Sunday, December 04, 2005

John Huston

This movie is required viewing for its weirdness factor alone. Allow me to throw some images at you…
A young Robert Forster riding a black stallion bare-backed and bare-assed through the woods. Elizabeth Taylor smacking an immobile Marlon Brando repeatedly across the face with a riding crop. Robert Forster staring down a sleeping Elizabeth Taylor in the dark from midnight until morning. Marlon Brando breaking down like a blubbering school girl and then whipping a horse near-to-death. More naked Robert Forster, this time lounging in the woods on a rock. A woman cutting off her nipples with gardening shears.
Okay, the last one didn’t actually happen within the movie; one of the characters just talked about it. It might as well have happened on screen. Because at this army base, anything goes when it comes to neuroses, especially when they’re sexual or equestrian in nature. Seriously, it’s a photo-finish between Reflections and Equus for which has the stronger horse-fetish.
Marlon Brando plays Major Penderton, a very repressed and orderly army lifer, whose loose wife Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor) is sleeping with the Lt. Colonel next door (Brian Keith) and doing a piss poor job of covering it up. Whether it be long horse rides that turn into long romps in the woods or a good old fashioned game of footsie under the dinner table, Penderton endures her infidelities because he’s got other things on his mind. Namely, that naked private (Forster) who keeps popping up all over the place on horseback, in the backyard, at boxing matches, in Taylor’s bedroom…you know, wherever naked dudes tend to hang out.
Then there’s the Lt. Colonel’s manic depressive wife (the one with the jones for gardening shears) and her very odd Asian houseboy. Where she got the depression is obvious, considering she pretty much has to watch her husband slobber all over Leonora nightly at the neighborly card games and get-togethers. Where she got this strange houseboy, Anacleto, is anyone’s guess.
Bonus points to Huston for tackling some very strange material and wrenching some pretty interesting sequences out of it -- the scene where Brando gets dragged by a horse for about a mile before whipping it into a bloody pulp is more frightening than any horror remake you’re going to find in the multiplex today. And the actors are all one hundred percent committed to what, it’s safe to say, is some challenging material (can you ride a horse bare-backed and bare-assed?).
Admittedly, it’s a little hard to engage emotionally with any of the characters for too long since they’re all so deeply involved in their own neuroses. You kind of rubberneck Reflections in a Golden Eye the way you would a roadside accident. A roadside accident involving horses.

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