The Other Side of the Underneath

The Other Side of the Underneath ★★★★★

***One of the best 150 films I have ever seen.***

[Workprint Version]

Arden, aged 45 by the time of the film's release, beyond being an actress, director and screenwriter, was also a feminist belonging to the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s, and this is recognized as her most furious denunciation. The main hypothesis pervading this psychologically and technically groundbreaking unprecedented masterwork is that Psychiatry is a subjective science which methodology depends on the applicant. She had knowledge of at least half a dozen psychiatrists in Great Britain who had different methodologies. Needless to say, results in patients differed. She was no psychiatrist herself; she was, I reiterate, a feminist that cared for human integrity and the role of women in a society dominated by men.

Two years prior to the release of this she had written the play A New Communion for Freaks, Prophets and Witches. It was adapted to film. The result? The Other Side of the Underneath, one of the biggest breakthroughs for British cinema, and I am talking about the decade which witnessed the wonders of Stanley Kubrick, Nicolas Roeg, Ken Russell and Ken Loach. The play was written after forming the radical feminist theater group "Holocaust".

This is the closest experience you will ever live about being in a hell on earth through a screen. A perpetualized nightmare concocted with cacophonies, juxtapositions of innocence and perversion, altercations of realities and fantasies, all wrapped in an ocean of unbearable tension, this absolutely challenging, audiovisually overloaded screamfest puts you right in the mindframe of a schizophrenic woman under treatment of a seemingly empathetic therapist along with other women suffering from equally serious mental breakdowns. The film will shatter your soul, eat it alive and dispose of it. It will attack the senses mercilessly without letting go just for the sake of addressing the seriousness, not only of a misunderstood and mistreated psychiatric condition, but also of the importance of women in any society.

How to describe the undescribable? Only God can, and one of his sons is merely trying without: a) give the impression that I understand this condition, even if I have theoretical knowledge of it from close cases, simply because I have never experienced this, and b) spoiling it. What I can barely muster with mortal words is that this has very few technical predecessors (I could only think of Jakubisko and I am still falling REALLY short) and the audiovisual innovations at display never wore out. It is a constantly self-renovating experience of the most brutal caliber imaginable, endlessly more punishing than Aronofsky's fan-loved, destructive drug trip, and that, against all odds, makes a testament that is ultimately empathetic. How? Arden masterfully fuses her ideologies with her poetess gifts applied to celluloid, so the final outcome can be described as that of a defenseless girl being stuck in the bottom of a scream-infested well that never gives up hope, because the screams involve the hope that there is an exit: the light can still be seen. That is the closest analogy I can come up with.

In a way, I am both happy and frustrated that a film left me with no words, and made me construct a worthless review that is not on the stature of the film (no review is, but this one is actually reductive): the ride is stupefying beyond belief, hypnotic beyond any description, like witnessing Bergman's opening for Bergman's Persona (1966), but much more sombre and elongated. And yet, the final chapter features an idyllic setting, an expected Eden where people of all genders, ages and mental conditions roam freely, but that seems to be constantly interrupted by the woman's current mental condition, by evils and perversions, never leaving it at peace. It is a struggle that reaches spiritual proportions, and I would exclude the spiritual hypothesis if it not were because: a) I'm a blessed Christian, and b) the Christ's crucifixion analogy towards the ending, which became my personal favorite image of the film.


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