BLOODY DISGUSTING'S DANIEL KURLAND LOOKS AT 2 VERSIONS OF DE PALMA'S FILM
I have never considered the original theatrical version of Brian De Palma's Raising Cain a "linear" film by any means. To me, the film that was released in theaters was a neverending nightmare taking place over one night inside the mind of a sleeping Jenny. The film's opening shot shows a TV monitor of a father, who we later learn is Carter, putting his daughter, Amy, to sleep as the credits play and we hear Pino Donaggio's theme music. After the "written and directed" credit comes up, the image fades to sleep, and then the movie's eyes open again from the dark, into a God's eye view of a park on a sunny day. Twenty-seven-or-so minutes later, we see Jenny waking up from a nightmare in her bed at night. Once she drifts out of her frenzied nightmare state, she looks straight ahead at the same monitor showing the same image from the start of the film. As anyone who has seen Raising Cain knows, Jenny's nightmare has not actually come to an end. To me, in fact, the nightmare continues, in a soap opera-style that hearkens to portions of De Palma's Murder a la Mod, all the way through to the film's final shot of Margo standing behind Jenny as Donaggio's music echoes the music he'd composed for the final moments of Carrie and Dressed To Kill. The difference here is a bit of an in-joke: while those two earlier films ended with the dreamer waking up in shock in bed, there is never a final shot of Jenny waking up in Raising Cain. We've already seen her waking up in shock more than once, and so De Palma leaves it to us to imagine it, if we will.
I am very happy that Peet Gelderblom was able to piece together a version of Raising Cain that followed the supposedly even more non-linear structure of De Palma's original screenplay. However, I have always loved the film for which De Palma brought in Paul Hirsch to help edit into gonzo shape, and that was originally released in theaters in 1992. Bloody Disgusting's Daniel Kurland seems to prefer Gelderblom's recut:
Brian De Palma is an absolute master visual storyteller and his movies are always cinematically stunning even when they don’t fully work as films. For every Carrie and Blow Out there’s a Snake Eyes and The Black Dahlia, but Snake Eyes still kicks off with a twelve-and-a-half minute unbroken tracking shot and Black Dahlia turns the camera into an airborne omniscient spectator during its dynamic gangland shootout and simultaneous corpse discovery. 1992’s Raising Cain comes at an important period of transition for De Palma. Sandwiched between The Bonfire of the Vanities and Carlito’s Way–ostensibly the two extremes of De Palma’s career–it’s easy for Raising Cain to get lost in the shuffle despite its completely gonzo nature and scenery-chomping performance from John Lithgow.
Raising Cain is the story of Dr. Carter Nix (John Lithgow), a revered child psychologist who experiences a mental break and struggles to stay in control when other identities fight for authority. A hostage in his own body, Carter heads down a dark path that endangers his entire family while he relives his painful past. Raising Cain, for decades, was criticized for its confusing construction and was even viewed by some to be De Palma’s attempt at satire of his tried-and-true genre of choice. In reality, Raising Cain is an earnest–perhaps too earnest–movie that’s been misunderstood for a different reason altogether. Now, on its 31st anniversary, Raising Cain has become even more fascinating on a meta-narrative level. The film has turned into this bifurcated, jumbled experience that tries to messily reconcile many different ideas and tones at once through its two exceptionally distinct edits, like Carter’s own fractured psyche.
Seasoned De Palma fans will recognize how Raising Cain plays all of the director’s trademark hits, but those who aren’t already into De Palma’s style and aesthetic will have little to connect with in the heightened movie. It’s definitely a polarizing De Palma title, even for the hardcore fans, but Peet Gelderblom’s “director’s cut” edit does deliver a better version of this movie that creatively plays with non-linear storytelling. This might have been confusing in the early ‘90s, but audiences would learn to love this structural technique only a few years later with Pulp Fiction and Memento. It’s curious to consider how this avant-garde approach, if left undisturbed, might have come across as revolutionary rather than confusing, which was the fear. The theatrical cut attempts to bury, hide, and normalize these unique flairs–not unlike what’s done to Carter to smooth out his wrinkles so that he’s the most conventional, boring, mainstream version of himself. It’s another powerful, albeit unintentional meta element to Raising Cain that still rings true and makes the story behind the film and its two separate versions almost as interesting as the movie itself.
The divergent responses to the two cuts of Raising Cain emphasizes the “power of the edit.” The theatrical cut of Raising Cain, while chaotic, still led to a sect of audiences who believed that it’s meant to operate on dream logic and that it’s not supposed to make sense. The belief is that it’s ludicrous that De Palma has done so many better versions of this type of movie and that the audience knows that De Palma knows better. This dream logic rationale to Raising Cain’s theatrical cut may work, but it wasn’t De Palma’s original intention. Nevertheless, two complementary and contrasting movies can be born out of the same story, all depending on how it’s told and its dominant perspective. It would have been better if De Palma’s original vision could have made its way into theaters, but if any of his movies needs to suffer an identity crisis through its edit then it’s at least appropriate that it’s Raising Cain.
Raising Cain is dense with De Palma’s typical themes of dishonest women, overbearing fathers, and unhealthy familial relations between the three. It’s hard not to think of De Palma’s own frayed relationship with his doctor dad when Carter gets abused and mocked by his father, even if De Palma hasn’t acknowledged the connection between the two himself.
Raising Cain is hardly the first of De Palma’s movies to relitigate the same layered questions of identity that Alfred Hitchcock first unpacked in Psycho. Both Sisters and Dressed to Kill are De Palma’s previous attempts at dissociative identity disorder in one way or another, all of which are quite tone-deaf and ignorant on the material even if there seem to be good intentions. It’s important to understand that Raising Cain is very outdated when it comes to understanding Carter’s diagnosis. Raising Cain shouldn’t be viewed as an accurate, or even sensitive, portrayal of this condition. It’s a heightened boogeyman that operates in plain sight. Accordingly, there are shades of Dressed to Kill, Sisters, and Psycho in Raising Cain. The exceptional final shot also riffs on one of the scariest moments from Dario Argento’s Tenebre. However, more than anything, Raising Cain comes across as the synthesis between Body Double’s lurid thrills and Femme Fatale’s labyrinthine dream logic. Raising Cain is the messy stepping-stone between both of these more fully-formed movies that all riff on comparable themes.
Read the rest at Bloody Disgusting.