Mad Cowgirl (2006)

It’s very rare that I sit down to write about a movie and have absolutely no idea where to start. Sometimes a good lead-in escapes me, but that’s usually nothing a few minutes of thumb-twiddling can’t sort out. But with Gregory Hatanaka’s Mad Cowgirl nothing comes easy, especially not the task of writing about it. The movie fell into my lap as so many others have; a random recommendation that I decided deserved a chance probably on its title alone. What I encountered was an experience far more strange than I was ever prepared for.

The Mad Cowgirl contemplates beef.

The Mad Cowgirl contemplates beef.

The film is very fragmented, frenetic and above all weird. The action centers around Therese (Sarah Lassez), a beautiful young meat inspector who can’t seem to get enough beef in her life. Despite the ever-present news reports of tainted beef imported from Canada she devours the stuff morning, noon and night; it’s the one constant in her life. She suffers from a never-ending string of failed and/or strained relationships, especially with the men in her life, all of whom treat her with pretty blatant disregard, desperation or contempt. We don’t know what happened really between her and her ex-husband, but he doesn’t seem quite willing to let her go. She is currently sexually involved with a local televangelist played by Walter Koenig of Star Trek fame, but not far into the film he rebuffs her gruffly over the telephone. Her brother, with whom she has an incestuous relationship, runs a meat-packing plant and has been selling tainted beef – some of which he gifted her way. Is the tainted beef the cause behind a brain disorder that she may or may not be dying from?

Walter Koenig as the eternally sexy televangelist

Walter Koenig as the eternally sexy televangelist

Written down, it all seems like it is kind of straight-forward, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. We get mere clips of Therese’s life as it happens; there is no narrative thread holding any of it together other than Therese herself. Some of what we see are tortured memories, others are acts of desperation: making love to the television set while her ex-lover preacher flame expounds on God’s glory; gnawing on a nearly-raw steak prepared for her by a new friend acquired in the Catholic church, and finally in the last act assuming the role of The Girl with the Thunderbolt Kick, a kung-fu favorite of hers in which the titular Girl must slay the Ten Tigers of Kwangtung.

Who could blame a girl?

Who could blame a girl?

To be honest, Mad Cowgirl is kind of a difficult film to appreciate. Watching it for the third or fourth time, I remain mostly mystified at what exactly Hatanaka aims to prove. That being said, I still really enjoy this movie and find it rather a shame there aren’t more people to whom I can recommend it. This certainly isn’t the movie for you if you’re interested in a clear plot line with an unambiguous resolution. I will say at the very least the film is definitely thought-provoking, and perhaps makes more sense when the weird ride is over and you’ve had some time to mull it over.

Anyone hungry for a bit o' beef? What's your favorite cut?

Anyone hungry for a bit o’ beef? What’s your favorite cut?

What I think Hatanaka may be trying to convey is just how difficult life is for a typical American woman. Therese is obviously a very confused woman, and with society expecting her to switch between roles as it sees fit, how could she not be? She must be a good daughter, ex-wife, sister, lover and patient all at once. She must be chaste one moment and insatiably horny the next, a point made most obvious by her sexual relationship with her brother. As Therese loses her grip on reality, she forgets when each role is appropriate. Sure Mad Cow Disease provides an easy scapegoat for Therese’s mental deterioration (and obviously a poke at the ills of consumerism), but social pressure seems like a pretty likely candidate in explaining her descent into madness.

While I really like the idea of the film being about a woman’s difficulties in today’s society, for all I know I may be barking up the wrong tree. The movie leaves virtually everything up to its audience’s interpretation. I’m not really sure how else to describe it other than ‘Batshit Arty,” which I don’t think is a widely accepted genre term… yet. If you’re more interested in attempting to solve a puzzle that may not be solvable, you should check this movie out. I still dig it after multiple viewings. I am glad it exists and glad to live in a world where movies like this have been made; I can only hope that more Batshit Arty gets made in the future!


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