Monday, June 25, 2012


Clean Shaven is like a feature length experimental film with a plot: a paranoid schizophrenic ("Peter Winter") has just been released from a mental institution and is searching for his daughter (she's currently living with a foster parent). I call the film experimental because it’s very subjective right down to the final scene, the editing is very playful & jumpy, you don’t know if certain scenes are real or fantasy, there's a lot of disorienting elements like distorted audio & sound effects mixed over random footage of street signs, dilapidated buildings and baby pictures. This is one of those films where it isn’t just the music or score that plays a major part in the atmosphere of the film but the whole AUDIO overall. When asked by Steven Soderbergh on the commentary track what films director Lodge Kerrigan was watching during the development of Clean Shaven he mentioned Polanski and documentaries on paranoid schizophrenics. That makes perfects sense as Clean Shaven is part psychological thriller (Polanski) and part drama/character study on the realism of someone suffering from mental illness. Besides the basic plot of a paranoid schizophrenic trying to track down his daughter, there's also a subplot involving a detective ("Jack McNally") on the trail of an unnamed serial killer who he thinks might be Peter as the killings have all taken place upon his release from the mental institution. And to add on even more layers of subjectivity, Detective McNally may or may not be suffering from some form of mental illness himself. Clean Shaven came out in 1994 so it’s obvious it isn’t the first film to try and show a realistic portrayal of schizophrenia & mental illness but it’s one of the few films to show it in such an experimental, disorienting, extremely raw & gritty way. Since its release it’s been very influential even if Lodge Kerrigan's name isn’t mentioned as much as other contemporary American independent directors (however the Criterion collection found it important enough to put out a few years ago). For example; no matter how much Werner Herzog and John Cassavetes have influenced Harmony Korine, do you honestly think a film like Julien Donkey-Boy or even Trash Humpers would exist without Clean Shaven? Kerrigan's focus on the dirt, filth, ugly things and the crevices most people don’t like to look at is all over Harmony Korine's work. And what about Cronenberg's Spider? Spider has the same disorienting atmosphere, subjectivity and experimentation as Clean Shaven. Even Ralph Fiennes' performance in Spider as a tortured schizophrenic is very similar to Peter Green's lead performance in Clean Shaven right down to specific mannerisms (the hunched over, paranoid scowl with slow unsure movements that Greene has in Clean Shaven clearly influenced Fiennes). Much like how Kubrick screened Eraserhead for the cast of The Shining in order to convey the kind of vibe he wanted or how Bertrand Bonello had his actors in The Pornographer watch the films of Bresson, I imagine many filmmakers use Clean Shaven as a reference point when delving in to the world of mental illness. Clean Shaven was so influential that it came full circle and inspired Lodge Kerrigan himself to make a very similar film in the form a Keane (another realistic yet subjective story about a schizophrenic man trying to find his daughter who may or may not even exist).

The character of Peter Winter is pretty interesting because the only back story we get about him is through the photographs his mother shows detective McNally. Peter's mother shows photos from when he was a baby up until recent. The pictures act as a timeline and you see Peter go from a happy child to a depressed adult...

 I really tried to examine the subjective reality of someone who suffered from schizophrenia, to try to put the audience in that position to experience how I imagined the symptoms to be: auditory hallucinations, heightened paranoia, dissociative feelings, anxiety - Lodge Kerrigan

Clean Shaven isn’t a horror movie but it’s just as frightening as one. Unrest, tension, paranoia, fear and just the overall expectation of something bad happening outta nowhere is a big part of Lodge Kerrigan's world: Claire Dolan is stalked and eventually followed by two aggressive men who wanna have sex with her. Even though she stands her ground against them in their confrontational scene, there's no guarantee that those men won’t come back. In the same film Vincent D'onofrio's presence is quite intimidating (a lot of that has to do with his size) and you're never sure if he's stable or not. Keane is given the task of looking after someone's daughter but because he's unstable (and sometimes violent) you aren’t sure if he's going to do anything to the little girl he has to look after. Clean Shaven is filled with many uneasy and tense moments that linger in your head long after the movie is over. One of Clean Shaven's most famous scenes shows Peter getting out of his car to presumably attack a little girl. We see the girl, we see Peter step out of his car, next we see images that have nothing to do with the scene with audio of a girl screaming mixed with a dog barking. Then the scene cuts back to Peter getting back in to his car, the camera pans around and yet we don’t see the little girl anymore. Was there even a little girl to begin with? Is Peter seeing things? Who knows? I personally think that scene was a combination of reality and what’s going on inside Peter's head. But what’s most important about that scene is that it’s saying Peter is obviously dangerous and getting worse. This scene also heightens our anticipation and we worry more now because it’s never fully stated why he's tracking down his daughter. What will he do when he finally finds her? Does he plan to harm her? Another GREAT scene in Clean Shaven is the holdup scene where detective McNally happens to be in a bar off duty as its getting robbed and even though he has his gun and could possibly do something to stop it he gets scared, looks down and does nothing. And of course Clean Shaven's most notorious moment is the scene where Peter cuts off his fingernail because he thinks there's some kind of tracking device in his finger. Although this scene is incredibly difficult to watch, it’s important because Kerrigan took a stereotypical "crazy moment" (talking to oneself, wearing a tinfoil hat, etc) and showed us the reality. Plenty of people poke fun at or turn their nose up at people that are mentally ill and one of the common jokes always seems to be that they think someone is out to get them or there's some kinda tracking device that was put inside them by the government. In the nail scene Kerrigan shows the reality of that thinking and kinda makes us feel bad about poking fun at that kinda stuff. It’s been said by many, even the director himself, that whether or not Peter is the killer in the subplot of the story is open for interpretation but I think the final scene answers that question for me.

I set it up that Peter, who suffers from schizophrenia, could be the killer, leading the audience down that path, but I withhold proof. There's no conclusive evidence that he is and if people feel that he's guilty, I hope that the picture holds them responsible for drawing that conclusion - Lodge Kerrigan


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