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3 Women
(1977) - Directed by Robert Altman
"What do you think MY name is?"

There's usually something off-putting and intriguing about the mundane "real world" stories of Altman. It's like he's got this weird ability to see deeper meaning in all of the little things. I can describe Altman's style with one movie scene from a non-Altman movie. In Peaceful Warrior, a movie about an aspiring gymnast learning to overcome doubts with the philosophical help of an wise and old convenient store worker, this lead character watches a couple kisses for a few seconds and realizes, "there's never nothing going on." Well, there really is never nothing going on in an Altman movie. He's trying to capture the real world. Ironically, one of his more popular movies these days was based on one of Altman's dreams. This is my second play of the movie.

Millie (Shelley Duvall) works in a care home for the elderly, and doesn't have a lot of friends or even people who pay attention to her. She gets her chance for some friendship when she takes on a young and hopeful new employee also named Millie (Sissy Spacek), but who prefers to go by her nickname Pinky. It's not long before Pinky's childish behavior makes Millie resentful. But thanks to one traumatic experience and the intervention of Willie (Janice Rule), a painter who runs a bar with her husband, sends Pinky into a role reversal in which her independence makes Millie question her own actions.

There's a stark contrast in character between the two more important leads, the young and excitable Pinky (Sissy Spacek) and the older and stricter Millie (Shelly Duvall). Pinky's completely enamored with the world around her and approaches everything like a little kid, and you can see from her shocked-looking facial expressions as she reacts to small things in a childlike manner, even things we find simply commonplace like the existence of twins. Millie, on the other hand, is struggling to find her place and has become disenchanted with her job, hoping to find solace in some semblance of friendship. She's eager to take a roommate in and make it easy, but her attempts at friendship with everyone else are often ignored like she's not even there.

There's a purpose to filming all the little things, like Pinky's going up the stairs to the apartments to the first time. We see how she reacts. And one of the best scenes featuring this brand of direction is the entire "moving in" sequence. By seeing these conversations where they start to relate to each other, and little revelations like the fold-up bed, the familiar feeling of learning the surroundings of a new house is present, especially with this very homey and classic 70's feeling.

As far as Willie goes, I think the very idea of her not talking works well thematically, although it's a risky thing that certainly won't click with most people. An because of Altman's love of ambiguity, all we can do is discuss theory and take what we believe with us. But let's take a look at her character: she's silent, always making paintings, runs her own business with her husband and is pregnant.

In other words, Willie's essentially everything Millie wants to be and the lady doesn't even realize it. Willie is a woman with her own world mostly under control. She's a creator. She creates paintings. She creates life. And everyone else damages what she creates. But maybe that's also where here weird paintings come in. People become intrigued with them and wonder what they're about, and that's just it. She's reached an ascension that we, as the audience, don't understand because deep down we're all more like the two Millie's.

But I think there are a few hints as to why she creates what she does. Her change in behavior during her shooting scene depending on what she's shooting at says at it. It's my guess that she has a disdain for the world and what it becomes and she focuses her paintings on it. These paintings do have an effect, as the nightmares they induce snap Pinky back to normal. In other words, she's practically the influencer like a spiritual being is. This leads me to concur with an idea I read online that the three women are a loose representation of the "Father, Son and the Holy Ghost," but because of their erratic behavior they don't have that same sense of harmony. In other words, we humans cannot possibly comprehend it.

I could be wrong, but I think I figured Willie out. At least, I'm more convinced of this than I am with other theories.

Now as for the rest of it. Dammit, can Altman direct. His sense of visuals captures scenarios and faces in the same way that he did with Nashville, but with more gusto and psychological background, making the wonder in people's faces feel extremely realistic. Pair this with the surrealism of Willie's effed up paintings and the dream sequences (even Holocaust 2000 didn't have a dream sequence like that), you have a visual aesthetic which perfectly captures both emotion and themes. I mean, Altman did a scary good job, as well as bringing the fear of psychological trauma out very well, especially during the end. Shelley's acting as she walked out of the house in that scene scared the piss out of me.

But this is definitely not to say that the actresses didn't have a say in this. Despite playing extreme opposites, Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek are able to capture both vital sides of each character FLAWLESSLY. I mean, it's one thing for the already experienced Shelly Duvall to switch between an ordinary housewoman who doesn't care about people to a woman showing desperation and not even worry about her acting quality. But Spacek's ability to portray a ten-year-old persona on top of an independent twenty-one-year-old persona afterwords with perfect representation is astounding. While I loved Duvall in this, Spacek cemented herself as a master actress with this at such a young age. I won't be saying much about Janice Rule, though, as she wasn't given the screentime needed to compete with the other two. But her presence was always appreciated and she didn't do a bad job.

I'm very glad Nashville kicked a desire for more Robert Altman right into my brain. This is the second time I watched 3 Women, and I didn't get quite this much out of it at first, but I still gave it a great rating. This, however, put the movie in my top 500. This is one of the weirdest and most psychologically effective stories I've seen on the screen. This might even end up becoming a favorite of mine.

= 93. Raises 6 points.

Robert Altman's Directorial Score (9 Good vs. 1 Bad)

Nashville: 100
The Player: 100
3 Women: 93
The Long Goodbye: 90
McCabe and Mrs. Miller: 87

Score: 94 / 5

Robert Altman's position on my Best Director's List raises from #50 to #34 between Ridley Scott and Bryan Singer.