The scenes in the house move at a glacial pace, and I suspect this is mostly by design to try to heighten the suspense. The movie starts to feel like it belongs to the horror genre at this point and there’s a bit of a head fake from Kaufman in that regard. So I understand his pacing and the first couple times through, I even appreciated it to a certain extent. But for the sake of this project, going through the whole movie slowly, scene by scene, it’s a very difficult segment of the film to analyze because there’s a lot less than meets the eye.
Fortunately, we arrive at one point in the visit where there is a lot of interesting stuff to observe and catalogue — Jake’s bedroom. Let me just get out of the way that David Thelwis is at his best in this scene, both very creepy in the way he says “fookin,” but strangely tender as well. He’s playing a strange dude but somehow makes the character deep and worthy of our affection. I guess someone had to enter the room and say something. Jake is too close to it and would give us too much interpretation. The mom would add an Oedipal element we don’t need. So the dad is the right choice and he has an interesting, believable relationship with the young woman. They somehow seem to be able to connect.
One observation about the dad’s dialogue: he makes a very strange comment, when on the subject of sex, about the bed not being big enough for more than one person, not made for twins. I assume he was making a comment about the nomenclature of beds with that comment, that for whatever reason, we call the small single bed for children a twin bed. I should point out, however, that the book gives Jake a fake brother for a bit — a made up character who he assigns all of his own worse traits. This might be a left over element from that story line that, perhaps, Kaufman ditched in the cutting room. Just a theory.
That’s enough for the words in the scene, I want to spend the rest of this essay on the visuals. The first thing we notice as the young woman enters the room and looks at a bookcase on the left side of the room is an urn on a lower shelf with a picture of a border collie and the name “Jimmy.” That’s our first sign that things happening in the house are beyond weird, they are in a mixed up place in time. To drive home this point, most of the books on the adjacent shelves are scientific in nature — two chemistry books and a textbook called “Elements in Physics” stand out. Next to the urn is an orange book entitled “Goethe’s Theory of Colours.” We will be hearing more about this theory later in the film. To the right of the urn is a collection of the Little House books. On the shelf above are creepy porcelain clowns, foreshadowing Jake’s very odd “Tulsey Town” impersonation later.
Pan down to a box on the floor and the novel “Ice” lays on top of a Penthouse magazine, with a Swank underneath it. The camera then pans up and to the left, to a whole bunch of VHS tapes and some books. The most prominent is a Pauline Kael anthology of reviews “For Keeps,” which interestingly does not include her review of “A Woman Under the Influence” that we will hear, in part, later. Under that book is something called “Humming Effect.” That’s an interesting placement, because there’s a bit about humming in the book that is not included in the movie. A thick collection of William Wordsworth poems sit to the left of Kael. Right above the Kael book is David Foster Wallace’s essay collection “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” (also discussed later) and a book called “Introduction to Virology” which harkens to the discussion of how bad movie ideas are like viruses.
Some of the movies on the shelf include The Thing, Dial M for Murder and Salem’s Lot. There are lots of apparently home-made or recorded movies, with labels affixed from a label maker. The names on these include Abandoned Friendships, Abiding Memories of Sorrow, Futile Efforts at Success and Unforgettable Mishaps. As best as I can tell, these are not real movies or TV shows.
It’s hard to pick out too much more detail in the next shot, but on the top right shelf, I do notice some book by Emmanuel Kant, the D.H. Lawrence novel “Sons and Lovers” and some kind of western novel. A few more movies also come into view: They Live, I Was a Teenaged Werewolf and Maniac.
The young woman next notices “Rotten Perfect Mouth” by Eva H.D., where she comes across the poem that she was reciting earlier in the film. As the father enters the room, a box of tinker toys also becomes visible. As the camera pans out a little farther, we can also see a very small tricycle. The room is a very odd shrine to his childhood life, not the normal room left behind by a child of left for college.
We notice a few more things before the young woman leaves — board games Headache and Battleship and a jack in the box with another clown. I also need to mention that on the bookshelf somewhere was a DVD of “A Beautiful Mind,” the final speech of which was lifted in its entirety for the film’s climax.
It may be possible to pull out more detail on a bigger 4K screen with a good frame by frame advance, I did the best I could on this go around with my iPad Pro.
Most of the second half of the movie is set up with material we have seen in Jake’s room. Even his guilt-laden anger over being spied on by the janitor late in the film is foreshadowed somewhat by the porn magazines that Jake covers up with the novel “Ice” — the story also refers to the young blonde women working at Tulsey Town.
There’s still a lot more strangeness to go until the couple is back out on the road in the snow. Think of this scene like when you’re about to leave your grandparent’s house and they stuff your car with food and things they just bought at the flea market, as if they fear you’ll never make it home without ample supplies of sweets and bargain bought junk. Wait, not everyone’s grandparents do that?