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March 17, 2020

The Passion of Darkly Noon

passion of darkly noon.jpg

Philip Ridley - 1995
Arrow Video BD Region A

From the moment Brendan Fraser is seen lying on the back of a pickup truck, is arms extended outwards, the religious symbolism in The Passion of Darkly Noon is hardly subtle. Fraser's character is named Darkly Noon, the first name picked at random out of the Bible by his extremely fundamentalist parents. His name connotes his own contradictory self, both the innocent alone and lost in a world he doesn't understand and as a vengeful spirit ready to condemn others. Having escaped from a small community of like-minded Christians that was destroyed by an unidentified, but more powerful group, Darkly finds both physical healing and an internal schism at the remote home of the mute carpenter Clay and his wife Callie.

Even though Ridley makes the film more location specific with the quick glimpse of a North Carolina license plate, this film, as Ridley's earlier Reflecting Skin takes place in an imagined America. And as in Ridley's most recent narrative film, Heartless, the stories are about lonely boys who misread and misjudge the world around them with their idiosyncratic filters. Darkly only understands the world within the confines of his former community and his parents. Callie awakens previously dormant sexual feelings that can only be addressed through self-mortification. While his hosts are generous and flexible in their personal beliefs as well as treatment of Darkly, the guest turns more rigid. To be best appreciated, Ridley's films need to be met on their own terms.

Darkly Noon never received a theatrical release in the U.S., going straight to VHS in 1997. I'm not sure if I understand why as it's no more or less extreme than other films that found their way in the arthouse circuit of the time. Ridley managed to make an independent film with a low budget that featured Brendan Fraser, getting top billing in mainstream films, and Ashley Judd, a rising star following Ruby in Paradise. Viggo Mortensen, as Clay, was on the verge of getting more attention. The usual genial Frasier shows his acting chops here as Ridley takes advantage of his childlike look of wonderment, but also pulls out a more fearsome persona. There may be debate about Ashley Judd's Callie wearing the shortest of skirts and dresses, and wether the male gaze strictly is that of Darkly or shared with the filmmakers. Judd is admittedly quite attractive with her normally dark hair dyed blonde. I've always liked her even in films unworthy of her ability, a classic face that reminds me somewhat of Myrna Loy. It is quite possible that Darkly Noon was considered to unusual for mainstream distribution, while conventional wisdom would hold that the art and indie crowd would not consider a film with the star of Airheads and The Scout.

Philip Ridley's commentary track is quite helpful in explaining how there was a deliberate attempt to make the film visual unrealistic with the use of yellow and blue. The opening sequence is overly bright, with an exposure adjustment at the end culminating with a shot of Callie standing in the rain. A giant shoe floats aimlessly in a lake, used later for the striking image of a Viking style funeral as it is lit on fire. Ridley discusses his art school background regarding some of his visual choices, as well as how the film thematically follows up on Reflecting Skin.

Among the supplements are an investigation into the themes of Ridley by James Flowers, interviews with with cinematographer John de Borman, and editor Les Healey. An interview with composer Nic Bicat covers the three films done with Ridley as well as their collaboration on other projects. An older interview including Viggo Mortensen has been ported over from the British DVD of Reflecting Skin. I was only able to review the blu-ray, but those who purchase the first pressing will also have included a booklet on Ridley and his film written by the usually capable Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 17, 2020 07:48 AM