In spite of borrowing heavily from Psycho, this turns out to be one of De Palma’s most original movies.

For some reason, it’s never occurred to me before now just how important issues of perception and point-of-view are to De Palma.  It’s not just the voyeuristic camera and the re-tellings of stories from different points of view (although his movies have plenty of both).  In both Raising Cain and Snake Eyes, there are scenes where there are scenes dreamt or recounted by characters, which turn out to be inaccurate, colored by perception or wholly false.  And the rational filmgoer says “But that’s a cheat, that’s not how it happened.”  Well, how do we “know what happened?”  We just saw it on film; but whose point of view was being presented on film?  That is, De Palma doesn’t seem interested in how it happened, he’s interested in what a character has perceived.

There’s a scene in Snake Eyes where Gary Sinise tells Nicolas Cage What Really Happened, and we see it played out on film.  And because of the use of subjective camera, we get the feeling that we’re seeing What Really Happened from Gary’s point of view.  Later, this explanation turns out to be a total fabrication.  Then how could we see his story on film?  Well, what we’re seeing is Nicolas Cage’s perception of what he thinks Gary’s story represents.  That may seem like hair-splitting, but it marks a cinematic conceptual leap that is rather extraordinary.

Similarly, in Raising Cain there’s the rather amazing sequence where Lolita Davidovich wakes up, goes to her bureau, finds that she’s given the wrong clock to her lover, goes to her lover’s hotel to switch the clocks, then wakes up to find that she’s actually in her lover’s bed already, then later wakes up to find that she’s actually still in her own bed.  But later we find out that only part of the dream-within-a-dream is a dream, part of it happened in real life.  So what De Palma showed us was a dream that at least in part recounted a real event.  When people chide De Palma for his use of hackneyed conventions, it’s useful to remember that he also often plays with our perceptions in deep and subtle ways.

Anyway, there’s this rather incredible scene in Act III of Sisters where Jennifer Salt is told the Big Secret That Explains the Whole Movie.  And instead of having the doctor sit calmly and explain it to us (like he does at the end of Psycho), he has the doctor drug Jennifer, tie her down to the bed, hypnotise her and put her through a traumatic fake operation.  Why?  Well I’d hate to spoil things, but let’s say that he wishes to leave her in a state of confusion. 

But as a wild tale of love, loss and medical mishap is told, she undergoes a series of bizarre hallucinations, some of which seem to be almost-literal representations of truth and others which make no sense whatsoever and approach Lynchian levels of weirdness and discomfort.

And it turns out that all of this information is quite useless to Jennifer as a protagonist.

Speaking of which, another neat trick is how the doctor is introduced as The Creepy Guy who’s stalking Margot Kidder, and by the end of the movie we realize that he’s really the Only Sane Man who could have stopped a lot of death and ruined lives, had not certain horrible things happened.
hit counter html code


2 Responses to “Sisters”
  1. Durning and the Couch

    And if not another great credit crawl, at least a great final image to end the film on . . .

    Are you planning on getting to Blow Out? I still think that’s the man’s best film by a huge margin.

  2. craigjclark says:

    Of all his films, Sisters is the one I wish De Palma had broken his embargo on commentaries for, because it is — as you suggest — that rich an experience. Can’t really argue with Criterion’s treatment, though. It’s a damn sight better than the bare-bones disc Fox did for Phantom of the Paradise.

    Oh, and while you’re on a De Palma kick, here’s something to look out for: in September, Something Weird is putting out Murder a la Mod — his first feature from 1968 (pre-Greetings) and his first in a Hitchcockian vein. And it stars our man William Finley, who even wrote the title song. Don’t know about you, but I’m picking that one up the moment it comes out.