the philosopher that really made a name for himself in this space…was mister “I Think Therefore I Am” guy, René Descartes. And the deeper you go into this vein of thought the more you’ll realize that this is just an offshoot of skepticism. Or the school of thought of doubt everything, and hold no prisoners.
The brilliant thing about this theory is that the only way to know if someone is dreaming is to wake up. It is in the waking up that we realize that we were dreaming. But in our dreaming, it is impossible really to know whether one is dreaming or not. Heck, if you rang my doorbell right now, and told me that I was just living in a dream, I’d probably give you a high five and agree with you. Because there literally is no way for me to prove whether or not you are incorrect. (Well, Locke and Hobbes actually took full-on swings at Descartes’ idea of the unrealized dream world, but email me and I can point you in the right direction if you want to do more.)
The Peirone Theory of Braid
But we may be completely off with these other theories – like completely and totally. Maybe we should just hear Peirone’s own theory about what the movie means and what the movie is about…
The movie is a psychological thriller, a horror flick with tons of gore and psychedelics, with twists and turns, and it starts off as a home heist movie. But it’s truly a philosophical essay. It came from a place of existential thinking. It came from a place of wondering what reality really is, how much of it is shaped by our thoughts and what we are truly. What separates us from our dreams, what separates people who didn’t make it and those who do make it into their dream life? And I started thinking about kids playing make believe. Then, somehow, we stop playing make believe to become adults. But what if we’re the dream of a dream? What if we are in the shadows of our own dreams? What if we’re part of a simulation? What if we’re part of a hallucination? Imagination utilizes this double-edged sword that can create so much, but it can also keep you stuck in constant procrastination, paranoia, delusions. And then the inciting incident happens, the drug bust, and they go into this underworld and through all kinds of trials and tribulations and have to face their demons. So, with the house and this world of make believe, the girls know the rules of this world and they know the rules of pain. It’s familiar, it’s safe. Sometimes it sucks because they get punished for whenever they try to escape, but at least they’re safe. They’re OK in this world. It’s the outside that’s terrifying.
There is a lot going on in this quote from Peirone here. A lot. We’ve got hallucinations. Imaginations. Avoidance. Tribulations. Psychedelics. Paranoia. Playtime. Dreams. Etc., etc. But the unifying theme I see here is the cruelty of life, and the tendency, and desire, to hide from that reality. Hallucinations here seem to be more of a defense mechanism. Drugs and playtime, are synonyms here for avoidance and denial I think.
A Few Final Thoughts on the Movie Braid
If you get some time, look up Peirone, and read about her life, and how she came to America, and how she got this film made. Peirone’s life has been, thus far, a mindjob in and of itself. Her coming to America from Italy, and then starting to model and then acting…only to lose her visa, and have everything fall out from under her. If you pressed me to tell you the theory I buy into – I would say none of the above. But rather that Braid is an autobiographical investigation into Peirone’s life and mind. All three girls (Daphne, Tilda and Petula) are all Peirone. And the movie is an unpacking of Peirone’s life and her attempt to cope with the chaos of the difficulties she has faced. Is that bad? No, the movie is all the better for it. She, being physically crammed between a rock and a hard place, investigates some of the most poignant philosophical ideas in all of Western thought. Simulations, dream theory, reality definitions, or lack of definition. It was really intriguing to me.
What about you? Do you have a theory concocted that would help make heads or tails out of it? Does one of my theories above make sense? Or maybe you can write your own in the comments and share it with us. Because, heaven knows, there definitely isn’t a lack of potential answers here. That’s for sure.
Edited by, CY