Philip Ridley is a versatile man, a veritable Jack-of-all-trades, who is as much a master of the written word as the moving image. Whether in film, theatre, childrens’ books or watercolours, Ridley continues to expose the dark side of human nature. He is not alone in this – his kindred British collegues Clive Baker and Mike Figgis share Ridley’s fascination. But no one is as visually exciting as he. With a stunning clarity and a poetic narrative language, which leave few indifferent, Ridley constantly examines the ambivalence of the macabre and beautiful.
It is this ambivalence which is central in his latest film fable, The Passion of Darkly Noon. As so often, he has created, with meticulous precision, a world of juicy symbolism, filled with religious undertones. The story revolves around an eternal triangle where the young and deeply devout Darkly Noon is infatuated by Callie, an unobtainable woman. A mixed up Darkly fights an inner battle with his religious beliefs, which distort everything he sees and touches. In his feverish eyes Callie changes from a princess to a witch.
As in The Reflecting Skin, Ridley’s successful film debut from 1991, The Passion of Darkly Noon is populated by extremely odd characters, all outsiders in one way or another. What, for example, is the beautiful Callie doing in the middle of the enormous, unpopulated forest miles from civilization? Her soul mate Clay, played by Viggo Mortensen, from The Indian Runner and The Reflecting Skin etc, is a deaf and dumb carpenter with a dreadful temper, who makes small children’s coffins. At regular intervals he leaves Callie and disappears into the forest for weeks on end to “travel in the darkness.” Grace Zabriske, one of David Lynch’s main actresses, portrays here one of her archetypical roles. She is Roxy, a half-mad woman of the forest who spends her time trying to make life hell for Callie.
Darkly arrives into this inferno, and with his burning desire and mysterious past brings everything suddenly to a head. As with the classic fairy tales and horror films, everything is then ready for “la grande finale”. Philip Ridley’s chief lodestar appears to be a combination of raw violence and extremely black humour. The brutality and contradiction of human nature is revealed without any romanticizing, by using dream-like images which are open to interpretation. The Passion of Darkly Noon secures Philip Ridley’s position as one of the most interesting young British filmmakers of today. TR