|Susannah York as Cathryn|
Altman incorporated In Search of Unicorns, a children’s book Susannah York was writing at the time, into the screenplay of Images. Published in 1973,
|Rene Auberjonois as Hugh|
Mirrors, lenses, and prisms are a motif Altman employs throughout Images to convey Cathryn's fractured reality
Cathryn is a woman haunted. Haunted by past infidelities (lovers, both dead and alive, have a nagging way of reappearing, attempting to resume their dalliances); guilt (she vacillates between being both desirous and fearful of having a child); suspicion (she assigns her own deceitful behavior to her husband); and specifically, the unwelcome, ever-encroaching memories of a lonely childhood. Memories, for reasons left unexplained, she struggles to suppress. We’re never explicitly told what is ailing Cathryn, nor is it clear what has recently occurred to accelerate the frequency and intensity of her schizophrenic episodes. What is apparent is that her illness—one the film's subjective POV makes us privy to alone—takes the form of a mercurially shifting reality which, at times, appears to be conspiring to betray her.
Cathryn's former lover, Rene (Marcel Bozzuffi of The French Connection), reappears after having died in a plane crash three years prior
|Fans of Robert Altman will recognize actor Hugh Millais as the bounty hunter in McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Here he plays Cathryn's libidinous neighbor and former lover, Marcel|
|Cathryn Harrison as Susannah (Marcel's daughter)|
Images plays fast and loose with the audience's reality as well. Each of the characters in the film shares the real-life name of one of the actors (Susannah, Rene, Cathryn, Hugh, and Marcel)
And therein lies the beauty of this film for me. As it grows ever more apparent that Cathryn is losing her grip on sanity, Images becomes a thriller that actively engages and challenges you to piece together the puzzle of the character's life and the film's story. Reality and hallucination merge imperceptibly without benefit of the usual clichéd cinema vocabulary indicators of dissolves, soft focus, echoes, or slow-motion; so a great deal of the veracity of what occurs is continually called into question.
Altman understands that no two people see or experience life exactly the same way, so he doesn't waste time trying to explain his personal point of view in his movies. Instead, he tells his story, then leaves it to each of us to make of it what we will. Even his brilliant DVD commentaries fail to "explain" things for the moviegoer craving answers. Altman is a director who would rather you actively watch one of his films and fully misunderstand it, than to passively sit and be spoon-fed every detail and theme.
|Hidden Behind Her Back|
The threat of violence, unexpected and sudden, runs throughout Images
Even if you're left unpersuaded by the film as a genre thriller, you can't help but admire Altman's ability to take you inside the consciousness of another person, allowing for the vicarious experiencing of the real world through an entirely alien perspective. Although not one of Robert Altman's most discussed films, Images is a favorite of mine. One that fits neatly into his catalog of character studies of women on the verge.
|Who's watching whom?|