1 Hr., 40 Mins.
Black Moon April 17, 2020
might have compared Black Moon (1975) to a hallucination in another life. But in this one it strikes me as so devoid of sense that analogizing it to a hallucination might accidentally suggest it's in some ways coherent — with a “deeper meaning” to be homed in on once you've pushed past the chaos. It isn't — and there isn't. Consider writer-director Louis Malle's creative process. "Each time something appeared that looked like a plotline, I
would cross it out," Malle has said of Black Moon's scriptwriting. Better to label this a series of tableaux, then, than a movie. And better to refrain from advertising it as good or bad, too: concluding that a film is either suggests there is an idea or multiple ideas brought to the fore that do or don’t tickle your fancy. There are no real ideas in Black Moon.
The profusion of young men and women "characters" antagonizing each other for reasons unclear throughout the film suggests some tacit critique (even then) of feminism and/or an allegory for a child’s transition into adulthood. But I don’t really know anything for sure and I don't picture myself in the future finding answers.
Black Moon is, I think, Malle’s Alice in Wonderland (1865). The feature begins with a teenager with stringy blonde hair and marble-white skin named Lily (Cathryn Harrison, granddaughter of Rex) driving through the countryside. This brings about a tranquil couple of moments; soon they're jarringly interrupted by warfare. Tanks and people in gas masks are bountiful even in this middle of nowhere; there appears to be no motivation behind it except that it’s a kind of gendered melee, where men are exclusively shooting at women and vice versa.
Nothing is ever explained. After almost getting shot down by some soldiers, Lily races her car off the road and through some thicket. Eventually she makes her way to an outwardly decrepit mansion on an estate that seemingly belongs (once Lily goes inside) to a bed-ridden old woman (Therese Giehese) and her two (I think) children. Both of them are named Lily (I think) and they are (I think) incestuously involved.
We see and experience some more funny things. There’s a big rat — perhaps brought here from a New York subway tunnel or transported from the bubonic-plague era — who sits next to the old lady’s bed whom she talks to like an old girlfriend. Whenever Harrison's Lily is roaming around the estate, she can expect to at some point almost be knocked down by an always-roving giant hog guarded by a group of naked children. There’s also a unicorn wandering
around the property Harrison’s Lily sees a few times who’s so elusive that the latter becomes semi-obsessed with it. (Some critics have taken this as a symbol for her sexual awakening or something — OK.) Black Moon mostly comprises Harrison’s Lily hurtling from situations involving this cast of characters. Then it ends.
Because Black Moon is maximally indecipherable makes it perhaps most worth
viewing for cinemagoers in the mood for a “challenge” — a cinematic Rubik’s cube. I get that: I too like to try to interpret as best as I can head-spin-inducing pieces of art, though I recently read that Susan Sontag essay I pretty much entirely agreed with where she talked of misguided interpretation, among other things, as being destructive to a work in question in a lot of cases. But I and others can’t help it if a mysterious movie pulls us in various directions for exploration.
Black Moon is effective at being indecipherable — and in a fascinating, refreshingly artistically instinctual rather than contrived way, to be sure. But one cannot — though one can try to — sit through Black Moon and wind up satisfactorily exploring what it might mean because it markedly wasn’t made to be explored in the general sense. It’s a stream-of-consciousness exercise. To fully “get it” requires mind-reading or being Louis Malle. It seems a futile exercise to move beyond simply experiencing Black Moon.
I like Malle but am at this point not enough of a devotee to want to explore the inner workings of his mind; maybe I’ll come around. Malle has characterized Black Moon as the most intimate of his films. It’s so personal to him, I think, because he and he alone can concretely take something away from its esoterica. Malle wouldn’t return to the avant-garde for the rest of his career. Even if Black Moon is a shrug of a movie to my eye, it was inarguably a necessary nexus to get Malle to soon make what would come to be some of the most definitive films of his career. But not all viewable mechanisms for artistic growth have to be viewed. C+