Clean, Shaven (1993) (Unrated)

"Clean, Shaven" is a lost masterpiece. This film is never talked about, rarely seen, and has passed from all critic's minds as so many other brilliant movies have. It's interesting to see (and I know I've made this point before) which movies get picked to be classics and which ones get forgotten. Certainly, I would happily swap out any number of "classics" that I have seen for this movie...alas, I do not hold such power.
Crazy people have rarely been given justice on screen, They are treated comically, insensitively, and without much research. In the last few years I watched an episode of a television mystery show in which the girl that the detectives were investigating had MPD: the holy grail and altogether non-existent disease that plagues books and movies. But I'll admit it, who doesn't love the idea of a person having more than one person trapped inside their head? It makes great thrillers, great mysteries, and great dramas...yet, it is not fair to those who actually have mental disorders like schizophrenia.
It seems easy to have a crazy bad guy and then brush off a motive by claiming insanity in any medium, whether it be page or film.
To be fair, insanity eats up the screen time of so many features and people love it. Famous examples include "Amadeus", "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest", "A Beautiful Mind", and even "The Dark Knight"...and yet again, here's the problem: Who didn't love Heath Ledger's performance in Nolan's second Batman movie? Everyone was amazed and Ledger earned a deserved posthumous Oscar for his work. But it was too popular and too comic-book-y to do justice to mental disorder, which was not the movie's intentions at all.
But then there's a movie like Lodge Kerrigan's "Clean, Shaven", which centers around a character that is clearly suffering from a mental disease, probably a psychosis of some kind. This man is Peter Winter (a captivating Peter Greene) who is in a search for his daughter.
We don't know why he's away from home and we don't know why he's not the one raising his daughter. It doesn't seem that his daughter was taken from him; but perhaps his mind got in the way of his parenting. Either way, the mother is gone mysteriously (most likely dead) and Peter's daughter Nicole (Jennifer MacDonald) is being raised by an adoptive mother.
The film begins with Peter stealing a car and an implied act of violence. This will shape the viewer's mind one way or the other—Peter could be a villain or a tormented soul depending on how you look at him.
The film takes a step back and doesn't explain everything—vexing, but effective.
Nature and sound play very large roles in "Clean, Shaven"...much like movies by Terrence Malick (is it any wonder that I liked this movie?). The movie is filmed in what seems like New England...I could be wrong. The forest and the dusty roads, the rain and the heat—they all come together in bizarre fashions that add onto Peter's growing mania.
Peter is twisted, he cannot look at himself in a mirror and covers all the reflective surfaces of his car with newspapers and tape. He even breaks a window so he cannot see his own face—is this because of guilt or because of his brain?
Something of a neat freak, his OCD tendencies wax and wane. He abuses himself getting clean, scrubbing himself with steel wool and shaving while the mirror is covered—cutting himself all over his body with the razor.
Peter Greene looks like a combination of Cillian Murphy and Ted Levine, which reflects the mood of the movie. While it is surrealist and ethereal in parts...mysterious; it remains grounded in its brutal and straightforward story.
Peter's mother is also a source of his mania, she is really quite unfriendly.
Then we have a detective on Peter's trail, trying to track him down for a crime that he may or may not have committed.
For a debut feature, Lodge Kerrigan has an incredible sense of maturity that is impossible to fake.
As Peter's confusion and emotions start to blur into incoherence, we understand the man even more.
"Clean, Shaven" has no real dialogue in it...the film could possibly be silent for it has mastered the art of conveying thoughts and emotions with just sound and sight.
The voices yell inside Peter's head, the detective becomes obsessed in his child-like fashion, and the daughter reflects the father. The tale is simple, but the impact is complex.
"Clean, Shaven" is hypnotic and engrossing.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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