At just over an hour into Images (1972), and I don't know what took me that long, I realized that no matter what happened, there wasn’t going to be a tidy conclusion to the story. It's not like I wasn't warned after the fact during "Imagining Images," a bonus feature on Arrow Video's new Blu-ray restoration of the film. As if from the grave, director Robert Altman himself tells us that the movie is "a psychological story… not a ghost story at all." He practically invites us to enter the "realm of schizophrenia," which we shouldn't expect to be the least bit predictable.
Images has a pedigree of Oscar-nominated talent. It was written and directed by Robert Altman (Nashville, The Player, Short Cuts, Gosford Park) with cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter, The River) and music by John Williams (too many to list). The only question might be why Altman made it after mainstream "hits" like MASH and McCabe & Mrs. Miller. It feels like the early work of a potentially great director, but I guess the answer is because he wanted to make it and success afforded him the luxury to do so.
The opening sequence takes perfect advantage of this talent to create a creepy, gothic atmosphere. Beautiful, bright shots alternate between Cathryn (Susannah York) wandering around the house working on her latest book, accompanied by a lovely melody, and sudden, dimly lit close-ups of ordinary objects accompanied by discordant "sounds." (I don't know if they're courtesy of Williams, but Stomu Yamash'ta is in the credits for "Sounds.") None of this necessarily tells you what to expect, but it gives you a real good idea that it's not going to be happy.
In the bonus feature "Appreciation by Stephen Thrower," Thrower explains that Altman had the idea for Images many years before it was made. His "moment of inspiration" became the first instance in the final product where troubled writer, Cathryn perceives another man temporarily replacing her husband, Hugh (Rene Auberjonois). The use of doppelgangers reminds me of future David Lynch, although here switches in characters are more frequent and not necessarily limited by a one-to-one connection.
That means while Cathryn and Hugh are supposedly relaxing at their country home, she's randomly encountering Rene (Marcel Bozzuffi) and Marcel (Hugh Millais), men who may have been past lovers and/or who may no longer be living. This is where the thought arises that Images may be a ghost story. Complicating matters is that Cathryn also occasionally sees herself watching her from afar. The first time this happens, we actually jump to the other Cathryn and insinuate ourselves into what's happening with her.
At some point, perhaps at the one-hour mark I mentioned earlier, all the jumping around and body-swapping stops being confusing and becomes beautiful. You can stop trying to figure out why Cathryn sees Rene instead of Hugh or why she sees any of them when they're not physically there at all. It helps to remember a tip Altman gives us in his "Scene-Select Commentary" for just over 30 minutes of the movie: when we see or hear chimes, which is often, they awaken Cathryn's subconscious. And once that happens, all bets are off.
If you wanted to, you could probably figure out a linear story, both past and present, for Cathryn and for Images. Or, if you dabble in psychology, you could attempt to interpret what it all means. For example, when Cathryn is able to "kill" Rene, he doesn't appear again, except as a body over which she occasionally trips. So, he is removed from her mind only by what she perceives as a physical act that she must go through the steps of performing. Why ruin the fun, though? I am perfectly happy letting the movie perplex and amaze me.
Brand-new 4K restoration from the original negative, produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original English mono audio (uncompressed LPCM) soundtracks
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Audio commentary by Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger
Scene-select commentary by writer-director Robert Altman
Interview with Robert Altman
Brand new interview with actor Cathryn Harrison
An appreciation by musician and author Stephen Thrower
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Carmen Gray and an extract from Altman on Altman