Just about every fan of the creative team of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean has heard of the new movie MirrorMask, and just about every fan waited as impatiently as I for it to reach the theaters. In fact, I was beginning to fear it wouldn’t reach many cinema houses at all. Which is why I was thrilled to discover that it had finally begun playing in Wisconsin, and it was with great anticipation that I sat down to see the film.
MirrorMask takes us on a bizarre surrealistic journey. It is the story of a young girl named Helena (Stephanie Leonidas), whose family runs a circus. As a rebellious child she finds herself in the unusual position of being a child who wishes to run away from the circus and join real life. Shortly after a fight with Helena, her mother (Gina McKee) falls very sick and is hospitalized. It isn’t clear what is wrong with her, but some kind of brain surgery is implied at this point. Helena is racked with guilt and one night upon going to sleep she wakes up in another land populated with creatures from her own drawings, a land where everyone wears a mask. She learns that the land is dying because the Queen of Light (also McKee) has fallen into a comatose state because a magical charm is missing. Teaming up with a traveling juggler named Valentine (Jason Barry), Helena sets out to recover the charm and restore the Queen of Light so that she might return home.
You may read this and feel that this movie seems like standard storybook fare, and you would be right. And you would also be very wrong.
What makes this film so different is McKean’s bizarre, even disturbing visual designs. Helena is stalked by eyeball-spiders, winged cats with man-faces and even stranger creatures at the palace of the Queen of Shadows (McKee again). The movie is simply a treasure to behold and the beauty of the bizarre surroundings Helena and Valentine travel through are almost overwhelming in their strangeness. Here is where the magic of Gaiman’s script comes in, as his skill with language adds a sort of matter-of-fact wonderment to McKean’s dreamscape. There is a beauty to this world that I guess at this point I should just expect from this team of world-builders, yet they surprise me every time.
MirrorMask is not so much a film as it is an experience to immerse yourself in. I will admit that the story is pretty typical, even predictable at points. Often I found myself spending more of my attention at the visual style than I did paying attention to the story which is a very rare thing for me. I found myself really wishing for a stronger tale behind the visual artistry, but for some bizarre reason it didn’t detract much from my enjoyment of the film. This is an entertaining rarity for me, as I truly believe that story is king in any medium.
I do recommend MirrorMask and I heartily encourage you to go see it if it comes anywhere close to you. I caution you though, this movie may not be what you expect, and that if you are not careful, some of McKean’s bizarre creations may haunt your dreams.
Seen the movie? Agree/Disagree? Think I am full of it? Leave a comment!