Mandy ★★★★½

This is two movies, and everyone seems to only talk about the second one. You know, the one where a blood-spattered Nicolas Cage stares maniacally into the camera. The one with the face- and shapeless Ceno-Bikers. The one where Cage fights an outrageously phallic chainsaw battle, can't convince his own instrument to work, but manages to impale his opponent on his own, blood spraying out from under the convulsing body. The one where, in the end, Cage burns down religion itself.

That's a great, fun, provocative movie. But it's still the lesser of the two contained within Mandy.

The other one is what most plot summaries inadequately describe with phrases like "their idyllic life", before immediately talking about how it gets destroyed and the ensuing rampage. But what we see and learn about Red and Many, about Mandy and Red (those names alone!), is so beautiful.

These are two people who hide from the world in a house made of glass. They don't seem to have any children or any other greater purpose that drives their lives, yet they are perfectly content just with their shared solitude, slowly healing from their respective unspoken trauma. Mandy wears her trauma on the face in the form of a scar, but also in her endlessly deep sad eyes, in the Heavy Metal t-shirts she wears like armor, the pulp novels she puts up between herself and the occasional social interaction like a shield. And Red has clearly given up on himself, only lives for Mandy and their shared pain and recovery. The world is watching, while they live unseen.

"Mandy" doesn't need many words - almost none, really - to provide those two characters with a richer backstory than many epic tales, just that it is one the viewers have to tell themselves. When cult leader Jeremiah wants to force Mandy to pleasure him, all she has left for this request is laughter. It is at this moment that Mandy realizes she has healed enough from prior abuse to not be victimized anymore. She won't close the door between her shame and the world again, like poor Sister Lucy dutifully does when she visits Jeremiah. She will not lose her agency again, even if it means that her journey is at an end.

Red, on the other hand, breaks. He anchored his own redemption to her fate, so her death inevitably leads to him visiting a former devilish acquaintance, who will provide him with the means to return to what was clearly his past life. While Mandy (and almost all of the others) die during the course of this movie, it is Red who never stood a chance.

I watched this as part of my Hooptober list:

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