1 Hr., 40 Mins.
Black Moon April 15, 2020
might compare “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 make it sound in some ways coherent — with a “deeper meaning” to be homed in on once you push past the chaos. To use such a description is neither pejorative nor commendatory. Instead it’s an inevitable, almost objective one, once you consider writer-director’s
Louis Malle’s creative process. “Each time something appeared that looked like a plotline, I would cross it out,” Malle has said of its scriptwriting. Better to call this a series of tableaux than a movie. And better to refrain from advertising it as good or bad, too. Labeling a film 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 suggests some tacit critique (even then) of feminism (i.e., a battle of the sexes thing going on I’ll talk more about in just a second) and/or allegory for a child’s transition into adulthood. But I don’t really know, and I don’t think in the near future I’ll be trying to figure it out.
“Black Moon” is, I suppose, Malle’s “Alice in Wonderland” (1865). The film 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 interrupted by war, which the world seems to be embroiled in. Tanks and people in gas masks are bountiful even in the middle of nowhere seen in the feature. There appears to be no motivation behind it except that it’s a kind of gendered melee, where men are shooting at women and vice versa. Nothing is ever explained but that’s what seems to be happening. 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) in an incestuous romantic relationship.
We start to see and experience funny things. There’s a big rat — 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 it’s an old girlfriend. Whenever the Harrison-portrayed 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 phalanx of naked children. There’s also a unicorn ambling around the property Harrison’s Lily sees a few times who’s so elusive that the latter kind of becomes 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” has been intentionally crafted to be maximally indecipherable, that it’s effective at being indecipherable — and in an artistically instinctual rather than contrived way — means it’s perhaps most worth viewing for cinemagoers in the mood to interpret a movie that was never meant to be interpreted. It might seem a flavorful “challenge” for some — a cinematic Rubik’s cube. I get that. I, too, like to try to interpret head-spin-inciting pieces of art for myself a lot of the time even though I recently read that Susan Sontag essay with which I pretty much entirely agreed where she talked of misguided interpretation as being rather destructive to art. But I and others can’t help it if a mysterious movie beckons us in various directions for exploration.
But one cannot — though can try — 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 from Malle. To fully “get it” requires mind-reading or the next best thing (probably biography-reading) to get anywhere definitive and not merely speculative. Kudos to someone who makes it to the end of “Black Moon” wanting to dig deeper.
I like Malle but am at this point not enough of a devotee to want to explore the inner workings of his mind (he’s no Jodorowsky). 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. Thankfully Malle wouldn’t return to the avant-garde for the rest of his career. Even if “Black Moon” is a shrug of a movie, it was a necessary nexus to get Malle to 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 seen. C+