At last count, Judge Gordon Sullivan has locked himself in his apartment for thirty months.
Everyone has their secrets
At least since Descartes famous declaration in 1637—"I think, therefore I am"—Western humanity has treated the individual as the pinnacle of achievement. Our entire society is based on the idea that each person is a whole, essentially unchanging individual, wholly responsible for his or her actions through efforts of will. Yet, day after day, more and more research neurological suggests that in fact we are not wholly responsible for our actions, depending on the structure and chemistry in our brains. Just as significantly, more and more psychological research points to the fact that we are not stable, unchanging individuals, but instead may have greater or lesser periods of dissociation, not unlike the traits we associate with those suffering from multiple personalities. As the research continues to chip away at the individually oriented foundations of society, we will probably see an uptick in artists dealing with themes surrounding multiple identities, which will hopefully make everyone more sensitive to these issues as they arise. Waking Madison is probably not one of those films. It tries mightily to be a sympathetic portrait of a woman suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, but comes off instead as sensational exploitation.
Madison (Sara Roemer, Disturbia) is depressed and suicidal, and something is very wrong with her life. Although she has the help of a doctor (Elisabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas), Madison decides to lock herself in her apartment for thirty days to come to terms with her problems. If she can't, she'll kill herself on the thirtieth day.
Waking Madison takes on a difficult and relevant topic, and it's totally understandable that writer/director Katherine Brooks would want to tackle it. It's also totally understandable that she'd want to avoid the formulaic, movie-of-the-week vibe by spicing up the visual style of the film. Brooks has a load of talent behind the camera, and Waking Madison is filled with interesting visuals, creepy shots, and a very nonlinear approach to story and look. Although the film does a fine job showing Brooks' talents, the look of the film is also its downfall. Too much of the film feels exploitative and out to shock. Not shocking in the way that the horrors of war are shocking, but more like horror-movie shocking. It's a delicate job to drive home the scary aspects of dissociation and depression without making the audience feel like it's just being presented for our titillation, which would only cheapen the suffering of those with the disorder.
However, those willing to look past the sometimes-too-stylish moments of Waking Madison are in for a bit of a treat. Sarah Roemer is great as Madison, offering a tough but vulnerable take on a character who could easily have come off as unsympathetic. Elisabeth Shue continues to prove that she's underutilized as Madison's doctor. The doctor in mental patient movies is often a throwaway role, a too-good or too-bad caricature of the medical profession. Shue's Dr. Barnes is both sympathetic but not a pushover; she seems genuinely concerned for Madison and is willing to fight for her health. Some of the film's best scenes are between Shue and Will Patton, who plays Madison's father. I don't want to give away plot details, but the pair share a number of emotional moments that would be a treat to watch even if the rest of the film was a total flop.
Waking Madison gets a solid DVD release. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer does an excellent job with the source material, which often includes scenes with lots of filters and other treatment. The picture has strong detail, vivid colors, and solid skin tones. Black levels are fairly deep and consistent, and I didn't notice any significant compression artifacts. The 5.1 surround audio track generally sticks to the center channel for the dialogue-heavy feature, but during some of the more creepy moments the surrounds dial in for some nice atmospherics. Extras start with an audio commentary by director Katherine Brooks. At the outse, she says her commentary will include funny stories, technical info, and inspirations, and she's true to her word throughout the film's running time. Then, we get six short interviews with Brooks and some of the actresses involved in the production (including Shue and Roemer), and four deleted scenes (including a scene involving Madison's job as a phone sex operator). The disc rounds out with the film's trailer.
Waking Madison is well-acted film that tackles a difficult subject. Viewers may be drawn to numerous portrayals of strong female characters acted by an amazing cast. However, the over-the-top style of the film can sometimes feel like its exploiting those with depression rather than sympathizing with them. A rental is not a bad option for the performances, and the DVD is strong enough to warrant purchase for fans.
Despite some rocky moments, Waking Madison is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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