‘Annette’: A love story characterized by death
Lexi Kilcoin | Monday, October 11, 2021
Warning: This review contains spoilers
Oh, where to begin. Adam Driver has seen his fair share of intense, psychologically unnerving roles, the most well-known being Kylo Ren. However, his role in a recently-released musical, “Annette,” has shown a deeper, more disturbing facet of Driver’s skills.
“Annette” might be a love story; or, it might be a psychological thriller; or, it might have created an entirely new genre with its mix of musical elements, dark romance, horror and murder. The film begins with a musical number called “So May We Start,” which introduces us to characters Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) and Ann (Marion Cotillard). Henry is a stand-up comedian with his one man show, “The Ape of God,” while Ann, his wife, has her own opera show.
The film draws a stark contrast between the husband and wife, juxtaposing Henry’s dark, narcissistic tendencies and Ann’s light-hearted hope for the future, a hope which parallels her fear of her own husband. Interestingly, we rarely see interactions between the couple that are not either disturbing sex scenes or shot through odd camera angles from the perspective of Henry’s hands, apparently to suggest he is about to strangle Ann to death — this directing choice, of course, foreshadows the character’s eventual murder. The main lens through which we see the development of Ann’s and Henry’s relationship is through strange interruptions of news announcements from the local station, SBN. SBN News shares the couple’s life updates and misfortunes, including news of the birth of their new baby, Annette.
Annette is introduced in the second half of the film and is born as a puppet — more specifically, a very creepy puppet with red hair. Luckily, though, this doll/child character does not resemble the infamous Chucky doll in any way. Annette is appears as a puppet until the very last scene of the film, during which she visits Henry in his prison cell. The film’s director, Leos Carax, no doubt had a plan for this portrayal of Annette. However, this plan was left (rather unpleasantly) obscure to viewers until Ann’s eventual death, when Annette almost immediately adapts an innate ability to sing opera as if keeping her mother alive. But there’s a catch to Annette’s newfound talent: The character can only sing when there is a light shining on her.
The symbolism in Annette’s presence is the only thing that seems to keep the film a thematically coherent unity. Initially, Henry is starstruck by Annette’s voice and nurtures her like a loving father should. Then, he seems to undergo a drastic change in perspective, not only exploiting Annette but becoming a raging alcoholic as well. The puppet imagery suddenly makes sense because we now see the way that Henry uses his own daughter and commands her to do as he wishes, just like a puppeteer would. Not only, then, does Annette’s characterization symbolize her father’s narcissistic tendencies, but also her mother’s light, which has gone missing due to her death. It would be impossible to explain the rest of the symbolism in this film without writing a novel, but suffice it to say that the film’s symbols make it slightly more watchable.
Apart from its title character, the film’s only other redeeming quality is its cinematography. While “Annette” does jump from scene to scene in confusing and disconcerting ways, this chaos does a phenomenal job of reflecting the disarray of the plot while also allowing the viewer to see the story from a variety of perspectives.
If I could summarize ‘Annette’ in one word, that word would be: Disturbing. The only reason I managed to finish the film was so I could give it a proper review, and I would not recommend it to anyone who would like a good night’s sleep or their sanity.
Director: Leos Carax
Actors: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg
If you like: “La La Land”