This film exhibits nothing unnatural, yet the entire experience feels surreal. It opens on pool water, like some sort of embryonic fluid. Nothing is in it but murals of vicious and sexual reptilian-humanoid creatures. The camera cuts to another pool in a geriatric facility where an older woman is slowly stepping into the water. The film has hardly begun, and we’ve already experienced an unsettling account of life and death.
The film begins following Pinkie, the facility’s new employee. She blows bubbles in her Coke at lunch, dunks herself in the pool during work, and otherwise presents herself quite childishly. Pinkie is shown around by Millie, who seems a bit more normal. The dialogue throughout this film consists of people talking on and on but never necessarily conversing. At first it seems normal enough. Slowly we realize all Millie talks about are recipes and magazines. It takes some time before the film shows us people outside of Millie’s circle. When it does, and quite briefly at first, we begin to realize that Millie is odd. There are normal people that inhabit this world.
Pinkie seems to be smitten with Millie. She does everything she can to please her, and a bizarre sort of courtship begins. The third woman of the titular three is the mural painter. She’s pregnant and constantly creating more of these beautiful and bizarre lizard men. The film moves very slowly. There are frequent shots of water that make the viewer feel unease. Music plays often in a foreboding manner. What will happen? We know there’s a gun. We know Pinkie reads Millie’s diary when Millie is on dates. There’s a strong psychological similarity to Bergman’s Persona. The way these two main women interact, support one another, hurt one another, love others, certainly parallels the women in Persona. More importantly, the psychological overlap that the women in Persona experience is remarkably similar to 3 Women’s development.
Visually the film is dull, but it does so in a manner that makes the world feel commonplace. Everything is far too normal. It’s downright eerie. The dialogue is odd and hyperrealistic. All Millie talks about is tuna melts and apartment decorations. She’s famous for her dinner parties. The film keeps its viewers off balance. Without anything to compare to, it’s hard to know what’s right and wrong. Millie’s friends blow off her party. It’s another small but brilliant way of showing the truth of these characters.
The surreal atmosphere and hyperrealism throughout the film make the viewer feel terribly uneasy. By the end, as things get more and more odd (though somehow, never truly wrong), the film becomes incredibly creepy. We’re invested in the film and the characters in a far different way than we might be in a horror film in which we’d expect to experience these feelings. Here, the viewer is taken off guard. It’s a very slow procession that reveals a great deal of restraint in filmmaking. Interestingly, the film changes aspect ratio for the final shot. Something else has changed, that’s certain, but the visual change only makes it all the more disconcerting.
3 Women is a hard film to recommend. It’s an unsettling viewing, but it’s masterfully created. In many ways, it’s more eerie than most films that set out to be scare you. Around it all is a full and odd world, and the surreal tones leave a good deal for consideration. It’s smart and often hard to watch.