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That is a safe space.

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Want to attempt a hard pitch? You go girl! Want to redo a route you already did? Rock on sister.

There is an unspoken interdependence that creates the spirit of our adventures. We invite you to explore the kinship that is to be found through our transformational programs. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Or, on the level of abstract visual strategy, the back-and-forth movements of the characters can be read as a demonstration of their individual choices, their positive and negative possibilities, and of how they come to rest on the strong axis as they admit their mutual humanity. But there is still much more there to be discovered.

What I sense after so many viewings is that this is the emotional center of the film. Bergman is permitting the two characters to touch as they so gravely regard us, so that we can experience the duality he sees in all human personalities: The visible and the interior, our public personalities and what we secretly know about ourselves, the differences we have one from another and the fundamental ways in which we are all the same.

How simple! How important! And if we experience the moment deeply enough, we are struck then and there with the clarifying realization that "Persona" is not about an actress who suddenly one day stops speaking: It is a film in which Bergman uses that plot element to free himself from words, so that communication could take place between his actresses and with his audiences without the cumbersome necessity for everything to be objectified and explained by dialogue.

A film in which both characters were permitted to speak might have taken forever to communicate the same meaning—if it could have. So I decided to do it. Hitchcock has said that when his screenplays are finished, his films are perfect; they become flawed only during the execution. Altman, awakening from his dream, must have felt even more frustrated: "Three Women" was finished, all except for the steps necessary to make it into a movie. He might have been wiser, perhaps, not to reveal that he began with a dream. His film, like "Persona," lacks a paraphrasable story and cannot be described in such a way as to give it easily assimilated meaning Critics requiring that kind of content have accused Altman of indulging himself, of not bothering to give shape and form to his fantasies.

Yet, like Bergman, Altman was uninterested in constructing a Freudian puzzle that we could entertain ourselves by solving. He wanted simply to film his dream. Such indulgences are permitted to the avant-garde—indeed, even are expected and encouraged. But if a Hollywood director takes money from 20th Century-Fox and casts star actresses like Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek in his dream, he seems to invite irrational resentments. We are somewhere in the Southwest—Southern California, maybe, at a spa where old people come to rest and take the heat and the waters. Sissy Spacek, painfully shy, easily grateful, comes to work at the spa, and Duvall teaches her some of the ropes.

In an early scene that provides the visual and dream keys to the entire movie, Duvall has Spacek lie back in the shallow, overheated pool where the old people make their arthritic progress through problematic cures. The twins obviously suggest the twinning that the two major characters will experience before their gradual merging with a third; we will return later to what is suggested by the flexing of the legs.

It is, though, the dream deceiving itself by seeming to be everyday, routine, and even banal. Life goes on in the dry desert settlement. Altman is cautious, however, not to show us too much of it. There is never the sense in "Three Women" that the characters exist in a complete, three-dimensional community, and that is a departure for Altman.

There is the striking opening reel of " McCabe and Mrs. Miller " , for example, with its central character Warren Beatty riding into town, hardly distinguishable from the other occupants of the saloon he enters. Stars used to be given entrances and used to make them with self-conscious style.

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Altman allows Beatty to be absorbed in the crowd, the smoke, and the general background conversation. In " McCabe ," " California Split " , and "Nashville" in particular, there is always the feeling of life continuing offscreen; if the camera were suddenly to whirl about degrees, we would almost expect to see more of the life of the movie, rather than Altman and his crew members.

That is very certainly not the case with "Three Women. There is the health spa, the parking lot outside of it, a sort of singles residential motel with a pool, a bar with a Western motif and a shooting range and motorcycle cross-country track behind it, a bus station, and a hospital room; nothing more. These are dream landscapes and locations, and the two young women have no firm place in them they are rudely ignored by their fellow workers at the spa—and most especially by the twin sisters.

The action of the film is easily described, although perhaps not very satisfactorily.

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Spacek accepts, looking around the rather sad, relentlessly conventional little apartment with breathless enthusiasm. She says that Duvall is the most perfect person she has ever met. They set up housekeeping and begin to make themselves visible to the men in the neighborhood. At this point Altman begins his sly drift from the reassuring reality of everyday details to the selective, heightened reality of a dream, a new reality that is counterpointed by unworldly, fantastic murals being drawn on the swimming pool walls and floor by another woman at the motel, the pregnant wife of the resident manager.

The men in the film are never quite present. They are on the screen, but as if in another dream, another film. They have oddly, disturbingly, deep voices. They rumble. They participate only in male activities of a threatening nature: They are policemen, or they fire guns, or they race their motorcycles, or they drink too much and make drunken, awkward, probably impotent approaches in the middle of the night.

She goes into a coma. But they are rather like dream parents, so obviously old the father is played by veteran director John Cromwell , himself 90 , that it seems most unlikely they could be real, and they comprehend little.

Connected: The power of modern community

Why is Altman doing this? Or would it have meandered off into explanations and the mechanical working-out of plot points? The dream parents here are so absent, so inappropriate in the vagueness of their presences, that we reach out to them, demand explanations of them—and perhaps that is what one should do with parents in dreams. The old people return home, Spacek recovers, and then, in a series of scenes as original and daring as anything Altman has ever done, she undergoes a kind of mysterious transfer of personalities with Duvall. It is not a merging, as seemed to be the case in "Persona," but an exchange of power.

Duvall smoked cigarettes; now Spacek does. Spacek was so childlike earlier in the film that she blew bubbles through her straw into a glass of Coke; now, she finds the capacity to behave confidently, even brazenly, with men. She is pregnant, and she seems a little old to be having her first child Rule was in fact 46 when the film was made. Altman has been cutting to her murals throughout the film, and on a second or third viewing we begin to see that they are not merely decorative, that they provide a sinister counterpoint with their vaguely demon or monsterlike men-creatures.

As the transfer of power between Duvall and Spacek consolidates itself, Rule comes more to the foreground, and then there is a crucial visual connection, leading back to that key opening scene in the pool. The night comes for Rule to have her baby, and she is alone in her cottage.

Duvall, having done what she could to nurse Spacek back to health, now desperately tries to assist at the childbirth, screaming at Spacek to telephone for help. Dream actions repeat themselves, fold in upon themselves, appear first in realistic settings and then reveal their hidden meanings.

Duvall turns and sees that Spacek is still standing there, dumbly—or defiantly? She has never telephoned. Now comes the conclusion, as beautifully mysterious in its way as the one in "Persona. The Coke delivery is accepted. We see the exterior of a cottage, and the dialogue on the sound track suggests that the three women have now established some sort of new community, perhaps a merging or interchange of generations and family roles. Then I kept on discovering things in the film, right up to the final edit. The film begins, for example, with Sissy Spacek wandering in out of the desert and meeting Shelley Duvall and getting the job in the rehabilitation center.

And when I was looking at the end of the film during the final editing process, it occurred to me that when you see that final exterior shot of the house, and you hear the dialogue asking the Sissy Spacek character to get the sewing basket…well, she could just walk out of that house and go to California and walk in at the beginning of the movie, and it would be perfectly circular and even make sense that way.

The two most important visual links are the scenes in which Duvall places the soles of the feet of each of the other women against her stomach and initiates childbirthlike movements. There are no live births, of course, but in some way we suspect these women have all given birth to one another. And not a single one of these personas was seen as such, or related to as such, by any of the men in the film. It might have taken him half a career to say so much about the traps for women in our society, the roles they are forced into and the frustrations they contain, if he had set about doing so in terms of the traditional fiction film.

But his dream for I do believe him when he says it was a dream suggested the emotional connections, and perhaps logical ones are not really necessary.


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Here are three women—or let us say one woman, or even one sentient being. In an attempt to relate, to connect, this being tries on a bewildering, and depressing, variety of the roles available to it. None of the roles connects with others, none provides satisfaction in itself, and none seems to serve any useful purpose. Must she then finally turn in upon herself, absorb all her possible identities, roles, and strategies, and become a young-old-older identity sitting somewhere in a cottage, heard from afar talking among her various selves?


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