Review: A Woman Under The Influence (1974)


Crazy people going even crazier!

Written By: John Cassavetes
Directed By: John Cassavetes

In A Woman Under The Influence the camera constantly lingers and hovers. It doesn’t intrude on the action, it observes and floats like a leaf from spot to spot as if it has no will of its own. It operates like a ghostly specter, like a being powerless to look away from Mabel and Nick. We are the camera, we want to look away, there are moments where we can’t help but cringe. But, the camera is our guide and just like the camera we are powerless. We can’t look away, we can’t make it stop.

Power is at the heart of A Woman Under The Influence, but it isn’t traditional power. In some ways the film is about control, but it’s mainly about a lack of control. Mabel is fine around her husband, she’s still bat shit, but he finds it cute and she manages to function. It’s when she is around others that she loses her control, she doesn’t know what to do, what is acceptable and what isn’t. Mabel is powerless, just like the camera and just like the viewer. It’s almost as if Mabel is a character in the play of her life, she must act crazy because that is what her role calls for. Whether she wants to change it up or not is inconsequential, she lacks the power to do anything differently.

The movie spends the first hour and twenty minutes presenting the case for Mabel, but then an interesting thing happens, we learn that Nick is just as crazy as Mabel is. He gets away with it because his craziness can be vented through accepted means. Yelling and taking control of those around him. Nick has no control, he is just as powerless as his wife, and it is through his attempts to control all those around him that we see how powerless he really is. No one does what he wants, he screams and yells and tries to assert control, but no one listens or does as he commands because he doesn’t know what he really wants. The circumstances of his life may label him sane, but over time the truth is revealed and the real symmetry in the marriage is revealed, they are both functioning on a different plane and that is why they click so well, yet are always at odds.

I don’t know how to get into the performances of Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands without using a lot of hyperbole, but I shall try. To say that their performances drive the movie would be an understatement, but it is true. Rowland could have gone straight to over the top insane, but she doesn’t. Mabel is crazy, she clearly has mental issues, but Rowlands underplays them until the moment is right to explode. This decision makes her performance stronger and more honest. The same is true of Falk, he could have yelled and stomped through the entire picture. But, he plays Nick almost tenderly, exposing someone who is a mess of contradictions and is full of fear beneath the stormy exterior.

There are moments in A Woman Under The Influence that don’t fit, but only a few of them. It’s not even that they don’t fit, they just feel off for some reason, like the confrontation between the father of the visiting children and Nick. But, those moments are small and don’t hamper the film that much. It’s funny that at the end of the day A Woman Under The Influence is a movie about dysfunction that may actually be about the functionality that is present in mysterious places. It’s certainly a great movie, whether functional or dysfunctional.




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