What do you get when you cross the bizarre concepts of a David Lynch film with the emotional trauma contained in a Darren Aronofsky film and the physically violent warping of the human body in many of David Cronenberg’s films? You get Wound.
Susan (Kate O’Rourke) is an emotional wreck. As a child she was raped by her father over and over until, at the age of 14, she gave birth to a stillborn baby. Since that time, she has been working a dead-end job as a cold-call sales agent while also being humiliated as a submissive to her violently domineering husband. She is routinely punished by her husband as these S&M sessions are filmed and broadcast live over the Internet. She is even dominated by her less-than-sympathetic psychiatrist who would love nothing more than to lock her away in an asylum and be rid of her. On top of all this, she is haunted by visions of her dead mother and now-grown daughter. Convinced her daughter is alive and was spirited away from her immediately after birth, she has never stopped looking for her. How does one cope with a life that has long been spiraling out of control, where so much has gone so wrong there is absolutely no hope of rectifying the situation? Such is Susan’s life.
Wound is a perfect name for this film. There are plenty of physical wounds and bloody violence in the film. From the start, the viewer is treated to aberrant and grotesque bodily violence, including throat slitting and eye-gouging. But there is also a great deal of sexual violence as well, including incest and multiple rapes, S&M role-playing that includes bondage and humiliation, and one of the bloodiest castrations (by scissor) that I’ve ever seen. The violence in the film was a huge source of controversy in New Zealand, the home country of the production. There was apparently a terrible public outcry about the lack of morality within the film in an attempt to have Wound banned from distribution.
But one should look beneath the surface of the film to understand that there are other wounds being examined as well: those of an emotional and psychic variety. Susan is a truly tortured soul, damaged not so much physically as she is emotionally. Most of the physical damage is done to others by Susan, at least in her imagination. Susan has a disconnect with reality; consequently, the viewer never quite knows what is real and what is in her head. For instance, the film opens as Susan’s estranged father comes for a visit. Susan kills him and summarily dumps him in a shallow grave in the forest. But later on, Susan discovers his body has been removed…by her daughter. Except her daughter was stillborn according to the records the psychiatrist has. Did Susan imagine the entire episode, or are the records wrong and Susan–who is convinced her child lived–right? Or perhaps she is being haunted by her daughter’s ghost? We never really find out, which has also been a source of controversy for many viewers. Wound can be more than a little confusing. Just when you think you have it figured out, something else odd happens that causes you to question your previous conclusions. For instance, in one twisted scene, Susan’s daughter sneaks into Susan’s room and begins gently sucking her nipple, as a child would nurse at its mother’s breast. The scene is a bit perverted, as the daughter is clearly in her late teens or early twenties–too old to be suckling at her mother’s breast–but oddly tender, too. This young girl has been haunted by her abandonment and now that she’s found her mother, she wants to become close to her, to receive the love she felt like she missed the first time around. While Susan doesn’t wake up during this episode (indicating that maybe it is a dream), the next morning as she disrobes to take a shower, she is bruised around her nipple (indicating that maybe it wasn’t a dream). This kind of open-ended storyline can be infuriating for many viewers and indeed, most reviews of the film are negative as the reviewers continually complain that the film is too confusing. For my part, I enjoyed the lack of clarity the film generated. It seemed to perfectly fit the atmosphere of the film as well as the mindset of the main character. I thought director David Blyth did an excellent job at replicating what a lost and broken mind might be like, along the way causing the viewer to be as disconcerted as the character. Kate O’Rourke, as Susan, is a tour-de-force of emotion and portrays a woman in the depths of mental illness and despair superbly. She is out of control, which explains why she has married such a twisted and domineering man–the only time she is in control is when he is manipulating her for his sexual purposes. It reminds her of her father, and while she hates her father for what he did to her, she enjoys the domination because it is the only time her life seems to be organized.
There is a great deal of striking imagery within the film, including a strange, obese man who keeps popping up wearing a pig mask. It is consistently terrifying and downright creepy. There is also a graphic and clinical birthing scene that is hallucinatory, amazing, and just plain gross. This latter scene struck me as something Cronenberg might devise for some of his body-mutilation films. The entire atmosphere of the film reminded me of Lynch’s Eraserhead, only more sordid and violent.
Adding another twisted layer to the film is the theme of voyeurism. No matter where Susan goes, she is being filmed. Her husband films her humiliation and domination for the Internet while her psychiatrist films their sessions for his records. Even when Susan goes out, she is filmed by security cameras placed in various stores and other areas. Everywhere she goes is the cold, electronic and all-knowing eye of the camera observing her. There is even a sense of coldness about her job as she moves mechanically through her call-list, speaking into a microphone and hearing the cold and callous electronic voices telling her "no" over and over again. Susan is becoming paranoid and the viewer soon will become paranoid as well as the film implies we are somehow to blame for Susan’s descent into madness because we watched her fall apart but did not act to help her.
Wound is a fairly brilliant piece of filmmaking. It portrays the heart of madness in all its sordid glory. Both graphically violent and inherently confusing, Wound isn’t a film for everyone. It must be approached with an open mind and a stomach of steel; if a viewer can do this, then he or she will be rewarded with a disturbing study of the hopelessness of insanity.
Wound was released in March by Breaking Glass Pictures. For more information about the film, go to breakingglasspictures.com.