Boy, this is a weird film.
I usually quite like narratives where the mysterious stranger disrupts the natural order of things (Six Degrees of Separation being a case in point), but whereas the latter made some interesting points about the use of language as an unreliable social unifier, I’m really not sure whether there’s a coherent central metaphor here. Maybe that’s the point, but I do like my surrealism to have some semblance of consistency (if that’s not a complete contradiction).
Gary Oldman is the mysterious young man who appears (literally) out of thin air, hitching a ride on the bridge of Cape Fear River. This doesn’t bode well. After thoroughly pissing off a trucker with an unhealthy mother obsession, he is summarily deposited at a truck stop, where he encounters Linda (Theresa Russell) and develops an instant, disturbing fascination.
Later that night, Oldman appears, Exorcist-like, under a street lamp outside her house she shares with her husband (Christopher Lloyd), a model railway enthusiast with an interest in extra-marital spanking. The young man continues to dog her every move, revealing himself to be the son that she conceived from an ill-advised sexual encounter as a teenager, and who was forcibly taken from her at birth.
As mother and son begin to bond with increasing levels of intimacy, Christopher Lloyd surfs the orgasmic levels of “intellectual hygiene” at a model railway convention. He returns to a home destroyed by the re-emergence of the past, and the manifestation of his wife’s hidden, traumatic secret.
It’s evident from quite early on that the mysterious stranger is a figment of Linda’s disturbed imagination, embodying her deteriorating state of mind with his increasingly childlike and violent babble. Throughout the film, he ages in reverse, reverting from a grown man to a baby, His final frenzied burst, naked, from a foetal position in a cupboard to stab her husband to death, mirrors the ending of one of the director’s more famous films, Don’t Look Now. His action also serves to absolve her of the memory and trauma of the conception and birth; in essence, the film ends before it begins. The mysterious stranger erased from her life, she leaves the house a contented woman, totally ignoring the pool of blood that’s gathering across the ceiling.
I’m really not sure what the film is trying to say. It’s left deliberately ambiguous whether the baby was conceived through rape or consent, and whether is was the sex or the birth that provided the most trauma. Either way, the subsequent depiction of Linda as a bored, mentally fragile housewife obsessed by dolls and desperate for a baby with her uninterested husband is lazy and, despite the visual flourishes, unimaginative storytelling. At the beginning, Gary Oldman provides appropriate menace as the sinister man-child, but any intrigue falls away as the madness sets in and his performance becomes increasingly over-wrought, making the film as unbalanced as the characters it portrays.