There are few movies as intensely personal as Tarnation. Jonathan Cauotte, who wrote and directed (well, edited is probably a better word) the film compiled years of home video footage that spans nearly over twenty years of his life. He edited down the footage for next to nothing on a borrowed Mac, and the result is a hair less than ninety minutes. Making this must have been extremely difficult for Cauotte, as many of his personal demons appear on the screen for the world to see. The most compelling aspect of Cauotte's life is his relationship with his mother, Renee Leblanc, and their struggle over the years. And it is not just a bunch of home movies cut and pasted together. Cauotte does some interesting work with visuals to make sure that it does not feel like watching somebody's old videos.

Leblanc was a model when she was a child. After a fall, her parents, Adolph and Rosemary Davis, subjected her to shock treatments, changing her personality forever. The most horrifying part about these treatments is that they were later determined unnecessary. She had a child with a man, but he left town before he knew she was pregnant. Leblanc tried raising Jonathan, but was clearly an unfit mother. Tragically, she was once raped in front of Jonathan. Adolph and Rosemary raised Cauotte skipped around from mental institution to mental institution. She reentered Jonathan's life when he was around five years old.

The bulk of the film deals with Jonathan growing up. This has its interesting parts, yet pales in comparison to the footage with his mother. However, in order to understand Cauotte as a person, one needs to see how he grew up. At around eleven, he realized he was gay. He snuck into 18 and over clubs dressed as a goth girl. He was drawn to acting, and at one point moved to New York to become an actor. There is footage of him as an extremely young boy performing monologues to the camera. Cauotte also skips over much of his life, summarizing it with title sequences. This mostly occurs when he was a child, and contains some of the more harrowing aspects of his childhood.

As Tarnation nears its end, the relationship between Leblanc and Cauotte takes the focus. Leblanc, now living with Adolph, had a lithium overdose. She is not really a functioning adult. She constantly levels charges of abuse at Adolph and Rosemary (now deceased). It gets so bad that she moves out to New York with Jonathan, and now they can be more of a family unit than they ever were in their lives. Watching the person Leblanc is now is heartbreaking. She is clearly not in her right mind, and needs a lot of help and constant attention. As painful and raw as this is, one almost wants to see more of their relationship as it evolved over the years. Although she was clearly a small part of his life growing up, this is mostly absent from the film.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 28 minutes, Not Rated but contains language, mature thematic material, and minor nudity, an R.

Back to Movies